August was a busy month with river surveys for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board.
The Board manages a huge variety of channels from small natural wooded streams, to wide drainage channels across former marshland to urban rivers.
Some of the channels offer ample opportunity for enhancements such as at Buxford Dyke in Ashford, a channel which traditionally supported white clawed crayfish. Fencing cattle from streams, removing weirs and installing cobbles in the channel could all help manage silt and provide hiding spots for crayfish.
cattle can cause issues with silt downstream
Sometimes the easy part is knowing what could be done to benefit the river. The harder task is persuading authorities and landowners that the work will be beneficial and not increase flood risk.
Traditional management practices sometimes involved drastic measure such as setting fire to channel banks and widening channels by dredging. These practices often were disastrous for wildlife and stored up issues for the future as widening narrow streams allows more silt to drop out in the centre of the channel creating a fertile ground for weed growth which blocks channels and may lead to flooding. More work needs to be done to show river managers and landowners that natural management techniques, such as allowing woody debris to remain in the channel can be beneficial.
Urban channels have different issues and Pumping Station Dyke, also in Ashford, suffers from fly tipping, invasive species and terrible bankside management by local businesses. Surveying a channel such as this it is easy to despair at the disregard many people show to their local areas and the low status of rivers in towns. With a channel such as this joined up thinking is needed for local bodies to work together to tackle issues such as fly tipping and misconnected sewers.
The month ended with a visit to Bourne Dyke, a beautiful channel set amid wet woodland with some fantastic old pollarded trees. Here the landowner has shown an interest in making improvements for wildlife and it is easy to get enthusiastic at the opportunity this could provide for restoring the natural wetland areas of this valley.
looking to the future
New Nature is an online magazine aimed at people under thirty who care about wildlife and the countryside. This is exactly the audience I would most like to connect with and be read by (although I’m delighted to be read by everyone) but I do place all my hope in what follows me. Many thanks to Ben Eagle for his great review which you can read here
photo: Simon Houstoun
Great night at Waterstones in Canterbury on Wednesday. Many thanks to Martin for a great interview and all the staff who looked after me. Thanks also to everyone who came and to those who bought a book.
photo: Simon Houstoun
Enjoying a great summer read
Many thanks to Countryfile magazine for picking On the Marshes as one of their great summer reads. Read the review here
Not content with destroying our wildlife rich brownfield sites and scrublands, developers are now after our community woodlands. A company called Gleeson Strategic Land Limited is proposing a development of 121 houses on Bloors Lane Community Woodland an important site for wildlife and local people.
If developments like this are allowed to go ahead then it will green light a raft of proposals to develop local nature reserves and country parks.
The company claim the woodland is under used. Under used by who? It is a valuable resource for hedgehogs, field voles and woodland birds struggling to survive as our countryside and their routes through it are swallowed up by concrete.
Medway Council should do the right thing and stop this proposal before it even has the chance to get started.
This month I am interviewed by Countryside Voice, the magazine for CPRE. Sorry about the fuzzy screenshot, we all know I am hopeless with technology.
Another crackingly busy month kicked off with surveying a ditch called Butterfly Cottage Dyke for the Internal Drainage Board.
A blisteringly hot day saw me putting the previous month’s Natural England training to
Tubular Water Dropwort
good use by identifying the many species of rushes and sedges that grown along this botanically rich channel. The waterway supports rare plants such as Tubular Water Dropwort and Hairlike Pondweed. My work involves advising the Drainage Board on how to manage the channel to benefit these and other species and look at ways of improving its value for wildlife.
Unfortunately many of our waterways suffer from Nitrate and Phosphate pollution often caused by historically overloading the land with fertilisers. Agrochemicals are big business and firms have lobbied farmers for fifty years to buy them in order to achieve higher yields and cut down on ‘pest’ species. Often land is overburdened with chemicals and much ends up seeping through the soil and fertilising rivers and drainage ditches which then sprout lush growths of plants such as watercress which can impede flow and cause flooding.
Excessive weed growth caused by chemical enrichment.
Over 8 years of surveying for the board I have also seen a change in land use with formerly grazed fields becoming fallow or cut for silage and more maize being grown. These changes are not good news for wildlife. Ditches alongside grazing marsh are often botanically rich as the action of animals grazing the channel opens up niches for wildlife while maize crops are often bad news next to rivers as after harvesting, the field is left with bare earth which can be washed into rivers in winter storms creating siltation issues which can lead to flooding.
Despite years of environmental subsidy schemes for farmers it seems that more needs to be done to tailor advise to farmers and put a healthy and wildlife rich countryside at the centre of farming policy not just tinker at the edges of farms and ignore the real issues.
However, the Internal Drainage Board are working to improve watercourses and this month I returned to Port Rill with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to finish installing woody debris in the channel. Fallen dead branches were pinned into place by the volunteers and should help create shallow marginal shelves along the edges of the channel while creating faster flow in the centre, cleaning gravels and creating oxygen rich water. This month we saw fish in this channel for the first time, a real testament to the volunteer’s efforts.
A month of river work finished with a survey of Pig Brook, another IDB managed channel which holds one of the last populations of White Clawed Crayfish. This native species is suffering through the spread of Crayfish plague spread from imported signal crayfish as well as pollution and silt covered gravels.
Earlier in the month I had given a talk to the drainage board’s contractors Rhino Plant on the importance of biosecurity and the need to check clean and dry equipment and spray with a specialised Iodine based spray when working on crayfish channels.
Pig Brook is an attractive channel set in parkland but more could be done to improve the stream for crayfish and connect it with the surrounding floodplain. Next month I hope to work on plans to enhance the river and allow the crayfish to thrive.