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Feedback from River Surveys Autumn 2023
A very big thank you to everyone who took part in our river survey back in the autumn and our apologies that it has taken a while to let you have the results.
The rivers surveyed were the Wye, the Leadon, Wellington Brook, the Dulas, the Marlbrook, the Arrow and Gad Brook. Four groups surveyed the Wye at different points while two looked at the Leadon, meaning that we had eleven separate records in all; a good cross section across the county.
Rate of Flow - The only river not flowing at the time of survey was Gad Brook. As the surveys were done at the end of the summer, this is the time of year we would expect water levels to be at their lowest. Very low water levels can be harmful to wildlife like fish who rely on a steady level of water. They can also create a concentration of nutrients, reducing the oxygen levels in the water. Flood prevention measures that move water quickly through the rivers, like straightening a river, mean that less water is retained during dry periods.
Odour - The only river that appeared to have a slight odour was Marlbrook. Often the first indication of pollution events is the odour, so it is reassuring that so few of the water courses gave off any smell.
Water Quality - Of our seven rivers surveyed, the water quality in the Marlbrook was cloudy but not so badly that the river floor couldn’t be seen. On both occasions when the water quality in the Wye was found to be cloudy, the river floor couldn’t be seen at all. The water quality in Wellington Brook was also cloudy but it was still possible to see the river floor. Cloudiness in the water can be caused by a few different things. Sometimes it means that there is too much sediment in the water; this is especially true after heavy rainfall that may have washed bare soil into the rivers. Cloudiness can also be caused by algae during very dry hot periods when the water levels are low.
Shading - All of the rivers, bar one stretch of the Wye, were found to be shaded with overhanging trees and often with exposed tree roots visible. Trees along a river bank can help to support the health of the river; the roots help to stabilise the soil in the bank, reducing the risk of erosion and shade from the trees can help to keep the temperature of the water low. In recent years we have seen ‘fish kills’ which occur when water temperatures become too high for fish survival. Increasing shade can stop this happening. Having a mixture of shaded and exposed areas creates a variety of habitats suitable to a range of animals.
- At five of the eleven sites looked at, deadwood or debris was seen to be in the river channel. In small watercourses, a build up of debris can act as a natural dam, helping to slow the pace of the water and potentially reducing the risk of flooding downstream. Also, lots of small animals can use the debris for breeding or foraging and the build up of water behind such dams is the perfect place to see dragonflies.
- At four sites there were steep slopes to the river channel and at three sites, two of which allowed livestock access to the river, there were undercuts. Steep slopes can make erosion of river banks more likely, leading to more sediment in the watercourse and the loss of valuable farmland. Livestock, especially cattle, can speed up the pace of erosion even more.
- Sadly, only one person mentioned seeing any form of wildlife present at a site while they were monitoring.
Surrounding land use - At six sites this included trees and woodland; only one site included arable land nearby; rank vegetation and scrub were present at four sites; pasture was also visible at four sites and two sites were more urban with buildings and gardens close by. Restoring the rivers’ natural floodplains through allowing the areas bordering the rivers to be pasture or woodland, benefits nature and people. It can help reduce flooding downstream and reduce the risk of pollutants entering the watercourse.
At the moment, information on the health of our rivers is very limited and so it is difficult to target areas that would benefit most from restoration works. When we carry out surveys like this, the information we collect feeds into larger databases that can inform future projects and focus their works. By repeat monitoring over time, we can see any changes that happen over the long term, whether due to changes to land use or improvements in wildlife habitats. So, this could be just the beginning and if anyone else wishes to join in by monitoring their own patch of river or stream, please do get in touch – email@example.com