I've just spent two days being given the first hand low down/backstage tour of around 8km of urban chalkstream. As a result I thought I'd post photos and a very superficial account of Thames21 Head River Keeper Ashe Hurst's patch. Ashe and his team of volunteers have a continuous rolling clear up and maintenance programme that have taken his river from ASBO to pillar of the community over the six years of work since 2002. Ashe knows everyone on his patch, is a qualified angling coach and manages volunteer river keepers in regular education as well as youngsters on probation. Ashe enforces maintenance of unmowed buffer strips next to the river, an ongoing programme to eliminate invasive vegetation, installation (at strategic spots) and regular stripping of litter booms as well as established refuse collection points/skip hire. The result is that sections of river previously qualifying for "wet landfill" status are now diverse wildlife corridors. I'm sure Ashe will correct me, but I think their record for car tires removed in a single day was an incredible 540. In one section, the council used to require monthly hire of bulldozers to push the burnt out cars and associated tipping into an impromptu landfill-cum-flood defense berm. Now, that particular reach is free from rubbish and the bulldozed bank is vegetated thanks to the regular skip hire and constant vigilance and litter collection undertaken by Ashe and co. Egrets, Herons, Kingfishers, Water voles, sparrow hawks, slow worms, grass snakes, adders are common sightings. Instream, there is a tremendously abundant and diverse aquatic invertebrate community - indicating the highest of water quality (as well as good stands of Ranunculus and thriving coarse fish populations). There is also lots of sparkling clean gravel. But these days, as far as can be determined, there is a conspicuous absence of trout....This would seem to be the result of a lack of recolonisation following catastrophic pollutions dating from the 1950s. The bottom limit of the river just before it joins the Thames sports a 15-20 ft vertical sluice; a pretty effective insurance against any sea trout colonisation for a start. The WTT is looking forward to offering technical advice with a view to complement current river biodiversity management. A key aim will be the establishment and maintenance (through sustainable habitat managment practices) of high quality mixed coarse and salmonid fish communities. It is also hoped that existing local community involvement can be advanced through fish rearing/release programmes in local primary schools.
Watch this space for updates.