Newsletter – Summer 2019

Welcome to our quarterly newsletter! We hope you enjoy reading it and if you have any suggestions for our Autumn newsletter then contact: enquiries@riverthame.org


A word from the CEO

Four months have passed quickly since I joined the Trust in April.  So, what are my first impressions?  This is an organisation with a clear purpose and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff and Trustees and I have really enjoyed being part of the team.  Much has been achieved but there is still much to do!

I have spent time understanding the structure of the charity and meeting key landowners and partner organizations, particularly the Environment Agency and Thames Water.  I have also enjoyed exploring the local geography, the villages and the river itself – including finding that my wellies leak!

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Given the resources, our two knowledgeable and experienced project officers are well able to design and deliver habitat recreation, water quality and resilience projects for the river as well as to identify and restore important offline freshwater habitats.  Our community projects also have the support of over 150 volunteers who are delivering invasive species control, water quality and Riverfly monitoring and Outfall Safaris.

Right now, we have several key projects ready to go live, with planning consent for the biggest, at Eythrope near Waddesdon, just granted.  This is a large-scale floodplain habitat restoration, including a wetland mosaic and a backwater.  The contractors are ready to roll!  We hope to deliver this and a fish passage and habitat project this autumn.

Next, I intend to focus our future programme to prioritise the many overlapping themes and ideas that are put forward almost daily.  With limited resources, we must work in partnership with others within the principles of Catchment Based Approach.  I see our strategy focusing on sound science-based conservation and restoration projects, working closely with local people and not least to encourage them to value their environment.

Lastly, we must ensure that the Trust remains financially sustainable in order to maximize the benefits to the catchment for the long term.

Meanwhile, let us all be vigilant.   Our river may look clean but our water quality is under threat.  There has been a severe decline (81%) in freshwater species over the recent past.  This is double the rate of loss for land or marine wildlife.  The aquatic plants (macrophytes) and insects (invertebrates) needed by fish and other wildlife are easily affected by pollution – particularly nitrates, phosphates, ammonia and soil erosion.  We will work closely with farmers and water companies to encourage investment in water quality measures and with your continuing assistance we will succeed in building a resilient river and catchment.  Thank you for this much needed support.

Nigel Davenport, CEO


Habitat works

Dig, dig, dig! Backwater and pond works

During July we enlarged a backwater and some ponds near Cuddesdon Mill at Views Farm.

The backwater was at the end of  a ditch very small and not working efficiently as it was dry much of the time it was needed, and so we deepened, graded and more than doubled it in size.

We also doubled in size three online ponds in a ditch leading to the river. The ponds are bunded to retain water and sediment and reduce nutrient loads entering the river.

Backwaters are important off-river habitats for fish, plants and invertebrates and recreate habitats, such as cut off meanders etc, lost over time by man’s interventions with rivers.

The backwater was designed to have a deeper mouth tailing up to shallow water at the back end – important habitat for fish fry as the shallow, warmer water provides excellent conditions to grow in. We were thrilled to see a shoal of fish fry utilising the new habitat almost before we had finished building it! Build it and they will come as they say….

Thanks to the EA for the funding and landowner Robert Peers for paying for and installing the fencing around the backwater. Thanks also to contractor James Gillies for his expert excavator skills!

Before – cut off from river, small, overgrown

During: Digging out the backwater

After: with a shoal of fish fry already moved in!

After; enlarged online ditch pond


Volunteering

Balsam be gone!  

This summer we have been out on numerous occasions with our wonderful volunteers clearing large swathes of Himalayan Balsam from the Bear Brook and Kingsey Cuttle Brook. The pull, snap, stomp technique quickly decimated banks of balsam and an incredible 4.5km were cleared of this pesky invasive non-native plant, freeing up space for native plants and curbing its spread through the catchment.

Throughout the season we were joined by a wonderful collection of people looking to help improve and protect their local streams. This included some of our fantastic regular volunteers, local residents, Scouts, the Environment Agency and staff from Optimis Consulting. In addition we partnered up with the Inland Waterways Association to run our first joint event, hopefully one of many to come. Flowers from this event had a special destination and were delivered to the Puddingstone Distillery to make a limited edition run of Himalayan balsam gin, profits of which go to support the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.

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We’ve made amazing progress, but the work is not finished. Balsam seeds can survive for around 3 years in the seed bank so we’ll need to continue clearing stream banks for another few years. With repeated clearance we should be able to eradicate balsam from the catchment. Keep an eye out for work parties next year.

If you interested in taking part in upcoming balsam bashes next please get in touch with Hannah (hannah@riverthame.org).


Bird Surveys (Bird Atlas project) – An update and big ‘Thank you’ from RTCT Trustee Nick Marriner

Amazingly, we have now completed 3 of the planned 4 years of fieldwork and we have managed to achieve 79% coverage of the whole catchment so far. When I first started planning the Atlas I didn’t envisage getting that kind of coverage – a great achievement on your part.

Of the 237 Tetrads in the catchment you have completed 187 (some 1 season still to complete), made 728 survey visits, submitted 21,932 records and recorded 146 species.

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It has been fantastic at my end watching the data being entered. I have seen your records come in for rarities such as Crossbill, Waxwing, Whimbrel, Pied Flycatcher and many more. Likewise I have watched as you have helped confirm breeding status for great birds such as Curlew, Long-eared Owl and Goosander and in the context of knowing our patch better your records of farmland birds are incredibly important:

  • Corn Bunting recorded in 17 Tetrads
  • Yellow Wagtail in 19 Tetrads
  • Linnet in 109 Tetrads
  • Yellowhammer in 130 Tetrads

I could go on with the many headlines but suffice to say for now thanks very much.I hope you are enjoying your surveys as much as I am and with a year to go it would be great if you were keen to take an additional 1,2,3 (more?) Tetrads and to see if we can push for 90/95% coverage – maybe even 100%?

I am looking now to how best to capture all of your efforts once the fieldwork has finished this time next year and am looking at other groups and how they have published their local Atlas and/or produced online version for data analysis and mapping. I am keen to look at species distribution, abundance, important areas and to look at how things have changed for our birds since the BTO 2007-11 Atlas – more on this to come but if anyone is interested in helping to pull this together please let me know.

We are now open for business for year 4 Tetrad allocations, I shall be in touch early in September with details on the areas we have left to cover and to start the allocation process but if you have a particular area of Tetrad (s) you want to take on the please let me know.

Nick Marriner (marrinernick@gmail.com)

tetrad coverage in the catchment

Curlew at Waterstock

Water in a Dry Landscape is up and running

A team of volunteers is now being assembled and trained up ready to start surveying headwaters on the Chilterns scarp slope for the ‘Water in a Dry Landscape’ project (WDL).

WDL is one of several strands of activity which together make up the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Chalk, Cherries and Chairs landscape partnership. WDL will be a ground-breaking study of the springs and small water-courses scattered along the scarp slope. Lots of work has been done on the Chilterns chalk streams of the dip slope – such as the rivers Misbourne, Chess, Ver and Gade – but we know very little about the streams running west into the Thame catchment.

volunteers trying out DO meters at a training session in Wendover, .

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 The WDL volunteers will be providing a huge boost to our knowledge and understanding of this unexplored resource. 

WDL is being led by the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project (with River Thame Conservation Trust  as partners) and has started by assembling a group of volunteers, many of them also Riverfly surveyors, to look at about 40 sites across the scarp. The sites will be monitored for a year at quarterly intervals, with testing for a range of physical and chemical parameters using a mixture of hand-held meters and colorimetric tests.

Three training sessions have been held to date to bring the volunteers up to speed with the equipment and also to test the method. As far as we are aware, no work of this kind has previously been done on springs and headwaters so, as well as providing new data about the Chiltern streams, the project could be a template for future work around the country.

The volunteers’ surveys will be phase 1 of this three-phase project. The results will be used to identify the 8-10 most promising sites from a biodiversity perspective, which will then be looked at by professional biologists in phase 2. The third phase will be working with landowners to make improvements to selected streams to further enhance their biodiversity.

The exciting thing is that no-one knows what might be out there; perhaps we can add to the country’s tally of chalk streams or find pockets of rare species. Whatever we find, we will be sure to let you know.

Mike Furness
WDL co-ordinator

If you would like to know more about the Water in a Dry Landscape project, please contact Mike at mfurness@chilternsaonb.org.

 

Riverfly monitoring – training event

In June 12 volunteers joined us to be trained in Riverfly monitoring.

Riverfly monitoring is a great way to keep an eye on the health of your local watercourse and can help identify pollution issues.

A good time was had by all and we now have 21 sites actively being surveyed across the Thame catchment every month!

If you are interested in becoming a trained Riverly monitor then contact Hannah@riverthame.org as we will be running another training event in October

 



Upcoming habitat project delivery

Eythrope Wetland Creation 

This autumn diggers will be on site as planning permission is now agreed for the Eythrope wetland creation. Phase one of the two year excavation will begin in September and will start the process of converting species poor pasture into a diverse wetland mosaic.

This wetland will be the first of its kind in the catchment and will benefit a huge host of wetland plants and animals, from tiny dragonfly nymphs to wading curlew and foraging otters.

Watch this space as we bring you further updates on the excavation!


Fish passage & habitat project – Cuddington

Things are also gearing up for delivery of a fish passage and habitat project at Cuddington this Autumn.

Details and permissions are being finalised for the creation of a rock ramp and habitat work on private land at Cuddington to allow fish free movement around  weirs at Cuddingon.

A rock ramp will be created that allows fish to swim up and downstream of the barrier. Fish need to move to breed, feed and for genetic diversity of populations.

Example of a rock ramp fish pass easement similar to what will be created at Cuddington (credit: South East Rivers Trust)

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Barriers such as weirs stop this movement occurring and can impact populations. This project is an important step in building resilience into fish populations in the Thame against pollution and other stresses.

Habitat work, including fry bays (for juvenile fish), woody debris and river narrowing will also be added to improve flow diversity and habitat for all life stages of fish as well as provide varied habitat for plants and invertebrates.

Watch this space for updates on progress!

News

Chalk Streams are in crisis – debated in parliament

It was good to see the issues facing our chalk streams being discussed in parliament back in July.

Chalk Streams are globally scarce habitats, 85% of the 260 chalk streams in the world are in the UK. The Chilterns Chalk Streams are currently in a very poor state, a combination of climate change and a high level of water abstraction has left us with exceptionally low river levels. Within the Chilterns AONB 60% of the chalk stream habitat is currently dry. As the Chilterns Chalk Stream Project say – Across the Chilterns we are suffering a drought, yet hardly anyone is talking about it.

The Thame has a number of chalk streams in the headwaters on the northern slopes of the Chiltern Hills and RTCT are partners in the ‘Water in a dry landscape’ sub-project of the ‘Chalk Cherries and Chairs’ HLF project that is looking at these streams.

A number of groups including out partners at the Chilterns Chalk Stream Project (CCSP) and various Rivers Trusts have written a dossier called ‘Chalk Streams in Crisis’

Click on the links to access the dossier a press release  from the Chilterns Chalk Stream.

The dossier and issue was debated in parliament recently and here is the link to the Hansard report of the debate.

River Ver – dead trout at Shafford Mill 14-07-19 credit John Pritchard

Dry River Gade credit Allen Beechey

Dry Misbourne bridge credit Allen Beechey