Category Archives: Latest news

Minister Pow visits Chearsley Wetland Restoration Project

Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for Environmental Quality and Resilience, had the opportunity to see how the recently created floodplain wetland habitat in Buckinghamshire is delivering high quality food alongside environmental protection and conservation enhancement.

The Minister visited Rose Dale’s Organic Farm at Manor Farm in the village of Chearsley, run by the owner and farmer Rose Dale who has worked closely with River Thame Conservation Trust and Freshwater Habitats Trust (with partnership funding from the Environment Agency) to carefully design and excavate a network of ponds across a field that is also used to graze cattle. More details on this major project can be found here.

Rose Dale, Farmer and Owner of Rose Dale’s Organic Farm at Manor Farm said: “ I run a 200-acre organic and regenerative farm in the heart of the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside which produces beef and lamb for the local community.  I believe that farming and agriculture should not and must not damage our precious planet but instead contribute positively by enhancing biodiversity, improving the health of our soils, the quality of the air that we breathe and the cleanliness of the water in our rivers and streams. ”

An aerial photo of the constructed wetland ponds a few months after excavation. Photo credit: Freshwater Habitats Trust

The project has created a range of habitats which is enabling birds, plants and insects to thrive with the creation of a new “backwater” which connects to the adjacent River Thame, providing a refuge for fish and helping fish populations to become more resilient to floods, (which are increasing due to climate change). The creation of new floodplain ponds in turn provides opportunities for cattle to drink, and their low intensity trampling is helping a range of plants and insects to become established.

In addition to providing a tour of the ‘floodplain wetland mosaic’ created by the new ponds, project partners had the opportunity to highlight to the Minister the importance of incorporating wildlife and water friendly measures into farming. They also shared how collaborative working between NGOs, government agencies, and local landowners through the Thame Catchment Partnership (co-hosted by River Thame Conservation Trust and Freshwater Habitat Trust), can create mutually-beneficial opportunities. Catchment partnerships are a forum where stakeholders can work collaboratively to address many complex and cross-cutting issues which rivers face. All were also keen to stress the importance of evolving agri-environment payments in ensuring farming can be delivered to enable the co-benefits of environmental protection and wildlife enhancement and welcomed last week’s announcement about the enhanced measures contained within Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive – one of the key strands of the evolving Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) agri-environment programme.

David Fraser, CEO of the River Thame Conservation Trust said:  “A key policy challenge for the Government is how to ensure food security, whilst also managing the land for environmental priorities such as net zero and flood risk alleviation and promoting nature conservation. River Thame Conservation Trust has a key role to play in identifying and facilitating such opportunities thus enabling local farms to be sustainable, as businesses and for the river and its catchment.”

 

 

Professor Jeremy Biggs, CEO of Freshwater Habitats Trust said: “Freshwater Habitats Trust has identified Manor Farm as being in an Important Freshwater Area. These are the places we are focusing on as we develop the Freshwater Network – a national network of wilder, cleaner, connected habitats. Restoring the floodplains at Manor Farm is one of our very first steps in this vital strategy. Through initiatives like this and our Water Friendly Farming project, we are collaborating with farmers and other landowners across the country to create a network of clean water habitats to help reverse the long decline in freshwater wildlife.”

Sewage and our rivers

A new way to understand storm overflows

Thames Water has recently created a publicly accessible web portal which publishes real-time information on when sewage treatment works within the Thames Water network are discharging raw (untreated) sewage to watercourses. This live map has brought the ongoing issue of sewage in our rivers back to public attention. The map can be accessed by anyone here. Although publication of such data will become a legal requirement in coming years, Thames Water’s launching of the portal ahead of it being mandated is a welcome step towards transparency around its operations. Due to the nature of how this data is collected, using Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) which measures start and end time of spills, volume and composition is not recorded and inaccuracies are not uncommon. You can read more about EDM and its limitations here. Despite these limitations, the live data does highlight the unacceptable scale of the problem of raw sewage discharge to watercourses.

Screenshot of the newly published live storm overflow map from Thames Water

Raw sewage spills occur particularly when rainfall infiltrates the sewage network, producing large volumes of dilute sewage, above the volumes that sewage treatment works (STWs) are designed to treat. Many STWs incorporate storage tanks which store excess inflowing raw sewage until it can be treated, thus reducing the extent to which the untreated sewage “spills” into watercourses. However, this is often inadequate to prevent spillage. There is an acceptance that some degree of spillage is inevitable (after heavy, intense rainfall). However, RTCT and many others believe raw sewage spills into rivers happen too often, and sometimes in circumstances where rainfall is less than extreme.

RTCT recognises that the contributory factors are complex. Thus, whilst we have concerns over STW capacity lagging behind demand from wastewater inputs, a key cause of raw sewage spillage is too much clean rain and groundwater making its way into the sewage network, and then on to STWs. Again, this is in part a consequence of a legacy of underinvestment in sewage networks (leaky sewage pipes enabling groundwater to infiltrate) but also increased urbanisation, resulting in more rain runoff going directly to the sewage network. Recognising the need to prevent problems caused by large volumes of clean water entering the sewage system, Thames Water recently published its Drainage and Surface Water Management Plan (DWMP). RTCT and the River Thame Catchment Partnership, which we co-host, welcome the DWMP approach, albeit we have concerns about the ambition and timescales of the DWMP in addressing the frequency and duration of raw sewage discharges from STWs.  The Catchment Partnership’s response to TW’s DWMP can be found here.

It’s not just spills

It’s worth distinguishing the issue of raw sewage spills from the overall performance of STWs under normal conditions – which is also a key issue of concern for RTCT. General poor water quality is a feature of the River Thame, with none of its tributaries attaining “good ecological status”. Whilst poor water quality is not solely caused by STWs, but also agricultural and urban runoff, monitoring and modelling led by UKCEH with RTCT shows a strong “signature” of sewage treatment effluent (treated) versus other sources. These results are supported by our growing body of evidence gathered by our new Water Quality Monitoring Network, an initiative where volunteers trained by RTCT are monitoring 40 strategically selected sites across the catchment every month. From anecdotes from concerned locals to citizen science data to rigorous scientific analysis, the evidence points to a chronic issue of unnaturally high nutrient levels in the catchment. And this issue isn’t new, pollution from sewage was a key driving factor behind the formation of RTCT and to this day we continue to push for change that will bring improvements to water quality & benefit wildlife and river users. We hope the accessible and visible nature of Thames Water storm overflow data will energise others to join our efforts to push for investment in sewage treatment capacity and improved infrastructure. We will continue our multi-faceted approach to advocating for tangible improvements.

What we’re doing to clean up the Thame

Engaging directly with Thames Water

  • Alerting Thames Water staff when sewage pollution issues are observed by our team or our network of volunteers – and seeking explanations
  • Contributing to all relevant consultations, like the 2025-2050 Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan – using the Thame Catchment Partnership as a basis for soliciting consultation input from a range of representative stakeholders
  • Seeking to influence investment in water infrastructure through the water company investment cycles, and staying abreast of progress in implementing investment plans
  • Advocating for the implementation of nature-based solutions that will not only improve water quality but also provide habitat benefits

Facilitating communication & collaboration to solve problems

  • Hosting the Thame Catchment Partnership, where Thames Water brings quarterly updates to a variety of stakeholders who may not otherwise have direct contact with them
  • Actively participating in the Thame Liaison Group (set up in 2014 by local campaigners after significant raw sewage spilling from Aylesbury STWs) which has improved the flow of information from Thames Water, management of the STW, and the environment along the Upper Thame valley

Increasing our understanding to build effective strategies for tackling pollution

  • Gathering and analysing water quality data across the catchment, including above and below sewage treatment works, to build our understanding of the issue and focus our efforts

Engaging and empowering the public to join our efforts

  • Encouraging the public to submit meaningful reports of pollution incidents to Thames Water at 0800 316 9800
  • Training and supervising citizen scientist volunteers across the catchment through our Water Quality Monitoring Network to collect valuable water quality samples to significantly expand the coverage of our data
  • Educating the public on the complex issues our rivers face and how they can help

What can you do to help?

  • If you live in the River Thame catchment, we encourage you to register as a River Thame Conservation Trust volunteer to get involved with the variety of opportunities we offer to help protect and restore rivers.
  • Keep up-to-date with our work by following us on Twitter & Facebook and signing up for our quarterly newsletter.
  • If you see what you think is a pollution event (which can come from a range of sources, not just STWs) call the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60 and Thames Water on 0800 316 9800. Make your observations count by always recording and submitting the following:
    • Record the exact date and time of your observation.
    • Record the exact location. Use What3Words or Grid Reference Finder to make your location as accurate as possible.
    • Take photos and write down exactly what you’re observing (Sewage solids? Toilet debris? Soap-suds or a milky-looking discharge? Grey coloured water? Noticeable sewage or strong chemical smells?)
    • Attempt to locate the exact point of discharge if possible, like a running pipe. Be mindful that the source may be underwater, stay safe and do not enter watercourses that appear to be polluted with raw sewage or are in a state of flood.
    • When making a report to the Environment Agency, ask for the number assigned to your report. If the situation persists, make a follow-up call and give this report number.

2022 Year in Review

Thank you for supporting us through another year of protecting and restoring the River Thame

This has been a momentous year for RTCT. Highlights include completing another major floodplain restoration project, hosting numerous in-person events & training sessions, and expanding our staff team to 5 full-time members. Continue reading for details on what we’ve done through the seasons.

Spring 2022

We started the year off with the launch of the award-winning documentary film The Chalgrove Brook: Rescuing of a Chalk Stream created by Nicola Schafer in partnership with Watlington Environment Group.

We also hosted the first Thame & Chilterns Farmers Forum which brought together farmers and land managers representing four farmer clusters (Thame Valley, Lower Thame, Central Chilterns, and Christmas Common) covering over 20,000 ha across 75 farms.

The start of the year also marked the launching of our Chalk Stream Strategy which builds on our successful restoration of 400m of chalk stream on the Chalgrove Brook delivered by over 70 volunteers.

Summer 2022

This summer saw the launch of our ground-breaking Bird Atlas 2016-2020. The project is the only one of its kind across a river catchment in the UK and was made possible by team of 63 volunteers carrying out bird surveys across 236 different survey areas and recording an impressive 153 species.

As the thermometer mercury climbed to hitherto unseen levels, we rallied armies of volunteers to tackle invasive non-native Himalayan balsam along the Bear Brook in Fairford Leys, Aylesbury.

We also ran another Riverfly Monitoring training session and trained up 10 new monitors to identify pollution-sensitive macroinvertebrates that help us understand the health of our rivers and streams.

Autumn 2022

We concluded the summer with another major floodplain restoration project at Manor Farm, Chearsley. The project, delivered in partnership with the Freshwater Habitats Trust, created 15 new seasonal and permanent ponds and a backwater channel connected to the River Thame. These new habitats will enhance biodiversity ranging from plants and invertebrates, to fish and birds.

September also featured our first Rivers Week, a weeklong series of community-run events concluding on World Rivers Day (25th September) to create awareness and appreciation of our rivers and streams by bringing together communities across the catchment.

The headline event for Rivers Week was the Thame Catchment Partnership Water Conference which brought together 65 stakeholders and passionate supporters of the River Thame who work both professionally and voluntarily to achieve our goal of a river catchment with healthy fresh waters and wildlife, valued and enjoyed by local people.

Winter 2022

November saw the launch of our Water Quality Monitoring Network. A volunteer-delivered citizen-science programme where volunteers trained by RTCT to a standard protocol are monitoring 40 strategically selected sites across the catchment every month. Our Water quality programme will help build mode detailed evidence to enable us to address poor water quality across the catchment.

As part of our Engaging with Farmers project, we hosted a workshop on Water Resilience on Farms where we supported 16 farmers with advice on water quality monitoring, water management and accessing funding to make improvements.

To round off the year, we partnered with Chiltern Rangers to host conservation work parties on a tributary of the Kingsey Cuttle Brook, an important chalk stream. Work party volunteers got their hands dirty opening up a highly overshaded stretch of stream by selectively cutting back riparian vegetation to let in sunlight that will promote the growth of characteristic chalk stream plants.

Special thanks to our funders who have made our work possible:

Environment Agency, The Rothschild Foundation, Thames Water, D’Oyly Carte Trust, South Oxfordshire District Council, Oxfordshire District Council, Garfield Weston Foundation, Earthwatch Europe, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Natural England, Doris Field Trust, Cobb Charity, HDH Willis Charitable Trust, People’s Postcode Lottery, Watlington Parish Council, Bucks Bird Club, Thames Valley Environmental Record Centre, Bucks & MK Environmental Record Centre, British Trust for Ornithology, Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes NEP, Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment, Buckinghamshire Council, Hurst Water Meadow Trust, Defra, and Pilio Group.

We would also like to thank all of the individual donors who have generously contributed to the Trust and the many volunteers who have donated their time over this last year.

Rivers Week 2022

In September, we launched our very first Rivers Week 2022, a weeklong series of community-run events culminating on World Rivers Day (25th September) to create awareness and appreciation of our rivers and streams by bringing together communities across the catchment. Here’s a round-up of all the fantastic events that took place.

Eythrope Wetlands Walk
Our Trustee Nick Marriner, Chief Exec David Fraser, and Waddesdon Estate’s Head of Sustainability and Conservation Chris Leech, led a guided tour of the wetlands at Eythrope which were constructed by RTCT in 2020.

Chiltern Rangers Litter Pick
17 volunteers collected 50 bin bags of rubbish out of the River Wye in 4 locations throughout High Wycombe.

Soil Health Event for Local Land Managers
Catchment Sensitive Farming officers Chloe & George held an evening of talks for local farmers and landowners. We heard from expert representatives from Cotswold Seeds and Edaphos Limited about the establishment and maintenance of Herbal Leys, their benefits in the farming system and their applications within Countryside Stewardship and the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

Watlington PlasticBlitz
15 volunteers took part in the litter pick across two areas of the Chalgrove Brook as it runs through Watlington. The volunteers filled 8 bags of litter and reported their results on Thames21’s Plasticblitz dashboard. This project collects data on the most common plastic items found across the Thames basin which can then be used to educate groups, create publicity and lobby businesses.

Sustainable Wheatley Riverfly Demo
Members of Sustainable Wheatley, who have been long-time participants in RTCT’s Riverfly Hub, held a stall in front of the Merry Bells hall to showcase to the public the many fascinating creatures that live in our rivers.

Hurst Water Meadow Trust Guided Walk
Trustees and Officers of the Hurst Water Meadow Trust led members of the public on a 2 mile walk looking at the wildlife, history and management of Dorchester’s water meadows.

Shabbington Nature Network End of Summer Splash
Members of the local group led a walk along the River Thame to explore and enjoy the wildlife in Shabbington. After the walk, everyone gathered at the Old Fisherman pub to discuss ideas for improving the river and potentially campaigning for bathing water status for this popular swimming spot.

Risborough Water Courses Walk
Risborough Environmental Group led an 11 Km circular walk touring their Riverfly monitoring locations to enjoy the local flora and fauna and litter picking as they went.

 

Thank you to everyone who participated and made this celebration a massive success!

Introduction to our new Chief Exec, David Fraser

The River Thame Conservation Trust is pleased to introduce our new Chief Executive, David Fraser. David joined our team in August and has already gotten stuck in with Trust activities. David is an environmental and business professional with 23 years of experience in the public, consultancy and charitable sectors. We are excited to have him step into the CE role and build on our previous CE’s successful tenure. David is an avid angler with a deep personal connection to rivers and has ambitious goals for the Trust. We asked him a few questions to introduce himself to our supporters, read on for more.

David speaking at our Water Conference 2022

What first connected you to rivers and brought you to love them?

My “entry point” to loving rivers was through angling. Growing up in the Scottish Highlands, I was surrounded by lochs and rivers, and spent much of my youth marauding across the countryside in angling related capers, usually in pursuit of trout or pike. As well as being fascinated by river wildlife, I loved the physical and geographical aspects – for example observing the way my local river- the Conon – had been modified, and how it “behaved” as a result of being harnessed for large-scale hydro-electric development, how terrifying it was when in flood, and even how the daily and monthly patterns of the tides affected its lower reaches. When I wasn’t near water I was plotting my next fishing adventure, usually with my head buried in the pages of Trout and Salmon magazine.

David (CE), Hilary (Sr Project Officer, Rose (local farmer), and Ben (RTCT Chair) at a recent farmer engagement event.

How has your academic and professional career brought you to where you are today?

Academically I was a total delinquent, but my love of fish and rivers gave me the motivation to get into university to study biology. I guess I must have gotten the hang of studying, as I subsequently ended up doing a PhD on fish ecology at Glasgow University (a whole different story, which I will be happy to recount on another occasion).

I was very fortunate to secure my first “proper” job as a national freshwater adviser with English Nature (I left just before its metamorphosis to the imaginatively retitled Natural England).

This role placed me at the epicentre of the river conservation world and broadened my overall conservation horizons through working alongside specialists covering the full spectrum of habitats and species groups (i.e. not just the watery ones).

Through roles in environmental consultancy and environmental research, I assumed a progressively greater involvement in more business-related activities such as project management, pursuing external funding, and business planning. Each of these is arguably (ok, I concede, unquestionably!) less glamorous than conservation on the riverbank itself, but nonetheless very important. In pursuing the RTCT CEO role, it was the amalgamation of my technical and business attributes allied with my passion for rivers that I felt placed me ideally.

David and Project Officer Andy talking with stakeholders about chalk streams

What positive changes do you want to see in our rivers and how will RTCT achieve these?

Although the Thame undoubtedly has its challenges, it also has a lot going for it. Large parts of the floodplain are undeveloped (in comparison with many other lowland rivers), meaning it has space to flood, meander, change course – all the things that rivers are rarely allowed to do. These characteristics also afford the potential for large-scale habitat creation projects, and we should be ambitious about what we might achieve.  In contrast to the main River Thame many of its tributaries have been straightened (even a cursory look at a map reveals many straight lines and right angles!) and deepened. I’d love to see some of these “re-wiggled”. Those modifications also apply to many of the catchment’s chalk streams, which are real gems, but underappreciated and often neglected. A feature of all the catchment’s watercourses is poor water quality and addressing this is one of my key priorities. Water quality won’t be solved quickly or easily, but we know that by comparison with other tributaries in the wider Thames catchment the Thame fares poorly, so maybe it is time to catch up through appropriate investment, regulation and other measures.

Lastly, thinking back to my own experience of how a love of the natural environment had a positive influence on me- personally and professionally, I am a strong advocate for the wellbeing and education benefits of engagement with nature. I want to ensure that throughout the Trusts’ work we continue to provide opportunities for engagement – through volunteering, citizen science, education, and events. We are a small organisation – but with our network of partners and supporters, I am optimistic about what we can achieve.

Thame Catchment Partnership Water Conference 2022

River Thame Conservation Trust Freshwater Habitat Trust, co-hosts of the Thame Catchment Partnership, hosted our first Water Conference on 20th September 2022 at Great Haseley Village Hall. We would like to thank everyone who attended as the event would not have been such a major success without your participation. We’re already looking forward to how we might bring partners together to share knowledge next year. We welcome your feedback about the event through our online survey.

The conference brought together 65 stakeholders and passionate supporters of the River Thame who work both professionally and voluntarily to achieve our goal of a river catchment with healthy fresh waters and wildlife, valued and enjoyed by local people. The following text provides an account of each of the presentations:

Welcome from the Thame Catchment Partnership

David Fraser | Chief Executive, River Thame Conservation Trust

Hannah Worker | Senior Project Officer, Freshwater Habitats Trust

Catchment partnerships are a nationwide model, recognising that complex and challenging impacts and their resolutions require joined-up thinking across multiple partners.  RTCT and FHT are fortunate to fulfil this role in the Thame catchment, and this conference is one way the partnership is pursuing its goals, through sharing knowledge, and energising (and being energised by!) and empowering stakeholders.

David Fraser, newly appointed Chief Executive of the River Thame Conservation Trust and Hannah Worker, Senior Project Officer with Freshwater Habitats Trust opened the event with an overview of the catchment and how we will collectively achieve our goals. Despite being relatively new to the river catchment, David has already identified many positive factors that the partnership will work to protect and enhance like sections of unmodified meanders and connected floodplain and the many chalk streams that run off the Chiltern escarpment. He also noted that the level of engagement and activity from volunteers and community groups was impressive and inspirational. However, the Thame and its tributaries do face issues and threats. None of the waterbodies in the catchment have achieved good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive. This assessment from government agencies has been supported by data gathered by volunteers showing poor water quality, pollution issues, detrimental physical modifications to the river, invasive species, and barriers to fish migration. Hannah from FHT highlighted how the Thame Catchment Partnership have been working hard to tackle these issues through floodplain restoration, in-channel restoration, removal of barriers to fish passage, Himalayan balsam control, and monitoring and data collection on water quality, aquatic invertebrates, fish and birds. Much of this work was only possible through the hard work and dedication of our passionate network of volunteers.

 

River Thame Chalk Stream Strategy

Andy Morsley | Senior Project Officer, River Thame Conservation Trust

The chalk streams which rise out of the Chilterns escarpment on the east of the catchment are true gems. However, they are under-appreciated and suffer a range of impacts, most notably poor water quality. RTCT, with partners, is developing a long-term strategy for their ecological recovery, led by our Senior Project Officer Andrew Morsely.

This project is being funded by the Environment Agency and is being delivered in partnership with experts in the Chilterns AONB working on their Chalk, Cherries and Chairs project. The key objective is to restore chalk streams and re-introduce the iconic brown trout where they will thrive. We will achieve this by maintaining and improving important in-stream habitats, improving connectivity by removing weirs and installing fish passages, increasing chemical, biological, and ecological monitoring, and by working with landowners and Thames Water to reduce abstraction and the negative impacts of pollution.

Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network

Andy Gunn | Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network Project Manager, FHT

Ellie MacDonald | Freshwater Futures Trainee, FHT

Hannah Worker | Senior Project Officer, FHT

As well as thinking about habitats in broad terms we also need to pay attention to individual species. This project led by Freshwater Habitats Trust creatively combines public engagement and rare plant conservation – as well as addressing the future skills needs of conservation by investing in early-career conservationists.

Andy Gunn, Ellie MacDonald & Hannah Worker gave an overview to attendees on FHT’s Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network project. This Green Recovery Challenge Fund project has four components:

  1. Growet – an initiative to conserve rare and threatened wetland plants. Over 450 volunteers have been involved in growing these plants in their homes during summer 2022. These plants are planned to be re-introduced in winter 22/23 to sites with high-quality freshwater and wetland habitats.
  2. Freshwater Futures – 3 trainees are participating in a structured training programme to develop the wetland experts of the future. Includes training in eDNA, plant identification, amphibian & newt surveying, scything and management techniques.
  3. Alkaline Fen and Floodplain Grassland Restoration – To be achieved at Spartum Fen SSSI in the Thame Catchment which has locally rare plants such as Grass of Parnassus, Marsh Helleborine, Cotton grass and Black Bog Rush. The project will also include ongoing habitat management and hydrological monitoring at those sites.
  4. Floodplain wetland mosaic creation at Manor Farm Chearsley – large wetland complex of a backwater and 15 clean water ponds differing in key physical (size, shape and depth profile) and hydrological (groundwater, rainwater, river water, fed) characteristics, likely to result in a range of plant and animal; communities.

 

Thames Water: Investing in the Thame

Tim Beech | Environmental Partnerships Lead, Thames Water

 Thames Water and its activities are fundamental to the health of the catchment, in particular given the influence of sewage effluent on water quality. The mechanism for improving negative impacts of Thames Water infrastructure, like sewage treatment works, is through its 5-yearly investment cycle. Thus, visibility of, and ability to influence its developing investment plans are key to the objectives of RTCT.

Tim Beech, Environmental Partnerships Lead for Thames Water, gave an update on how the water company is investing in the Thame. Thames Water operates 32 sewage treatment works in the catchment. The 2020-25 Business Plan will invest in improving 745km of watercourse in the Thames area. The River Health Action Plan aims to achieve a 50% reduction in spills in all catchments and 80% in sensitive catchments with chalk streams like the Thame. Thames Water is also targeting 5% Biodiversity Net Gain on Thames Water sites including 14 in the Thame Catchment e.g. the new wetland at Aylesbury STW. Thames Water is also planning STW upgrades, investigating the impacts of Thames Water’s abstractions, identifying and preventing groundwater from entering the sewer drainage network, working with farmers to reduce pollution, and identifying and repairing misconnections (foul water incorrectly connected into surface water network and vice versa). You can view the full presentation here and can email questions to partnerships@thameswater.co.uk

Local Nature Recovery Strategies

Sarah Smith | LNRS Senior Advisor, Natural England

Where in the catchment should we focus our habitat creation and enhancement efforts? How do we ensure that all parties understand where the important freshwater habitat opportunities are so that they can be pursued? These are the kind of strategic spatial questions that LNRS are intended to address, through the development of a spatial plan. Work undertaken by RTCT & FHT on Important Freshwater Areascan feeds into such strategies, ensuring that planning authorities, landowners, and agencies all have the big spatial picture.

Sarah Smith, LNRS Senior Adviser at Natural England, outlined the government’s upcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategies. The Environment Act 2021 places a duty on every region to have an LNRS, led by the responsible authority (usually County Council or equivalent).  LNRS’s are a Spatial Strategy for Nature Recovery, mapping and planning how it will be achieved, including guiding where Biodiversity Net Gain habitat can most effectively be delivered. Sarah also touched on the Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership, which has a Nature Recovery working group targeting 2 key themes: agriculture and community engagement.

The River Thames Initiative

Dr Mike Bowes | Group Head – River Water Quality & Ecology, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

In order to address water quality issues in the Thame catchment, we need a sound evidence base, which can distinguish different sources of pollution across all the watercourses. We are fortunate to be able to benefit from UKCEH’s River Thames Initiative, which provides us with a detailed picture of water quality over long timescales, an ability to compare the River Thame water quality with other Thames tributaries, and UKCEH’s load apportionment model, which provides a basis for distinguishing point and diffuse pollution sources. These provide an excellent basis for us to build our new citizen science water quality programme, which will sample at numerous locations across the catchment.

Dr Mike Bowes of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology gave a talk on the River Thames Initiative, which is a long-term Thames-catchment-wide water quality monitoring programme entailing weekly monitoring at 23 sites across the Thames catchment. The Thames initiative has operated since the 1990s, recording a range of chemical and biological parameters including nutrient and sediment inputs and chlorophyll and algae levels. One of these weekly monitoring points is on the River Thame in Wheatley. The results of this project have shown the following:

  • In the Thame and wider Thames, the main source of phosphorus pollution is point sources (most notably sewage treatment works) rather than diffuse (e.g. agricultural fertiliser) sources.
  • Phosphorus levels have greatly reduced, with a reduction from around 2000ug/L in the 1990s to around 200ug/L today.
  • The contribution of Agricultural (diffuse) Phosphorus and Nitrate increases as river flow increases (due to runoff from land; predominantly in winter), whereas contribution of  Phosphate during summer is predominantly from STWs.
  • Compared to other sampling sites in the Thames Initiative, the Thame results at Wheatley show:
    • The highest levels of total phosphorus concentrations
    • Intermediate levels of nitrate and Dissolved Organic Carbon
    • High levels of Boron (a constituent of domestic detergent, and thus considered a proxy measure of sewage effluent) and Sodium
    • Intermediate levels of chlorophyll
    • Phosphate at Wheatley on the Thame has decreased since 1998 but this downward trend stopped in 2006 with little change thereafter
    • Ammonia has reduced since 2014 but nitrate has increased

Fish Communities of the Thame

Andy Morsley | Senior Project Officer, River Thame Conservation Trust

Richard Borrell | Match Secretary, Cuddesdon Mill Village Anglers Association

Fish are a key manifestation of the health of the river and are also enjoyed by people from a wildlife and angling perspective. They are also vulnerable to chronic pollution and acute pollution events, both of which are a feature of the Thame catchment. Good quality data on fish can be hard to obtain, and this presentation shows the value of long-term angling data in complementing formal survey data to help understand overall fish communities and the factors affecting them.

Andy Morsely of RTCT and Richard Borrell, Match Secretary for the Cuddesdon Mill Village Anglers Association updated on the fish communities of the Thame. Andy gave an overview of Environment Agency data on fish population which shows:

  • The upper Thame: Poorest numbers of fish across all species with a decline from 2016 to 2019 at Eythrope. However, results did show improvement in numbers of Dace, Chub, Roach, Gudgeon 2016 and 2019 near Long Crendon.
  • The mid-Thame: Variable results in numbers with Roach and Chub maintaining numbers and Gudgeon and Dace numbers variable with location, but all still present.
  • The lower Thame: Results showed improved numbers of chub, dace and roach, variable Gudgeon numbers, and presence of Barbel with improving numbers.

2022 electrofishing results were also covered which showed a consistent presence of chub, gudgeon and roach but no barbel or bream. Chub seems to be replacing dace as the dominant species in some locations, potentially due to resilience, with high numbers in the Kingsey Cuttle Brook. Populations in the Scottsgrove Brook seem to be suffering due to point source pollution from sewage treatment works.

Richard gave an overview of catch data and observations collected by Cuddesdon Mill Village Anglers Association. Anglers have seen a drop in top match weights and numbers in the 1990s, potentially due to sewage discharges and invasive species like mink and signal crayfish that prey on fish and their eggs. However, top match weights have started to improve from 2014, potentially due to otters displaying mink and predating on crayfish.

Both Richard and Andy stressed that while the situation is improving, in large part due to the hard work of our passionate supporters and volunteers, there are still major issues in the catchment that need to be tackled. Namely, the negative impact on water quality due to discharges and spills from sewage treatment works. As it currently stands, the Trust believes that the permit levels set by the Environment Agency for each STW which dictate the level of nutrients Thames Water is legally allowed to discharge are not adequate. The Trust will continue to work with the EA and Thames Water and push them to review the permit levels and take into account the assimilative capacity of the receiving watercourses.

Launching the River Thame Bird Atlas 2016-2020

Nick Marriner | Trustee, River Thame Conservation Trust

Up until now very little was known about the birdlife of the River Thame catchment. To remedy this issue, River Thame Conservation Trust undertook a volunteer-led, catchment-wide bird survey to create the River Thame Bird Atlas 2016-2022. This publicly available online atlas was launched in May 2022 and has proved just how important the River Thame is for birds.

 

RTCT Trustee and long-time volunteer, Nick Marriner, gave an update on the recently launched River Thame Bird Atlas 2016-2020. This citizen science project was made possible by a team of 63 volunteers who undertook catchment-wide surveys and mapping to determine the status of bird populations and how they varied across the catchment and over the survey years. We encourage you to explore the Bird Atlas for yourself here. Nick highlighted that the 7 years of data collected has shown:

  • The Thame catchment is home to a range of protected and notable species, particularly in the floodplain,
  • A number of sites of high nature conservation value were identified by the project, which has resulted in their subsequent designation as Local Wildlife Sites
  • The level of engagement and dedication from volunteers shows that people in the catchment do care deeply about wildlife and nature,
  • Gathering data on a large landscape scale in this way provides evidence to pursue habitat restoration projects and monitoring programmes.

Become a Citizen Scientist with iRecord

Robin Hutchinson | Entomological Data Assistant, Biological Records Centre, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

As highlighted in the previous talks on fish and bird surveys, the Thame catchment has historically been poor in biological records when compared to other river catchments. However, this is starting to change as local nature enthusiasts are doing their part as citizen scientists to fill data gaps with their observations. New tools and technology are making biological recording easier than ever with one of those tools being iRecord, developed by our friends at UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Robin Hutchinson of UK CEH gave an informative talk on how and why to use iRecord, a website and app where users (anyone) can submit biological records through casual observation or more systematic surveys to be verified by experts, collated in a database, and shared publicly with thousands of other records, thus building a national-scale picture to inform conservation efforts. Robin highlighted that groups like damselflies, dragonflies, and flies had many records on iRecord in the catchment, whereas other insect groups, aquatic invertebrates, and mammals have few records. Robin stressed that iRecord relies upon experts to validate records on the database, and encouraged anyone with relevant skills to volunteer. If you have questions on how to use iRecord or are interested in becoming a verifier, contact irecord@ceh.ac.uk

Securing bathing water status for our rivers

Ned Wells | Co-founder of the End Sewage Pollution mid-Thames group

Tim Harris | Director, TH-Environmental

Our mission as a partnership is not only to work towards a healthy river to benefit wildlife but also a river that can be enjoyed by local people through activities like paddling and swimming. In April 2022, a group of activists in Oxford were successful in obtaining bathing water status for a popular swimming spot on the River Thames at Port Meadow in Oxford. This means that this stretch of river will be tested by the Environment Agency for two types of bacteria; E. Coli and intestinal enterococci. These bacteria typically get into water from sewage and animal manure.

Ned Wells and Tim Harris, who have both been heavily involved in this highly successful campaign, presented to attendees. Ned, co-founder of End Sewage Pollution Mid-Thames, presented the timeline for the successful campaign which included a floating protest, leafletting, a petition with 5000 signatures, securing council support, presenting the petition to Thames Water, funding and coordinating monthly bacteriological sampling at 18 river sites, taking a survey of the number of people using the river, and making the formal application. Tim Harris then educated attendees on the science of the bacteriological laboratory tests that were undertaken for the project which revealed high levels of harmful bacteria at many of the sites. We then heard about how the experience of the Oxford campaign might be applied to the aspirations for a similar bathing water designation at the Old Fisherman Pub in Shabbington.

 

River Thame Conservation Trust Volunteering Updates and Opportunities

Chelsea Hothem | Project Officer/Volunteer Coordinator, River Thame Conservation Trust

River Thame Conservation Trust is a grassroots organization which was formed by a group of individuals who were passionate, but concerned about the seemingly declining state of the River Thame. To this day, the RTCT is still founded on this idea of concerned local people coming together to improve the biodiversity of the River Thame and public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the river catchment and its wildlife. None of the work we have achieved over the years would have been possible without the hundreds of passionate volunteers who have contributed.

To highlight how volunteers have supported RTCT over the last year, Project Officer Chelsea Hothem updated on how volunteers have been working together for a healthy river. Some of the major achievement from the volunteers included:

  • Continued annual removal of Himalayan balsam from the Bear Brook in Fairford Leys, Aylesbury in spring/summer of 2022,
  • Our expanding Riverfly hub which monitors river health through sampling of aquatic macroinvertebrates,
  • In-stream habitat improvement on the Chalgrove Brook in Autumn 2021 and Spring 2022 with over 70 volunteers building 38 berms & deflectors in 400 meters of chalk stream,
  • The Chalgrove Brook film, an award-winning short documentary created by Nicola Schafer in partnership with RTCT, Watlington Environment Group, and Watlington Climate Action Group which is raising awareness of the value of chalk streams, and the threats they face,
  • The many exciting events being organised and run by local community groups across the catchment for Rivers Week 2022 including litter picks, guided nature walks, and educational talks and demonstrations.

Chelsea also provided an update on how attendees (and the public generally) can get involved in future volunteer opportunities by signing up on our new online volunteer management system. During autumn 2022, the Trust is looking for volunteers to join our Water Quality Monitoring Network, which is a citizen science project to measure the health of the entire River Thame catchment through the FreshWater Watch platform. Those interested can sign up through this link: http://bttr.im/o29tw

 

Farmer Clusters in the Catchment

Hilary Phillips | Senior Project Officer, River Thame Conservation Trust

Rose Dale | Thame Valley Farmer Cluster Member, Rose Dale’s Organic Farm

Farmers are key to the achievement of the Catchment partnership aims, farmer clusters provide a forum for farmers to share knowledge and resource, and as an efficient means of the catchment partnership to engage with farmers – for mutual benefit.

Hilary Phillips of RTCT who leads RTCT’s Engaging with Farmers project and local farmer Rose Dale who runs a 220-acre organic livestock farm in Chearsley next to the River Thame. Hilary highlighted that agriculture is the predominant land use in the catchment which means that farming practices have a significant potential impact beneficially or detrimentally on our rivers. Through the Engaging with Farmers project, the Trust runs the Thame Valley Farmer Cluster which regularly brings together farmers and land managers in the mid-Thame region to learn about water & nature-friendly farming, share knowledge, and collaborate on landscape-scale recovery efforts. This farmer cluster is one out of the four farmer clusters that operate in the Thame catchment and in March 2022 RTCT brought together members of all four clusters for a Farmers’ Forum event which you can read about here. Rose spoke about her experience working with the Thame Catchment Partnership to deliver a floodplain restoration project on her land which you can find more details on here.

Local Group Updates

Local Environment Groups are pivotal to the well-being of rivers – as the eyes and ears able to identify issues and impact on the ground, instigators of action to protect and enhance rivers, and champions of their river within the local community. Partnership with Local groups is key to achieving the Catchment Partnership’s aims, and we are delighted to hear from them at the conference.

Cuttle Brook Nature Reserve Volunteers

Mike Furness who leads the group of volunteers who maintain and improve the Cuttle Brook Nature Reserve in Thame gave a presentation on their work. The 13-hectare site contains 1.15 km of river. The conservation volunteers have been working in the reserve for over 30 years and have tackled projects big and small like constructing a footbridge, building backwaters/fish refuges, monitoring aquatic invertebrates, water quality, and wildlife, and augmenting the brook with gravel for fish spawning. The issue of managing the negative impact of dogs in the reserve (disturbing wildlife, eroding the riverbanks, pollution from flea treatments) was highlighted. Mike also detailed plans to expand the reserve into Rycote Meadow which will protect an additional stretch of the Cuttle Brook before it meets the River Thame. This expansion is anticipated to bring benefits such as flood alleviation, biodiversity enhancement, and carbon sequestration.

Watlington Environment Group

Mike Chadwick of Watlington Environment Group (WEG) gave an update on WEG’s ongoing Watercourses Project which started in 2013 with the aim of better understanding the Chalgrove Brook (an important chalk stream) and its tributaries. Mike highlighted that despite the brook running underground in a culvert as it passed through Watlington it has historically been home to a brown trout population; currently the only one in the Thame Catchment. The project involved monthly recording of water levels in the brook and the aquifer that feeds it, the results of which can be seen  here. The group has also undertaken a number of practical tasks including litter picking, selective removal of bankside vegetation to let light reach the brook, allowing in-stream vegetation to thrive, improving in-stream habitat by building berms and deflectors, and adding gravel to improve spawning conditions for fish. The group has also been recording aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and fish. Sadly in 2014, there was a major fish kill event in the brook traced back to disposal of an unknown toxic substance into a road drain which went straight into the Chalgrove. This event motivated the group to start a “Yellow Fish” public awareness campaign reminding people that anything poured into road drains goes straight into the stream. WEG and their partner community group Watlington Climate Action Group are continuing to work closely with the Thame Catchment Partnership and other organisations to protect and improve this precious chalk stream, the Chalgrove Brook.

Risborough Environment Group

Risborough Environment Group (REG) was founded in 2017 in Princes Risborough and now has several hundred local volunteers. Martin Jarvis of REG outlined how the group aims to provide opportunities for local, active volunteers to maintain and enhance the natural environment and biodiversity of the area. Their activities include litter picking, wildlife monitoring, wildlife photography, managing land including the Phoenix Trail, advocating for nature through publications, and stream monitoring through RTCT’s Riverfly Hub and Water Quality Monitoring Network. Martyn gave an overview of their Riverfly monitoring across the Kingsey Cuttlebrook and its tributaries, an important complex of chalk streams. Their results have shown that the stretch of the Crowbrook downstream of the sewage treatment works is basically devoid of life, with very few, only highly pollution tolerant invertebrates being recorded. This is in stark contrast to the rest of their sites which frequently score quite high on the Riverfly scoring system and sometime even contain rare pollution sensitive animals like Blue Winged Olive mayflies.

Overall conclusions on the conference

The conference was a massive success and all of us in the Thame Catchment Partnership are grateful to our many supporters who attended and contributed. If you did attend, we welcome your comments and feedback through this online survey.

We hope these this event and the talks presented have allowed you to connect with experts and other volunteers in the catchment and have inspired you to continue working towards our collective mission of a healthy river with thriving wildlife to be enjoyed by local people.

We would like to thank Waste2Taste CIC for catering a healthy, handmade, and sustainable dinner using surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. All of the profit from their catering service, and the leftovers from the event, went towards providing meals to families in need in Oxford. We would also like to thank the Rothschild Foundation for generously funding this event.

Local Artists Display Art at Local Farm to Celebrate the River Thame

Local artists, Derek Witchell, Alicia Howard, Lindsey Kennedy, Gillian Nicholls, and Doug Kennedy exhibited their work on 18 June 2022 at a local organic farm, Manor Farm, Chearsley, to raise funds for the charity River Thame Conservation Trust. The exhibition was open to the general public and featured photographs and paintings for sale, children’s book signing, hands-on art activity for children, and guided river walks along the Thame.

When asked why the River Thame needs more public awareness and protection, photographer Doug Kennedy said “The River Thame flows through lovely countryside from above Aylesbury, through Thame and on to its confluence with the Thames at Dorchester. It has been badly abused, particularly by sewage pollution which killed much of its fish and other wildlife, but is now in recovery. Led by the River Thame Conservation Trust, a remarkable turn-around is being achieved, but there is much still to be done which needs community involvement and your support and participation in improvement projects and holding the authorities to account. So I hope that people living along the River Thame, from Aylesbury through Thame to the confluence at Dorchester will support the River Thame Conservation Trust and learn more about their river by coming to (the event on June 18th)”

When asked how the river inspires her art Gillian Nicholls said “The River Thame and its glorious twisted willow trees have been a never ending source of inspiration for my painting. I love colour and texture and the river in all its different moods and seasons provides this in abundance. Sometimes a flash of turquoise and orange can be seen heralding the presence of my favourite bird, making my heart sing. We are so privileged to have access to such beauty and joy.”

When asked why he enjoys painting the River Thame, Derek Witchell said “I love to try to capture the play of light and shadow from the trees on the water.”

The River Thame Conservation Trust would like to thank everyone who attended the event, donated to the Trust, and purchased art. We hope that this event has inspired adults and children alike to appreciate their local waterways and get involved in the work the Trust is doing to protect and restore these precious freshwater habitats.

 

Help us make Rivers Week 2022 a success!

We’re launching our very first, Rivers Week 2002: weeklong series of community-run events culminating on World Rivers Day (25th September) to create awareness and appreciation of our rivers and streams by bringing together communities across the catchment.

Want to get involved? We need local groups to organise events during the week to celebrate your local water courses.

Possible events include:

  • Nature walk
  • Art exhibition
  • Wildlife ID workshop
  • Bioblitz
  • Litter pick
  • Photo contest

If you’re interested in hosting an event, we would love to discuss your ideas. Please contact Chelsea our Project Officer at chelsea@riverthame.org

All Volunteers: Register with our new system

We are launching a new online volunteer management platform called Better Impact to help us better utilise our incredible network of passionate and hardworking volunteers across our catchment. Going forward, all of our volunteering opportunities will be organised on Better Impact. 

Click here to sign up!

We hope you find that using this platform makes volunteering with us easier and more organised. Please refer to the Better Impact User Guide for information on how to use the platform.

Please be patient with us as we transition to this new system and work out any issues. If you have any questions or encounter any issues please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Chelsea at chelsea@riverthame.org.

Appointment of new Chief Executive

The River Thame Conservation Trust (RTCT) is pleased to announce the appointment of a new Chief Executive (CE) to succeed the current CE Nigel Davenport.  David Fraser will start in the 2nd part of August.

David is an environmental and business professional with 23 years’ experience in the public, consultancy and charitable sectors.  David has held technical, commercial and strategic leadership roles, with a proven track record of securing and managing environmental projects as well as building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders and partners.

David’s wide range of experience on environmental issues with previous employers includes freshwater and catchment issues in both technical and regulatory contexts (Natural England), consultancy (Royal Haskoning and APEM Ltd.), and research (UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology).  He also has extensive experience with environmental charities in an extra-curricular capacity through his role as trustee.

David is therefore ideally placed to take on the CE role and build on Nigel’s successful tenure to consolidate RTCT’s achievements to date to respond to the opportunities and challenges ahead and to work with the Rivers Trust movement.

David says:

The nature of land and water management in the UK currently poses both unprecedented challenges and opportunities. RTCT has a key role to play in addressing those challenges, and realising the opportunities for the benefit of nature, people and businesses within the RTCT area. I am hugely excited to be joining RTCT at such a pivotal moment for the organisation and the natural environment.