Newsletter Winter 2018/19

Welcome to our (late!) quarterly newsletter! A number of things have been happening in the Thame catchment by both ourselves and our partners and we hope you enjoy reading about them in our Winter newsletter.  If you have any suggestions for our Spring newsletter then contact:







Goodbye from our departing CEO Louise Bowe…

The day I joined the River Thame Conservation Trust (for just one day a week at first!) back in January 2016 feels like a long time ago as I think back on how far the Trust has come in that time. On the organisation side we’ve moved into our first RTCT office, doubled our staffing  and volunteer numbers, developed stronger relationships with partners like the Environment Agency , Thames Water, local community groups and angling clubs and secured a range of new grant funding. We’ve improved our knowledge of the water quality and wildlife across our catchment with the help and dedication of our wonderful citizen science volunteers and working with our trusty catchment co -hosts, the Freshwater Habitats Trust. We’ve  worked with some great farmers and landowners to carry out practical projects on their land to improve water quality and create new or improved habitats for wildlife with plenty more in the pipeline as I write this. We’ve even had our first local wildlife site in the catchment approved and appeared on the local and national media!

I’m leaving the Trust to be able to spend more time with my family. I leave knowing there are very capable hands to carry on our work in our project officers Hannah and Tim and with the exciting experience Nigel will be also be bringing to the Trust. I’ll miss working with wonderful colleagues and volunteers and of course talking about sewage and toilet flushables on a regular basis!

Thanks for a great three years RTCT and I look forward to seeing you go from strength to strength in the future.

Kind regards,



………and ‘Hello’ from Nigel Davenport our new CEO

I am delighted to have been appointed as CEO of RTCT.  The Trust has clearly made a real difference since it was first established in 2012.  I am much looking forward to starting properly in April and being able to be able to meet staff, volunteers and landowners and to understand the challenges ahead.

I have a passion for wildlife conservation and the environment.  For the past 13 years I have been CEO of Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) – part of the federation of 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK.  SWT has responsibility for over 8,500 ha of protected landscapes across Surrey and is also the lead partner for the River Wey and Mole Catchment Partnerships.  I was also a Board Member of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for the whole of the period.

Also, until very recently, I was a riparian owner, for 24 years, along a section of the River Swere in Wigginton, Oxfordshire and was regularly involved in water quality testing, willow pollarding programmes and river bank reinforcement projects with neighbouring owners.

I very much look forward to meeting you and being able to work with you to make a difference for the River Thame and its catchment.

Citizen science reveals patterns and trends in water quality across the catchment

Summary report from water quality monitoring survey network now available – read on to find out more…..

Good water quality is crucial if we want to ensure a healthy freshwater environment. It is vital for wildlife and also for our own well-being, but how good is the water quality in the Thame Catchment?

Over the past few years volunteers have been using quick kits to measure the levels of two widespread nutrient pollutants, nitrate and phosphate, in waterbodies across the Thame Catchment. Over 80 sites are now monitored by volunteers. These include river, stream and pond sites, from the headwaters right down to the confluence of the River Thame with the Thames.  Click below to read more about the analysis of the data…….


Recent analysis of the data is revealing interesting trends in water quality not only at a catchment scale, but also within individual watercourses. Both nitrate and phosphate pollution are found to be widespread across the catchment. Only six sites were found to always remain free from nutrient pollution and, sadly for the Thame, this doesn’t include any main river sites. As is being seen time and time again across the country, the ‘Clean’, unpolluted water is concentrated in the smaller waters, the ponds and small headwater streams where there are fewer sources of nutrient pollution. Interestingly nitrate was more pervasive across the catchment, being present at 90% of the polluted sites, compared to 74% for phosphate. If a site suffered nitrate pollution it tended to always be polluted by nitrate, whereas phosphate pollution tended to fluctuate more in its presence. More information on these and many more key finding is available in the full summary report found on our website here.

The monitoring network continues to build knowledge of water quality across the catchment, helping to identify ‘Clean’ water habitat and areas to focus water quality improvement works. It is vital we continue to gather this information to inform our work, ensuring the best outcomes for wildlife, and especially considering funding cuts to the government’s freshwater monitoring programme run by the EA, which is now a fraction of its previous size. Long term monitoring is the only way we can truly reveal patterns and identify change.

Finally, from us all at the Trust we would like to thank the volunteers who have put a lot of time and effort into collecting this very important data for us. Please do keep up your hard work, it is very much appreciated. As cheesy as it is, we really could not do it without you!

A ‘Merry Fishmas’ present for the Thame!

Following on from the stocking of 35,000 chub in August 2018 the EA stocked a further 12,500 Roach, 1,800 Bream and 1,200 Barbel into the Thame just before Christmas.  These were spread between five sites that included Chiselhampton Bridge, Wheatley, Shabbington, Thame bypass and Nether Winchendon.

These fish will go a long way to restoring the fish stocks that were lost in the sewage pollution of 2013 Merry Fishmas River Thame!

Chiselhampton Bridge Fish Pass

The Chalgrove Brook is the only tributary of the river Thame with a self-sustaining brown trout population. There has been some excellent habitat work carried out on the brook by the EA, Thame Conservation Trust and Watlington Environment Group. This has included improved fish passage at Cuxham and Watlington.

There is a small concrete weir on the Chalgrove Brook under Chiselhampton Bridge. This is only about 50metres upstream of the confluence with the River Thame and so represents a significant barrier to fish migrating up the brook to spawn. Improving fish passage here will give access to potentially valuable spawning and recruitment facilities*, including new riffles created in 2018 by River Thame Conservation Trust and EA in partnership. Read on to find out how the weir was made passable to fish……


After many months taken to get planning permission and environmental permit, we were able to get our hands wet in November 2018, and fit some timbers across the channel to create a fish pass that will enable fish passage under most flow conditions. The design of the pass and the construction was all carried out by EA Fisheries staff.

The pass incorporates 3 wooden notched cross walls made from recycled untreated hardwood railway sleepers fixed to the base and walls using steel brackets. The pass is designed to step down the drop in water level gradually in a way that provides a shallow slope and deep enough water for fish to swim through.

The fish pass project ties in nicely with the Lower Thame Barbel enhancement completed by the River Thame Conservation Trust last year where a riffle and backwaters were created on the River Thame at Chiselhampton. In addition, juvenile barbel and other species have been stocked to kick start the fish populations after significant pollution issues.

*Recruitment is generally more successful in small tributaries compared to main rivers. The main factor is probably that there are smaller numbers of adult fish (other than at spawning time) and hence less predation and less competition for food.

Before the work (left) and after installation (right)

A Fencetastic idea……

In the week before Christmas a small stream near Whitchurch got a Christmas present in the form of ~400m of fencing and a water trough!  This was the final part of a project to improve the water quality of some of the water courses in the Bucks part of the Thame catchment on livestock grazed land.  Cattle can cause problems by poaching (trampling) the banks and stream bed causing erosion and adding lots of sediment, nutrients from their feaces and a loss of habitat. This has an impact on the water quality and health of the watercourse.  Fencing was installed to restrict the cattle to the field and an alternative water source provided in the form of a mains supplied drinking trough.  The project was a partnership project managed by the River Thame Conservation Trust and funded 50:50 by the farmer and the Environment Agency. We look forward to revisiting in summer to see how the banks and stream are recovering!

There is a stream under there somewhere!

Trough and fencing in place – roll on summer to see the difference!


Trout are seen again on the Chalgrove Brook!

Watlington Environment Group are delighted to report that trout have been seen again in the upper reaches of the Chalgrove Brook in Watlington town. They are small fish, which are judged probably to have been spawned in winter 2017/18. Given that no fish have been seen in the upper reaches since the suspected poisoning incident in summer 2017, the brood fish must have managed to move upstream this winter. Possibly helped by the installation of boulders masterminded by Andy Killingbeck of the EA in the steep section just below the roundabout.

Energised by the return of some fish to safeguard, the Group are keen to push ahead with further habitat enhancement and management work and we have provisional interest from landowners downstream of Watlington. We are also carrying out some other initiatives such as completing the roll-out of the Yellow Fish plaques in Watlington, including engagement with the local schools, to try to prevent any future repeat of an accidental or careless poisoning incident.

The group were also pleased to be shortlisted for the recent Wild Trout Trust awards, although they didn’t win it was nice to be at the award ceremony in London.

Want to get involved with Watlington Environment Group? then click the link below to read more….


Interested in practical conservation work, a chance to get exercise and fresh air whilst doing something useful? Watlington Environment Group in South Oxfordshire are on the lookout for additional helpers for their periodic work parties. Regular tasks include stream work (habitat enhancement and maintenance), and management of the Chalkpits Local Nature Reserve. For more information, please contact Mike Chadwick via

Habitat enhancement day – 6th March – See ‘Opportunities to get involved‘ section of the newsletter for more details.

Fun and hardwork on the Cuttle Brook!

At the end of 2018 Cuttle Brook Conservation Volunteers carried out a host of really good work to improve the Cuttle Brook. This included 30 metres of spawning gravels; replacement of a pond-dipping platform; building two anti-silt dog-entry points, installing flow deflectors and diverting a ditch into an in-line settlement pond. Impressive stuff!

Mike Furness, head of the group, has written a nice article on all their hard work and this can be read by clicking  here

Digging the fish refuge

Completed refuge and spawning gravels


Risborough Environmental Group – A new group in the Thame Catchment

Risborough Environmental Group (REG) are a new group founded in 2018 who have been, amongst other activities, engaged in surveying three local streams (Horsenden Stream, Crowbrook and Culverton Brook) with a view to identifying and mapping locations for monitoring chemical quality and invertebrate populations on a monthly basis.

Martyn Jarvis from the group has written a nice article explaining the story of the group so far. This can be read by clicking here.

REG group members


Chalk, Cherries & Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme

 We are excited to be soon working with the Chilterns Conservation Board on their Heritage Lottery Funded project to restore and enhance the wildlife habitats, landscape features and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns.  This is an amazing project that has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £2.4 million.  This is the largest conservation project ever carried out in the Chilterns!

The five-year scheme will encourage people to connect and reconnect to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns through a number of individual but interweaving projects across three key themes: Wildlife & Landscape, Heritage & Landscape and People, Communities & Landscape.

Our involvement will be with a sub project called ‘Water in a dry landscape’ that is part of a key aim to uncover the biodiversity in the headwaters of the Chilterns. Click below to read more about this project……


Although the Central Chilterns area does not appear to have much in the way of watery landscape features at first sight, look a little deeper and you will find many small streams and ponds. These form the headwaters and catchment for the nearby River Thame.

But we don’t know much about them. How many freshwater habitats are there? What sort? In what condition? And, especially, what biodiversity do they contain or have potential to host? The Water in a Dry Landscape project is set to find out. It will identify and map the biodiversity of freshwater features along the Chiltern escarpment, improve the better sites, and create more and bigger stretches of connected riverbank (riparian) habitats into the River Thame catchment. The project will work with landowners to protect, improve and connect their waterways, and volunteers will be trained to survey the quality of water and habitats; thought to be the first study of its kind focusing on headwaters on a catchment scale, and therefore providing vital learning to similar catchment areas.

You can read more about the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs project here and specifically he Water in a dry landscape sub-project here

Opportunities to get involved……

There are a number of opportunities for people to get involved in the next couple of months.  These include:

  • Riverfly Refresher – There will be a refresher for current monitors on 4th March at 10am in Stadhampton. If you are interested contact Hannah for details (  
  • Watlington Environment Group volunteer work party6th March, Habitat enhancement work of the Chalgrove Brook near Watlington, involving installation of in-stream structures and management of shading vegetation. For more details contact Mike Chadwick, e-mail , tel. 01494 483663.
  • Water Quality monitoring – We still have some sites that we would love to have covered. One of these is at Bernwood Forest – one of our best sites for clean water – please let us know if you would like to help out.
  • Invasive species removal – Training will be given in identifying invasives and mapping and removal events will be carried out – we will send out details shortly.
  • Outfall Safari – this is a way of identifying pipes that are carrying pollution from misconnected properties to watercourses in Aylesbury. We will provide training and opportunities to identify where the pollution hotspots are in order to work with EA and TW to rectify the problems. We will send out details shortly.

If you are interested in any of these opportunities then let us know at

Watch this space for more details!