Chearsley Floodplain Restoration

The River Thame Conservation Trust (RTCT), in partnership with Freshwater Habitats Trust , have created new freshwater and wetland habitats on local farmer Rose Dale’s 220-acre organic farm in Chearsley. This project was made possible through funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund and through our Engaging with Farmers project . This new site will become a stepping stone for wildlife down the River Thame floodplain corridor, leading on from our first wetland project at Eythrope. All of us at RTCT are excited about how this site will develop over time and create momentum behind our goal for holistic floodplain restoration along the entirety of the River Thame.

An aerial view of some of the ponds and wetland scrapes during construction

The constructed pools just months after construction filling with water.

Bordered by the River Thame and one of its tributaries, Chearsley Brook, Manor Farm has been in Rose Dale’s family since 1969. Rose seeks to farm regeneratively, rearing pasture-fed beef and lamb. Rose is an active member of our farmer cluster, the Thame Valley cluster, which brings together farmers and land managers with the aim of increasing collaborative working to the benefit of both farm practices and the environment.

Left to right: David Fraser – Chief Exec, Hilary Phillips – Sr Project Officer, Rose Dale – local farmer, Ben Piper – RTCT Chair

Rose Dale has said about the project: “If I think back to my youth, or discuss it with my parents, it’s clear that we’ve lost a great deal of biodiversity in a short space of time and I want to nurture what’s there and try to improve it. The wetland project is a wonderful way to restore this landscape to a flourishing natural state. Since converting to an organic farm business, I have already seen exciting signs of life return to the farm and look forward to how this project will create further habitat for plants and wildlife.”

Because of its exceptional biodiversity, the River Thame catchment has been identified as an Important Freshwater Landscape in Freshwater Habitats Trust’s new Freshwater Network. RTCT will work with Freshwater Habitats Trust to develop Manor Farm as a national best practice demonstration site for floodplain wetland restoration. The site has already become an exemplar to other farmers in the catchment on how a thriving farm business can also be a thriving area for wildlife.

Sr Project Officer, Hilary, leading a tour for local farmers, environmental charities, and funding organisations of the floodplain restoration area at Manor Farm

The farm now holds 15 new seasonal and permanent ponds and a backwater channel connected to the River Thame which will soon become home to a diverse array of plants and animals. This holistic floodplain restoration is a complex of clean, unpolluted, freshwater ponds and shallow pools, creating habitats which are now rare in lowland England. Each new waterbody has a long ‘drawdown zone’ – the area which gradually dries out through the summer. This marshy habitat is the most diverse part of the ponds and supports water plants like Small Pondweed and Spiked Water-milfoil and invertebrates like the Common Darter dragonfly and the Black-bellied Diving Beetle as well as larger animals, including otters and wading birds.

The development also features a backwater, a shallow channel connected to the main river, which will provide shelter and nursery grounds for fish. In a catchment where the rivers have been historically straightened & dredged leading to poor habitat diversity, constructing a backwater is a way of returning a crucial habitat type to the landscape.

Sr Project Officer, Hilary, describing the benefit of backwaters to local farmers

The backwater at Manor Farm being connected to the River Thame and filling with water

The backwater will become an important nursery for young fish fry and a refuge for fish in times of high flow

The development will also provide benefits for the farm and its livestock, including drinking water and more green forage for cattle during dry weather. The grazing from Rose’s cattle and sheep will ‘rough up’ the floodplain which will also hold more water back on the floodplain when the river is in flood.

Rose Dale, a member of Pasture for Life, rears a herd of entirely grass-fed Longhorn cattle who will also benefit from the floodplain restoration

Thank you to our partners & funders:

  • This is a Thame Catchment Partnership project between partners Freshwater Habitats Trust and River Thame Conservation Trust.
  • Funded from Green Recovery Challenge Fund awarded to FHT and Environment Agency Water Environment Improvement Fund (WEIF) awarded to RTCT.
  • White Horse Contractors, a specialist contracting company, completed the earthwork portions of the restoration project.