Education officer receives Thames Rivers Trust award

Education officer receives Thames Rivers Trust award

Robyn Shaw, Education and Engagement Officer at the South East Rivers Trust (SERT), has become the first recipient of a new award that celebrates the life of a passionate supporter of work to promote rivers.

The award has been created by Thames Rivers Trust (TRT) to celebrate the late Peter Spillett, one of their Trustees for more than 10 years, who cared passionately about improving the Thames’ tributary rivers and the wildlife that they sustain.

With rivers facing a breadth of challenges and many children having a disconnect with their local blue spaces, the judges were delighted to be able to recognise the importance of providing hands on river education for children in and by their local rivers.

Robyn receives the Peter Spillett award
Thames Rivers Trust CEO Miles Morgan awarding the TRT Peter Spillett Award to South East Rivers Trust’s Robyn Shaw, the first recipient of this prestigious new environmental accolade. Credit TRT

Robyn delivers precisely those opportunities through SERT’s Project Kingfisher education programme. This supports schools to bring curriculum topics such as rivers and local wildlife habitats to life. It gives pupils the chance to get outdoors and connect with their river and the many species of wildlife that require healthy rivers to survive.

TRT’s new CEO Miles Morgan presented Robyn with her award on Saturday at SERT’s official opening of Chamber Mead wetlands in Ewell, Surrey. The 2000m2 wetlands aims to reduce pollution entering the River Hogsmill and improve water quality.

Miles said: “Robyn was nominated by a colleague for her passion and innovation and the positive impact she has made over the last year developing resources and working with schools, groups and families in London rivers. TRT is proud to give this special recognition and congratulate her hard work with students and families across four river catchments in South West London and Surrey.”

Over the 2022-23 SERT financial year from July to June, Robyn delivered 94 sessions to 42 schools, teaching 3,743 pupils in assemblies and outdoor sessions. These have taken place in places along the Hogsmill, Beverley Brook, Wandle and Mole rivers across Kingston, Wandsworth, Sutton, Ewell, Surrey and Merton.

Robyn said: “I am thrilled to win this award, which was totally unexpected.  It is very special and humbling to be recognised in the name of someone who did so much for rivers and the Thames Rivers Trust. It means a great deal. I find our work with children and young people so rewarding, so it’s fantastic that other people share the value of helping children understand the importance of rivers and connecting with nature.”

SERT’s Co CEO Dr Bella Davies added: ”We’re delighted that Robyn’s work has been recognised by the Peter Spillett Award. During her time with us, she has really thrown herself into the education role at SERT, coming up with new ways to keep the children engrossed about the wonders of river life and leaving them wanting to know more.”

Peter’s family said: “We are thrilled to see the TRT Peter Spillett award being given to such a worthy recipient as Robyn. Peter was always a strong supporter of work to improve our rivers and would be very proud that such work was being recognised in his name.”

The annual award is now open for this year’s entries and is once again seeking nominations for an outstanding individual who works or volunteers with a Rivers Trust or another NGO delivering projects for the environmental good of rivers in the Thames River Basin.

For more details about our education programmes and the chance to book sessions for schools and youth groups, indoors and outdoors, please visit our education page.

Watch the video of Miles presenting the award to Robyn below.

 

Hundreds attend Chamber Mead wetlands opening

Hundreds of people attended Saturday’s Chamber Mead wetlands open day, many of them volunteering to start the mammoth task of adding 10,000 plants to the edges of this important pollution filter for the River Hogsmill.

The 2000m2 series of wetlands has been created to divert pollutants, coming from the Green Lanes stream, away from the globally rare chalk stream and will increase the numbers and types of wildlife across the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve.

Egrets and ducks were already enjoying the wetlands as crowds gathered to hear Dr Bella Davies, Co-CEO of the South East Rivers Trust (SERT), explain the reasons for creating the wetlands in partnership with Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, which owns and manages the nature reserve.

Mayor cuts ribbon
The Mayor of Epsom & Ewell Rob Geleit cuts the ribbon to open the wetlands

The wetlands were then officially opened thanks to a ribbon being cut by The Worshipful Mayor of Epsom & Ewell, Councillor Rob Geleit.

In her speech, Bella explained that the project had been conceived more than a decade ago by the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership. This group of organisations and individuals wanted to address the issues of poor water quality in the Hogsmill. It is one of only about 220 chalk streams worldwide. Clear, cool waters in such streams should provide special conditions for creatures such as trout, eel and water voles to thrive.

“Many years ago we identified the Green Lanes stream was bringing poor water quality in. We discovered there was a whole load of urban runoff coming from Epsom,” Bella said.

“Surface water drains were sending [polluted] water straight from roads into the river – and that included lots of nasty things like hydrocarbons, heavy metals from tyres and catalytic converters and microplastics. In addition, there are misconnected pipes for example where toilets are plumbed in wrongly. People pour items down drains, there are pesticides from gardens – and all that is really toxic.

Volunteers start to plant up the wetlands
Volunteers start to plant up Chamber Mead wetlands

“There is another really big impact which came from the sewer storm tank overflows. Further up the Green Lanes stream there are two sewers that come together … and to stop them from backing up into your homes, there is a storm tank system where water flows up and theoretically goes back into the sewer. But in exceptional circumstances it overspills into the Green Lanes stream.

“Trying to fix that is really difficult,” Bella continued. “We worked with Thames Water to make the performance of the storm tanks as best as they could and they have reduced the number of times they spill massively.

“Another option is to clean the water before it goes into the river – and that’s what the wetlands are here to do.”

Plants are added to the wetlands
The public had the chance to added plants to the wetlands

About 90% of wetlands have been lost in the past 100 years, Bella added, and this nature-based solution would bring lots of other benefits. “It might look a bit raw, but it is a great time to see it [before plants are added].”

Trapping the silt in the initial pond was “really important,” she explained, because otherwise that silt smothers the river gravels in the water, restricting wildlife’s ability to thrive.

Contaminants coming from Green Lanes are also cleaned through the plants, before the cleaned water is sent back into the Hogsmill downstream of the popular stepping stones.

Multiple benefits of the wetlands include it becoming an attraction for wildlife such as damselflies and dragonflies, Bella added. It is also “really important” for local climate regulation. Those living near water experience lower temperatures which will be “really important” in hot summers in particular.

The wetlands cake by Heidi's Cakes
A special cake was created by Heidi’s cakes in Carshalton to mark the occasion

“There is also increasing evidence of the importance of nature for health and well being – and that’s amplified when we are near water. It helps decrease stress and also is a really great educational resource,” she added, referencing a new nature trail that has been put up around the site.

Delivering multiple benefits meant SERT, which leads the catchment partnership, has been able to appeal to a wide range of different funders. The development of the wetlands has  received funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Natural England (through the Species Recovery Programme), the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, the Rivers Trust, the Zoological Society of London, Garfield Weston Foundation and Thames Water, with in-kind support from the landowner Epsom & Ewell Borough Council. The new wetlands are part of the wider Replenish programme in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Rivers Trust. The aim of Replenish is to restore millions of litres of water in this and other local catchments, in turn improving biodiversity.

In total, about 300 visitors through the day had the chance to start the task of putting in vegetation around the wetlands and go on guided walks to hear more about the project.

Family friendly activities such as craft and the chance to explore what lives in the water through riverfly demonstrations were also available. Visitors also enjoyed a fabulous cake, baked to look like a wetland flush with wildlife, created by Heidi’s cakes in Carshalton.

Watch Dr Bella Davies speech in full below.

Your river needs YOU this May Bank Holiday weekend

We need your contribution from Friday 3rd to Monday 6th May, for the Spring edition of the Big River Watch.

Volunteers from across our region made a valuable contribution to the Rivers Trust’s first Big River Watch last September – and now your local waterway needs you again.

Whether you are an individual, a family, a group of friends or can organise formal group activities, we need your eyes on rivers to gather crucial data. You or your group don’t need to be a river user, just interested in your water-based environment.

BRW Poster 2024 Spring
Download this poster for the Big River Watch and encourage others to take part from 3rd to 6th May

We’re inviting all nature lovers across the 12 catchments served by the South East Rivers Trust to download an App and spend just 15 meaningful minutes connecting with nature.

What will you spot? Birds and animals in and around the water or vegetation below the surface can be a sign of healthy rivers. Meanwhile, you may see signs of pollution such as coloured water.

In September 2023, we were delighted that 223 surveys were submitted from across our region – stretching from Reading to Dover and down to Hastings – for the first UK and Ireland-wide survey.

There were a total of 3,600 surveys, with 5,871 people getting involved – 60% of them saying they were new to citizen science. So you don’t need experience, just enthusiasm and a love of nature.

Across our dozen catchments, 53% recorded at least one sign of pollution such as algae, livestock and road run-off, sewage and silt. UK and Ireland wide, 54% of people spotted some kind of pollution, but 73% felt their river looked healthy.

We know that looks can deceive, because across England and Ireland not a single river is classed as in good chemical health. Just 15% of river stretches in England are in good overall health. Chemical and nutrient pollution can be hard to identify, but can be very harmful to the life within the ecosystem. It can also hinder wild swimming and paddling and put people off using rivers for canoeing and other recreational activities.

A four day period including a bank holiday gives you and your groups plenty of time to take just a few moments along your nearest river to complete this biggest ever survey about them. The results will supply us with the data to locate the issues, pinpointing the priorities to improve our precious waterways.

Big River Watcher

As our handy map that helps you find your river shows, our area is wide, covering Berkshire and parts of Hampshire, Surrey, south London, Kent and much of Sussex.

So galvanise your group – residents associations, ramblers or youth group – and spring into action! Why not circulate the poster (attached) to encourage others?

The campaign again will be asking you how your local river makes you feel. Previous responses ranged from calm, happy and relaxed to concerned and sad at the state that rivers are in.

Last time you also submitted pictures of what you saw – from the good, to the bad and the bikes! Beautiful sunsets contrasted with the litter that was sadly often evident.

To take part, head to the Rivers Trust’s campaign page and download the App to submit results.

Come and celebrate Chamber Mead with us

The South East Rivers Trust (SERT) is inviting local residents to come and celebrate the newly-created Chamber Mead wetlands with a day of family fun, activities and guided tours.

The celebration day on Saturday 20th April will give nature lovers the chance to add plants to this critical pollution buster for the River Hogsmill, a precious chalk stream.

Families will also have the chance to learn about the health of the river by taking part in riverfly demonstrations, a scavenger hunt and nature craft activities. Guided tours of the wetlands will also be part of the day, which runs from 11am to 3pm.

The open day begins a fortnight of planting opportunities for schools and community groups. All the plants have been specially selected to absorb pollutants and attract pollinators and an increased range of wildlife across the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve.

An aerial view of Chamber Mead wetlands
An aerial view of Chamber Mead wetlands

The wetlands in Ewell now divert urban pollutants from the Green Lanes Stream away from the Hogsmill, one of only 200 chalk streams in the world. Once filtered water is fed back into the river just downstream of the famous Stepping Stones, another 5km of waterway is protected as it flows into south London all the way to the Thames.

Dr Bella Davies, Co-CEO of SERT, said: “We’re thrilled to be giving the community the chance to learn all about Chamber Mead wetlands and crucially give people the chance to complete the project. The public have been very supportive of the wetlands from the start and adding plants is a wonderful opportunity to attract new wildlife not only to the water but the wider nature reserve. This will fulfill the potential of the wetlands to become another jewel in the crown of the reserve and make it an even bigger asset for the community. We’re excited to see the results in years to come on the Hogsmill, which should be a haven for brown trout, water voles and native crayfish, among other species which need our help in recovering their numbers.”

Councillor John Beckett, Chair of the Environment Committee at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, said: “We are overjoyed to be able to join SERT on the Chamber Mead Wetlands Open Day, to celebrate the fantastic work that has been done here to boost biodiversity and reduce pollution in the Hogsmill River.  I hope that residents will join us to help complete the project, which will ensure the Hogsmill River Local Nature Reserve is a place where wildlife and nature can thrive, and one that we can enjoy for many years to come.”

An example of wetlands planting

Supported by the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership, the project has received funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Natural England (through the Species Recovery Programme), the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, the Rivers Trust, the Zoological Society of London, Garfield Weston Foundation and Thames Water, with in-kind support from the landowner Epsom & Ewell Borough Council. The new wetlands are part of the wider Replenish programme in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Rivers Trust. The aim of Replenish is to restore millions of litres of water in this and other local catchments, in turn improving biodiversity.

The public can meet the South East Rivers Trust and other partners for the activities at Green Lanes, Ewell, Surrey KT19 9SZ.

  • Speeches to officially open the wetlands will take place from 11.30am to noon. These will be by Jackie King, Chief Executive of Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, Dr Bella Davies, Co-CEO of the South East Rivers Trust, and The Worshipful Mayor of Epsom & Ewell, Councillor Rob Geleit, who will also cut the ribbon to officially open the wetlands.
  • Events in which the public can join in will run from 12.30pm to 3pm. There is no need to sign up but details can be found on our dedicated events page.
  • A few places are left on a planting day open to volunteers – on 24th April. Booking required.

What’s in a river? We’re using eDNA to find out

Dr Lewis Campbell, one of our Catchment Managers, reports how we have introduced a modern method of assessing what’s in rivers to our armoury.

Traditionally, a variety of methods have been used to evaluate biodiversity and to understand whether or not a specific species is in a particular place in the countryside. When it comes to fish, for example, these survey methods might involve the use of nets or electrofishing equipment. For mammals, methods can involve field surveys looking for footprints, droppings, burrows and dens, or installing hidden cameras that are automatically triggered with movement. When studying birds, ecologists might spend time in the field searching for visual signs or identifying different species by their calls.

Trout
Our work seeks to help trout recolonise the Hogsmill. Picture via Canva

For smaller creatures, such as amphibians, reptiles and even invertebrates, various types of traps can be deployed so that the animals can be collected and counted before being released again.

One thing that this diverse set of methods all have in common is that they require a large amount of time to be spent on site. More recently, conservationists have begun to use environmental DNA, or eDNA for short, as a tool to understand species distribution. As animals go about their daily lives, they are continually shedding cells into their environment. These cells might come from their hair, skin, saliva, or even their waste, but they all contain the genetic material (DNA) belonging to that animal within their nucleus. This is environmental DNA.

Rivers could be compared to a soup containing cells and DNA from all of the organisms that live in or near by the water.

Simply by collecting a water sample, we can gain a snapshot of all the animals that were in the local vicinity at the time. We pass river water through an extremely fine grade filter, then generate and analyse the genetic sequences that the sample contains. A single water filter sample can reveal the presence of hundreds of different species from right across the animal kingdom.

eDNA is quite a modern technique. The first example to detect species in a freshwater environment was in 2008, when French researchers used the technology to detect invasive American bullfrog. Since then, technology and its potential applications have improved and expanded rapidly.

Preparing to take a sample
Preparing to take a sample to find out the DNA of the Hogsmill

The analysis portion of this work requires numerous pieces of cutting edge technology and very powerful computers, but collecting a water filter sample is very straightforward and quick. This means that it is possible to comprehensively survey the biodiversity at a location much more efficiently than is possible using many traditional methods.

The only major drawback of eDNA surveys is that they can currently only provide information on whether a species was or was not in a given location  but not how many were there. For example, using eDNA you could say “I did detect salmon in my river” but not “there were 50 salmon in my river”.

This means that it is a particularly powerful first pass tool for determining presence or absence of a species, which would then by followed up with more targeted traditional surveys. Therefore, eDNA will never replace the valuable work of professional ecologists, but is certainly a very important emerging tool in the conservationist’s arsenal.

At the South East Rivers Trust we are beginning to use eDNA to understand the biodiversity in our rivers before, during, and after our restoration work. This is critical to developing an understanding of whether or not the projects that we undertake are having the desired positive outcomes for the wildlife that call our rivers home.

An important example of this type of baselining is our WET Hogsmill. This is funded by Natural England and aims to kick start the recovery of several species of concern in the River Hogsmill in South West London.

These species – water vole, European eel, and brown and sea trout – are imperiled across our river network, but all of them historically called the Hogsmill home.

Water Vole
The presence of water voles was detected in the Hogsmill by eDNA. Picture via Canva

Our WET Hogsmill project will enhance the river to make it more accessible and more useable for these species, aiding their recolonisation of the river. Environmental DNA is a great tool for us to demonstrate where these species are living along the river. The aim is that over time this will document increases in the numbers of places where specific species are found along the river.

So far we have undertaken a baseline eDNA survey at several points along the Hogsmill, from near its source, to its confluence with the Thames at Kingston. We collected water samples that were used to detect a wide variety of vertebrate species. We found mammals including red fox, grey squirrels, and wood mice. We detected fish including barbel, chubb, stickleback, and many others. We also found birds including the majestic kingfisher, grey heron, magpie, moorhen, coots, and parakeets.

Importantly, we also detected the presence of eel, water vole and brown trout at locations on the Hogsmill, so we know those species are present and we hope that our work will help them to become better established on the river.

The initial survey’s results can be found on our Storymap and we will continue to monitor the river with annual eDNA surveys – so watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Cast your vote for Welly Wanderers to inspire children

Customers at nine Tesco stores across Banstead, Epsom and Leatherhead can vote to help the South East Rivers Trust inspire children to love the River Mole and spark lifelong interest in wildlife.

The river charity’s popular education sessions set 3,700 pupils on the path to nurturing nature in the 2022-23 academic year.

Now, the programme is developing its reach by engaging schools and youth groups across the River Mole area, which stretches from Crawley through Dorking and Molesey to the River Thames.

Shoppers can help support young people learning about the wonders of river wildlife, by voting for the “Welly Wanderers – River Education” option in participating stores between the start of April to the end of June.

Children who are connected to nature are happier, healthier and more motivated to learn, the charity believes. Feedback on the curriculum linked sessions shows the power of outdoor education and the thrills experienced by the children.

One teacher said: “It was lovely to see several students who struggle to engage in a classroom setting getting really into the learning on offer outside of the classroom!”

A pupil added: “It was awesome, going in the river and seeing all the creatures that live there.”

Typically, pupils on a river dipping session might find shrimps, mayfly or damselfly nymphs or even a water hoglouse, while learning about birds such as kingfishers which thrive near water.

Polly Penn, Head of Working with Communities at the South East Rivers Trust, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as a Tesco Stronger Starts community project because we know from our education sessions that children love the chance to visit the river. They are always inspired by being able to see for themselves the creatures they have learned about in the classroom.

Children experience a SERT education session
Children record their findings on the River Mole in a South East Rivers Trust education session

“We believe our sessions will be hugely valuable to pupils in the short term, helping them learn about the value of water and to use it wisely, as well as the long term. As we wrote in a blog about our existing education sessions on the Mole, pupils who learn outdoors develop fantastic personal skills and an increasing number of future careers will focus on climate issues. Our education programme sits perfectly within Science, Technology, English and Maths (STEM) learning and we hope shoppers will take this opportunity to support our work.”

Customer votes will decide how three chosen charities will receive awards of £500, £1,000 or £1,500.

The nine stores where customers can vote for SERT between April and the end of June 2024 are:

  • Ewell Express, KT17 1PG
  • Epsom Station Express, KT19 8EU
  • Epsom Horton Express, KT19 8SP
  • Epsom Ruxley Lane Express, KT19 9JS
  • Craddocks Ashtead Express KT21 1QJ
  • Leatherhead Oxshott Road, KT22 0EF
  • Bookham Express, KT23 4AD
  • Banstead Express, SM7 2NN
  • Epsom Fir Tree Road Express, TW14 8RX

Tesco’s Stronger Starts – previously known as Tesco Community Grants – has already provided more than £110 million to more than 60,000 projects across Britain.

Education by SERT on the River Mole
A South East Rivers Trust school session at Grattons Park on the River Mole

This £5m Stronger Starts grant programme, delivered in partnership with Groundwork UK, helps schools and children’s groups provide nutritious food and healthy activities that support young people’s physical health and mental wellbeing, such as breakfast clubs or snacks, and sports equipment for after school clubs.

Claire de Silva, Tesco UK Head of Communities and Local Media, said: “Helping schools and children’s groups access the food and resources they need is vitally important in getting children a stronger start in life. Children with enough food have more energy, better concentration, and ultimately achieve more too.”

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork’s UK Chief Executive, said: “As a community charity, we have seen first-hand how schools and other groups supporting young people have been playing a much bigger role in ensuring children are getting a healthy start to the day and getting access to spaces and services to support physical activity and mental health. Family budgets are tight and school budgets are tight, but it’s so important that children stay fed, fit and focused, so we’re delighted to be able to prioritise these activities alongside Tesco with the Stronger Starts programme.”

Funding is available to community groups and charities looking to fund local projects that bring benefits to communities, particularly those helping to provide food and giving children the support they need for a good start in life. Anyone can nominate a project and organisations can apply online. To find out more visit tescoplc.com/strongerstarts

  • For full details of SERT’s education opportunities for schools and youth groups and to book visit our education page.

Glorious gravel boosts the Blackwater

Assistant Project Officer Luke Beckett reports on a week-long series of events with volunteers in mid-March, putting gravel into a stretch of a River Loddon tributary to improve conditions for river wildlife.

River Blackwater gravel installation
Some of the gravel was transported by dinghy © South East Rivers Trust

Anglers and conservation enthusiasts were among more than a dozen volunteers who joined us for the exhausting but rewarding task of installing more than 19 tonnes of gravel into the River Blackwater. In joining us earlier this month, they added a vital resource to help nature thrive into a 200 metre stretch of the river in Aldershot.

The newly seeded gravel, which is the final part of our Blackwater Valley river restoration work, will provide improved habitat for macroinvertebrates such as beetles, dragonflies and mayflies. It will also help aquatic plants thrive, as well as increasing spawning habitat for fish.

The River Blackwater at Ivy Road has historically suffered from bank and riverbed modifications. This section of the River Loddon catchment has been widened and deepened, leaving a uniform channel with little variation in water depth.

The channel has lacked flow energy and habitat diversity and subsequently, silt and fine sediments had built up, smothering the riverbed. Moreover, the site is just downstream of the Aldershot sewage treatment plant, which regularly discharges sewage effluent into the channel.

Since 2021, the South East Rivers Trust has worked with support from the Environment Agency and the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership, plus local volunteers, to improve this stretch of river.

Installing gravel at River Blackwater
Will the pile of gravel ever go down? © South East Rivers Trust

The in-channel deflectors and berms previously installed have helped to narrow the channel and increase water flow velocity, as well as habitat complexity. The increased velocity has already cleared much of the fine sediments and silt.

The newly-seeded land-based gravel will move around with the natural ebb and flow of the river, settling to form natural river features, such as bars, riffles and deeper pools.

This clean gravel and variety of river habitats is essential for river life: the River Blackwater supports a number of fish species – such as chubb, roach, perch, dace, gudgeon and rudd – all of which should benefit from this improved spawning habitat.

Gravel seeding is not the most glamorous of tasks. This site delivery was no different and was made difficult by the lack of access routes.

 

Raking gravel into the River Blackwater
Raking gravel into the River Blackwater © South East Rivers Trust

Large vehicle access to the river was not possible, which meant a lot of moving wheelbarrows loaded with heavy gravel from our drop off location to the channel itself.

The distance was at least 75 metres and up to 200 metres to push the gravel to the correct places, making this tough physical work. Wader wearing volunteers also had to rake the gravel once in the riverbed, sometimes having taken it to an appropriate location in a dinghy.

It was slow going at times, leaving us questioning whether the gravel pile was even going down! But, after four days, including a lot of rain, not enough sunshine and many teas, coffees and biscuits, the gravel pile was finally gone and the last wheelbarrow and boat load were emptied.

The team took a moment to look over their hard work from Ivy Bridge, where a few curious fish were already checking out the new riverbed, before the heavens opened once again!

This brings our river restoration work at Ivy Road Recreational Ground to a close, but we look forward to returning over the coming months and years to see how the channel responds.

Gravel and brash berms
The final scene: Gravel on the left is complimented by previously installed brash berms on the right © South East Rivers Trust

London Mayor funding to bring Bromley wetlands back to life

Volunteers will have the chance to help revitalise wetlands in Riverside Gardens, Bromley, for river wildlife thanks to a grant from the Mayor of London.

The Riverside Gardens Wetland Restoration project will be managed by the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) in partnership with the London Borough of Bromley and local community groups.

It aims to improve water quality and habitat in the headwaters of the River Cray, the prime chalk river of outer, south east Greater London which rises in Orpington.

Announced on Wednesday (13th March), the Bromley project is one of 21 that will receive a grant from the Rewild London Fund.

This is aimed at making the capital more resilient to climate change by improving 40 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs).

Currently, this stretch of the river suffers from high sediment input which is detrimental to chalk streams and its wildlife, and the wetland is choked with scrub. The project, supported by the Mayor of London in partnership with the London Wildlife Trust, will reprofile the inlet channel and the online wetland and add a new sediment trap to prevent sediment being released downstream. This will increase the water quality and flow to support aquatic vegetation, fish and river invertebrates.

Part of the site for the Riverside Gardens project in Bromley

Volunteers will have the chance to plant up the reprofiled wetland, using a selection of native wetland plants.

Petra Sovic Davies, Senior Catchment Manager at SERT, said: “We are delighted to receive funding to help us restore the Riverside Gardens Wetland, especially as it will allow us to involve the local community. It is so vital that residents are involved in being given the chance to look after their local natural space. A thriving wetland not only acts as a magnet for wildlife but also provides a wonderful open space that people can enjoy and where they can learn about the natural world.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “This new rewilding funding will support the restoration of some amazing spaces in the capital, enabling Londoners to benefit from nature on their doorstep and help us to combat the impacts of climate change.

“I believe that all Londoners should be able to enjoy green spaces and that access to nature is a social justice issue. So I’m doing all I can to ensure that Londoners can enjoy wildlife wherever they are in the city.”

Mayor of London logo

 

 

 

Chamber Mead wetlands recognised at sustainability awards

Chamber Mead wetlands and their importance to the River Hogsmill were recognised at the 2024 Edie Sustainability Awards in London last night (6th March).

The shortlisting in the Nature and Biodiversity Project of the Year category was a huge honour for everyone involved at the South East Rivers Trust as well as the partners who have helped make the 2,000m2  wetland a reality.

The wetlands were recently completed in Surrey on a stretch of the Hogsmill just south of London. They will filter pollutants and become a haven for wildlife protecting 5km of the river, which is a rare chalk stream.

Part of the Chamber Mead wetlands
Part of the Chamber Mead wetlands with the public bridge in the background

This is a fantastic example of a nature-based solution improving the condition of our rivers. The project has diverted a contaminated tributary into the wetlands, which act as a filter before reconnecting cleaner water into the Hogsmill downstream of the famous Stepping Stones.

One of only about 210 chalk streams in the world, the Hogsmill suffers from urban road runoff, raw sewage discharges and misconnected plumbing that sends drain water directly into the river. A healthy chalk stream’s pure water, stable temperature and flows provide longer growing seasons than other rivers and support important habitat for species such as brown trout and native crayfish.

Creation of the wetlands has been carried out in partnership with Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, which owns and manages the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve, a popular greenspace which will now benefit from this new community asset.

Bella Davies, Co-CEO of the South East Rivers Trust, said: “We couldn’t be more delighted that the Chamber Mead project has been recognised by the Edie Awards. The project has been more than 10 years in development. It has brought together a wide range of partners and funders to step up and share responsibility for improving water quality in the Hogsmill river, one of the country’s rare and precious urban chalk streams.

Dr Bella Davies at the Edie Awards
Dr Bella Davies at the Edie Awards

“Wetlands such as these are a great way to improve water quality, especially in urban areas, in this case by filtering water from one of the Hogsmill’s headwater tributaries. This water has been contaminated by toxic urban road runoff and sewage from storm tank overflows and misconnected pipes. The water will now enter the Hogsmill after it has been cleaned by the wetlands and help bring back endangered river wildlife such as brown trout and eels.

“We’re also thrilled that the public will see the wetlands develop into a space where wildlife such as dragonflies, birds and butterflies can thrive providing more opportunities to experience nature on their doorstep.”

SERT is now preparing a series of planting days for schools, community groups and the public to take place in the Spring, as well as an open day to introduce the project to the community.

Supported by the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership, the Chamber Mead Wetland project has received funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Natural England (through the Species Recovery Programme), the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, the Rivers Trust, the Zoological Society of London, Garfield Weston Foundation and Thames Water, with in-kind support from the landowner Epsom & Ewell Borough Council.

The new wetlands are part of the wider Replenish programme in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Rivers Trust. The aim of Replenish is to restore millions of litres of water in this and other local catchments, in turn improving biodiversity.

Abstraction reform: a matter of food security

Ahead of our first Water Abstraction Group workshop on 25th March, Dr Sam Hughes, Senior Water and Land Stewardship Officer, explains how growers are better working together to secure water for their crops – with major changes on the way.

The South East of England, particularly areas such as the Medway and north Kent, is a key sourcing area for fresh fruit and vegetables, grown by the horticulture sector.

Most growers rely at least in part on abstracting fixed volumes of water from the environment under a licensing system from the Environment Agency that began in the 1960s.  However, that system needs updating, especially in our region, where water scarcity has been exacerbated by the growing needs of a densely populated area and climate change. We are increasingly subject to the extremes of drought and rainfall.

Therefore the Government has brought in new legislation – namely the Environment Act to help balance the needs of the environment, which needs sufficient quantities of water retained in rivers to thrive, our human needs and those required by growers to ensure food security.

Part of the new legislation supports reform of the amount of water that growers can abstract. The changes could mean that, in the near future, growers might face cuts in the amount of water they are permitted to abstract, which could impact their business and domestic food security. The answer lies in collaboration to have a voice in regional water resource planning, which takes a holistic look at the needs of different sectors.

The rise of the WAGs – Water Abstraction Groups

Strawberries growing through irrigated watering
Growers are already highly inventive when it comes to watering crops. Picture by Tzeemeng Yap via Pexels

Many growers of fresh fruit and vegetables including strawberries, pears, apples and peppers, are already highly innovative when it comes to water, from precision irrigation to rainwater harvesting and storage. However, some growers rely to an extent on drawing water from mains supply to supplement crop irrigation during the peak growing season. This is an expensive option and not necessarily the best for crop irrigation.

As part of a multisector group of water users with diverse needs, the voice of fresh food growers in planning is vital. That voice is stronger when growers work together rather than alone. Water Abstractor Groups – also known as WAGs – provide that much needed collective voice that speaks up for abstractor rights in regional water planning and management processes.

WAGs also mean better dialogue with regulators such as the Environment Agency or Natural England, shared resources and pooled knowledge. By raising awareness about water scarcity, climate change and drought impacts, the members of a WAG can adapt more nimbly to changes in regulations and are generally better informed of opportunities to ensure they get their fair share of water resources.

WAGs are well established in key sourcing areas such as East Anglia, where water, the environment and food security are fundamental. For example, the Broadland Agricultural Water Abstractors Group, formed in 1997, now has 170 members acting as a forum for discussion on sustainable water management and addressing issues of policy.

But is there an appetite for WAGs in the South East? How do they work?  How are they set up and what can growers in the South East expect from them?

Raspberries in flower
Our fruit and vegetables require sustainable water management

Now, more than ever, is the time to work together on building sustainable water resilience for businesses that produce our food.

Through the Holistic Water for Horticulture Project (a Courtauld Water Roadmap Project), the South East Rivers Trust is collaborating with key partners to organise two workshops over 2024. These will talk with growers and farmers about the role of WAGs in a collective approach to sustainable water management for food production, in abstraction reform and in regional planning.

These workshops will be held in collaboration with the National Farmers Union (NFU), Water Resources South East, the Environment Agency, established Water Abstractor Groups (WAGs) and regional water companies.

If you are a grower, a farmer or an advisor interested in the workshop themes sign up for the first on 25th March or email holisticwaterforhorticulture@southeastriverstrust.org

Read more about the Holistic Water for Horticulture project on our dedicated website.

Make a noise about the sorry State Of Our Rivers

Sewage pollution in the Hogsmill
Pollution in the Hogsmill River, by Toby Hull of the South East Rivers Trust

Brace yourselves: 0% of England’s rivers are in good overall health. A truly shocking fact for a habitat that’s so vital to all of us.

This and other alarming statistics come from the Rivers Trust’s 2024 State Of Our Rivers Report, which has been launched today (Monday 26th February).

Combining data, insightful maps, and illuminating case studies, the report dives into the data and evidence, offering us an insight into just how our rivers in the UK and Ireland are doing.

The data is clear:

  • No single stretch of river in England is in good overall health
  • Just 15% of English river stretches reach good ecological health standards
  • Toxic chemicals that remain in our ecosystems for decades pollute every stretch of English rivers

Healthy rivers can be a powerful ally in mitigating the effects of climate change, being able to protect communities from flood and drought, the report emphasises. They support a wealth of biodiversity. They also benefit our physical and mental well-being and are a fantastic way for us to reconnect with nature.

However, these vital ecosystems are plagued by sewage, chemical, nutrient and plastic pollution. They have been heavily modified, so they don’t function as naturally as they should.

All this means that our aquatic wildlife, from plants to fish, is having to work harder to survive – and that rivers can be unpleasant places to visit or to use for recreation.

So, what can you do? Here’s five actions you can take

1 Write to your MP to demand meaningful action

Demand better for your river
Demand better for your river

If you are shocked by the state of our rivers, write to your MP to demand change.

Tell them that restoring rivers is climate action, supports wildlife and protects communities.

The report allows you to search for your local stretch of river and use its stats and maps on sewage, barriers in rivers and chemicals to arm yourself with facts before contacting your MP.

You can contact your MP via the Rivers Trust’s portal – and add your own words to the template.

Ask your elected representative what they are doing about river health. We want you to demand better Government action for our rivers, through better water quality monitoring, investment in infrastructure for sewage treatment and better funding for Nature-based Solutions.

To help you when you write, we have compiled a State Of Our Rivers Catchment Crib Sheet with a basic comparison of Water Framework Directive ratings for our catchments between 2019 and 2022.

We would also encourage you to speak up for some of our recent work (below) and show how it is making a real difference to rivers.

For example:

  • Volunteers plant up berms at Morden Hall Park
    Volunteers plant up berms at Morden Hall Park in September 2023

    Nature-based solutions such as leaky woody dams are holding water longer in the landscape of the Beult area of the River Medway. This increases biodiversity and helps nature thrive, as well as slows water flow into the main river, where it is abstracted for human use. As those who went on our Nature-based Safari concluded: We need to make more of this happen on a wider scale.

  • Deflectors and planted berms extending parts of the bank have re-wiggled a straight section of the River Wandle in Morden Hall Park (pictured). This works wonders for wildlife, varying the flow of the water and giving fish and invertebrates places of refuge and areas to breed.
  • New wetlands constructed at Chamber Mead have brought fresh hope to the Hogsmill. They divert pollution which will help protect 5km of precious chalk stream.
  • Our Holistic Water for Horticulture project works with growers towards a 2030 target that 50% of the UK’s fresh food is sourced from areas with sustainable water management. The south east is an area already classed as water-stressed and this is an issue that affects our food security.
  • We’re also working to put rivers at the heart of landowner thinking as part of the Darent Landscape Recovery Project, a Government-funded pilot.

2 Shout out for your local river on social media

Join the fight for healthy rivers

What’s your local stretch of river? How do you use it and how does it affect your mood? Perhaps you visit it for pleasure with your dog on a daily walk, or use it for recreation such as rowing, canoeing or swimming.

However you care about your local river and interact with it, we want you to tell us online. Once you have found out about the condition of your local river via the State of Our Rivers report, make a noise about it!

Report what you see – for good or bad – whether that’s young fish thriving and wildlife flourishing, or plastic pollution and sewage outfall spills.

Use the hashtag #StateofOurRivers and find us on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and Instagram.  Why not tag the elected representative you have emailed, too? You can also tag @TheRiversTrust on all channels.

3 Sign up to be an Everyday River Hero

Become an Everyday River Hero

Whether you are a seasoned, long-term river user or you’ve been caught up in the increasing wave of publicity around sewage and other river issues, we want you to become an Everyday River Hero.

It might be hard to believe given our wet winter, but the south east of England actually receives less annual rainfall than the south of France. We face a real threat of not being able to meet supply by 2050, because of a growing population and climate change.

Launched in January, our 10-week email programme will tell you why rivers are essential for our daily lives and how to care for and protect wildlife, when you are exploring the great outdoors or at home. How – and how much – water you use in your bathroom and kitchen, as well as your garden can be as vital for rivers and the wildlife that thrives in them as the flea treatments you use on your dogs.

Read more and sign up on our campaign webpage.

4 Volunteer with us to improve rivers!

Gravel seeding
Join us for gravel seeding on the Loddon in March

We always get a huge thrill when we can involve volunteers directly in work to help rivers thrive. There is nothing like enabling communities to take action for the stretch of water they love.

  • Help install gravel on the River Blackwater in Aldershot. Join us to improve this stretch of the River Loddon for fish and invertebrates on any of four days, from March 12th to 15th.
  • Sign up for Outfall Safari training on the Beverley Brook, on 20th. Join us and the Zoological Society of London to learn to spot and report misconnected plumbing that is polluting rivers. The results will help trace appliances such as washing machines that have been connected to the wrong pipes when they were installed.

To book, visit our events page – and bookmark it for subsequent volunteering opportunities during 2024.

5 Book our education sessions for your school or youth group

A school education session
A school education session

Educating our youngest citizens is a core part of our work on the Beverley Brook, Hogsmill and Wandle rivers, where we hold sessions for Key Stage 1 and 2, in schools and along rivers. Our sessions are available for youth groups, too, so inspire them to cherish their local waterway by booking a session.

We also run school sessions on the River Mole, under the Our River Our Water programme.

If you are a parent or teacher, read our education page for full details and encourage your school community to get in touch!

As one teacher said about our curriculum linked sessions: “They fit exactly with what we have been learning and the children enjoyed all the activities.”

 

 

 

 

Volunteers test pollution levels on River Mole

Volunteers are now collecting vital data about the health of the River Mole, after being given water quality testing kits as part of our Mending the Upper Mole project.

We are thrilled to have teamed up with River Mole River Watch, a local charity group which shares our aim to bring the river back to life for wildlife and people to enjoy.

Lewis briefs the volunteers on how to use the kits to test for pollution on the River Mole
Lewis briefs the volunteers on how to use the kits to test for pollution on the River Mole

Having picked up their kits this week, the citizen scientists will now be carrying out monthly tests for the next two years, to give us a baseline of pollutants. The volunteers will be measuring 10 aspects of river health, including levels of phosphate, ammonia, nitrate, conductivity, pH for acidity and temperature. All of this data is crucial to help us understand how to improve the river.

Lewis Campbell, SERT’s Catchment Manager in charge of the Mending the Upper Mole project, said: “It is fantastic to have a group of volunteers who want to get into the nitty gritty of looking after their local river by carrying out water quality tests to assess pollution levels. We know River Mole River Watch play an active part in caring for their stretch of river and it is brilliant to team up with them as they do so.

“The volunteers will be helping the Mending the Upper Mole project to assess the health of this section of river in a way that has not been done before. The results will allow us to highlight hotspots of pollution, helping the catchment partnership to implement strategies to  combat pollution and help the catchment thrive. We have already added gravels to the river at Maidenbower to help fish and we are working on a number of other projects to improve the waterway for wildlife.”

Simon Collins, one of the Trustees of River Mole River Watch, said: “Our fantastic River Mole River Watch volunteers have been collecting water quality test data across the whole catchment every month for a year. Partnering with SERT has been very helpful indeed and we are excited by the Mending the Upper Mole project as it focusses on water quality and pollution in the Upper Mole which is a particularly sensitive part of the river catchment area. More data will help to identify hot spots and areas we can work with SERT to improve.”

The River Mole catchment partnership is co-hosted between SERT and Surrey Wildlife Trust and the vision is set out on the river network’s Storymap website. The Water Framework Directive status for the water quality in the area being assessed is rated “poor”. The area being measured starts close to the source of the Stanford Brook and encompasses much of the Gatwick Stream.

So what are we measuring and why?

The water quality testing kits that will be used by volunteers
The water quality testing kits that will be used by volunteers

Self-contained testing kits will allow volunteers to monitor levels of chemicals such as phosphates and nitrates. High levels of both nutrients lead to algae growing in the water, depleting oxygen levels and obstructing light making the river unsuitable habitat for other wildlife. High phosphate readings would indicate pollution has likely occurred from untreated sewage – or domestic, misconnected plumbing that bypasses sewage treatment works and goes straight into rivers form surface water drains, known as outfalls.

Another chemical tested for will be ammonia, high levels of which would suggest pollution is coming from either sewage or agriculture. Conductivity measurements will also be taken to identify the presence of salts and heavy metals, indicators of road run-off washed into the river. A temperature reading will also be taken and higher readings are likely to be an indication of spillages from outfalls.

 

Volunteers with their kits
Volunteers from River Mole River Watch receive water quality testing kits to test for pollution

Volunteer to tackle pollution on the Beverley Brook

Do you see pollution in the Beverley Brook and want to do something about it? Did you know that misconnected household plumbing is sending sewage water straight into our precious waterways?

Rivers should be healthy spaces for wildlife and places people can enjoy, but they are plagued by pollution – some of it coming straight from our homes.

This spring, you can become a citizen scientist and help us identify, map and assess polluted outfalls along the river, which rises in Cuddington Park, Stoneleigh, and passes through New Malden, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park. This is all in partnership with Zoological Society of London (ZSL) for the latest round of their Outfall Safari programme.

A polluted drain spills into a river
A polluted drain spills into a river

Solving the problem of misconnections

Our drainage network is serviced by two systems. One collects rainwater and flows directly into rivers. The other takes foul wastewater from buildings to sewage treatment works to be cleaned first.

When appliances such as washing machines, sinks or toilets are incorrectly connected into the rainwater drainage system, this pollution spills directly into rivers. Signs of these plumbing misconnections can be as obvious as detergents or waste from toilets appearing in the water. These misconnections can become a chronic source of pollution with serious impacts on water quality and wildlife.

In 2016, ZSL created a method to survey London’s rivers to identify and report polluting drains. Before then, the scale of the issue was completely unknown. Now the method is used nationwide.

The results from volunteer surveys are reported via an App to the Environment Agency and Thames Water. The water company then addresses the misconnected plumbing with property owners or local councils.

What difference has it made?

Volunteers will learn to understand and identify pollution from drains on the Pyl Brook
Volunteers will learn to understand and identify pollution from drains on the Pyl Brook

Outfall Safaris on the Beverley Brook were last conducted in 2019. Then, 57 out of 196 drains (29%) were found to be spilling pollution into the nine miles of river which includes the East Pyl and Pyl Brook tributaries.

Emma Broadbent, Volunteer and Engagement Officer at the South East Rivers Trust, said: “We’re excited to be focusing on the Beverley Brook, because last time our volunteers surveyed the river they found a high number of polluting outfalls. We are eager to find out what the situation is now, five years on.

“We know from the work on other rivers that Outfall Safaris really work. Last year, we surveyed the Wandle, finding just nine polluting outfalls from 135 drains, compared to 2019 when we found 16 that were polluting the river. Signing up to take part is a valuable way for any river lover to make a difference.”

During training, participants will gain an overview of water quality issues in the catchment, learn how outfalls become polluted and will be given full instructions on how to assess them and report them via bankside surveys. There is no need to enter the water.

How do you get involved?

Training takes place on Wednesday 20th March from 1.30pm to 3.30pm at Worcester Park Library, Stone Place, Windsor Road, Worcester Park, KT4 8ES. Sign up here.

Participants must be aged 18 or over, attend the training in person and be able to commit to carrying out the Outfall Safaris in March and April. Specifically, you will need to be able to conduct surveys during dry periods, at least 48 hours after wet weather. This is to ensure any pollution is not masked or diluted by rainwater drainage.

Across London and the South East of England, Thames Water, ZSL and local volunteers have prevented 4,243 misconnected appliances from polluting watercourses: 23% of them were washing machines and 21% kitchen sinks.

If you have further questions email Sam Facey, ZSL’s training co-ordinator.

New Chamber Mead wetlands brings fresh hope for Hogsmill  

The South East Rivers Trust (SERT) has completed the construction of a 2,000m2 pollution filter which will bring major benefits to the Hogsmill chalk stream.

When planting takes place in the spring, the newly constructed Chamber Mead wetland will protect and improve 5km of river downstream, filtering pollutants and becoming a haven for wildlife. 

Chamber Mead wetlands during construction
The wetlands took shape during several months of construction

The project has been carried out in partnership with Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, which owns and manages the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve, a popular greenspace which will now benefit from this new community asset. 

The wetland is a crucial project for the Hogsmill, which suffers adversely from pollution such as urban road runoff, raw sewage discharges and misconnected plumbing that sends drain water directly into the river.  

Water from the Green Lanes Stream has been diverted through a sediment trap and two wetlands. Filtered, cleaner water is then reconnected to the Hogsmill downstream of the famous Stepping Stones. 

News about the wetland’s completion comes in the week of World Wetlands Day, on Friday 2nd February. 

Dr Bella Davies, Co-CEO of SERT, said: “We are delighted that the construction phase of this important wetlands project has now been completed. It is destined to become a jewel in the crown of the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve. The public has shown great enthusiasm for this project, and we will soon be calling on volunteers and community groups to add the plants that will really make the wetlands flourish as a magnet for wildlife. The water quality improvements that will result from the wetlands are designed to help the river become a healthier place for all, especially wildlife that thrive in a chalk stream, such as brown trout.” 

Councillor John Beckett, Chair of the Environment Committee at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, said: “The council is committed to protecting and enhancing biodiversity in our borough, as per our Biodiversity Action Plan 2020-30.  This partnership project with the South East Rivers Trust will help to ensure that the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve is a place where nature can thrive; from woodpeckers, hedgehogs and bats – to species whose numbers have dwindled such as water voles, fish and eels. We know our residents cherish this Local Nature Reserve and I hope that many can join the community planting days, which are a unique opportunity to be part of this fantastic project.” 

Michele Cooper, Environment Agency Catchment Coordinator, added: “In partnership with local communities, the Environment Agency is investing millions in chalk stream restoration projects across the country to foster more sustainable abstraction, tackle pollution from agriculture and the sewage system, and restore more natural processes.

“Chalk streams are precious habitats, havens for wildlife and highly valued by local communities and visitors alike. Together with our partners, we also continue to work hard to protect and enhance wetland habitats to benefit people and nature. Their future depends on collective action and this partnership project is therefore a much needed and welcome step towards addressing the many pressures these rare watercourses face.”

Part of the 2000m2 wetlands at Chamber Mead
The construction of the 2000m2 wetlands at Chamber Mead has been completed

SERT is now preparing a series of community planting days, to take place in the Spring. These will give residents the chance to plant the vegetation to help the wetlands counter pollutants.  

Schools, community groups and residents will be given opportunities to install plants that have been specifically selected to filter pollution, trap sediments and attract a variety of wildlife. Plants selected include yellow flag iris, ragged robin, purple loosestrife and brooklime.  

In time, SERT will also offer guided walks and outdoor education sessions for school children. A nature trail is planned for families to interact with the wetlands as they develop, alongside information boards which will detail the reasons why the wetlands were needed and the types of wildlife that should be attracted. 

The construction was carried out with Five Rivers environmental specialists.

Supported by the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership, the project has received funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Natural England (through the Species Recovery Programme), the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, the Rivers Trust, the Zoological Society of London, Garfield Weston Foundation and Thames Water, with in-kind support from the landowner Epsom & Ewell Borough Council. The new wetlands are part of the wider Replenish programme in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Rivers Trust. The aim of Replenish is to restore millions of litres of water in this and other local catchments, in turn improving biodiversity. 

 

The Chamber Mead wetland
The Chamber Mead wetland will become a ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve

Cast your vote at Tesco to help us educate children on the Mole

Shoppers at selected Tesco stores in Horley and Dorking can vote to support the South East Rivers Trust’s (SERT) programme to connect local children with the River Mole and its wildlife.

SERT’s school sessions bring children to their local river to spend time in nature and learn about the local wildlife – all while meeting the school’s needs for the curriculum.

Children explore what's in the river and record their findings in a session led by the South East Rivers Trust on the River Mole © SERT
Children learn about what’s in the river at a South East Rivers Trust session on the River Mole © SERT

Studies show that children who are connected to nature are happier, healthier and more motivated to learn – and feedback on our sessions shows the power of outdoor education.

One teacher said: “The session was a fantastic way to introduce the children to our rivers topic, the delivery and the content was engaging and the children had an absolute blast!”

A pupil added: “I loved making a promise to make sure that the river will keep flowing and not dry up!”

Polly Penn, Head of Working with Communities at the South East Rivers Trust, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as a Tesco Stronger Starts community project because we know from our education sessions that children love the chance to visit the river. They are always inspired by being able to see for themselves the creatures they have learned about in the classroom.

“Our aim is that this and our lessons about how to use water wisely in their daily lives will instil lifelong habits – and might even inspire some of them to become scientists in the future. We hope shoppers will take this opportunity to support our work.”

Customer votes will decide how three chosen charities will receive awards of £500, £1,000 or £1,500.

The three stores where customers can vote for SERT, between mid-January and the end of March 2024, are:

  • Tesco Gatwick Extra, Reigate Road, Horley RH6 0AT
  • Tesco Express, Brighton Road, Horley RH6 7HL
  • Tesco Express, Reigate Road, Dorking RH4 1QB

Tesco’s Stronger Starts – previously known as Tesco Community Grants – has already provided more than £110 million to 60,000 projects across Britain.

Children explore what's in the river and record their findings in a session led by the South East Rivers Trust
Children explore what’s in the river and record their findings in a session led by the South East Rivers Trust © SERT

This £5m Stronger Starts grant programme, delivered in partnership with Groundwork UK, helps schools and children’s groups provide nutritious food and healthy activities that support young people’s physical health and mental wellbeing, such as breakfast clubs or snacks, and sports equipment for after school clubs.

Claire de Silva, Tesco UK Head of Communities and Local Media, said: “Helping schools and children’s groups access the food and resources they need is vitally important in getting children a stronger start in life. Children with enough food have more energy, better concentration, and ultimately achieve more too.”

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork’s UK Chief Executive, said: “As a community charity, we have seen first-hand how schools and other groups supporting young people have been playing a much bigger role in ensuring children are getting a healthy start to the day and getting access to spaces and services to support physical activity and mental health. Family budgets are tight and school budgets are tight, but it’s so important that children stay fed, fit and focused, so we’re delighted to be able to prioritise these activities alongside Tesco with the Stronger Starts programme.”

Funding is available to community groups and charities looking to fund local projects that bring benefits to communities, particularly those helping to provide food and giving children the support they need for a good start in life.

 

Helping big business tackle new water laws

In mid-2023, the South East Rivers Trust began working with Thanet Earth, the UK’s largest glasshouse grower, to help the business become even more water resilient. They also need to negotiate upcoming changes in legislation. Dr Sam Hughes, our Senior Water and Land Stewardship Officer, gives an update on our year-long project with them.

The South East of England is classed as water stressed, with demand from businesses and residents set to exceed supply by 2030. Thanet Earth, an extremely successful fresh produce business, sits in one of the driest corners of the south east – the Isle of Thanet.

Thanet Earth production
Thanet Earth produces millions of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers per year. Picture by Thanet Earth

The company is already highly innovative about sourcing water for its annual production of 400 million tomatoes, 30 million cucumbers and 24 million peppers. As well as harvesting condensation and rainwater its biggest water efficiency method is a recirculation concept: all the run-off water not absorbed by the plants is collected, filtrated and re-used again and again.

This supplements some mains supply and groundwater abstraction – and the latter is a key focus of our work with the company.

Our Water and Land Stewardship team’s first report for Thanet Earth has outlined the current and future abstraction situation in the Stour catchment.

In particular, we have referenced what the implications will be from 2028, as a result of the section 88 of the Environment Act 2021, which refers specifically to water abstraction and provides for certain modifications to be implemented where change is considered necessary.

Our next steps are to facilitate a series of meetings between Thanet Earth and key water experts. The meetings aim to build relationships with organisations such as the Environment Agency to facilitate dialogue on what the Environment Act will mean for them and how much water they can abstract.

Thanet Earth as seen from above, including its own reservoir
Thanet Earth as seen from above, including its own reservoir

We will facilitate meetings with Southern Water, Thanet Earth’s supplier, to forge a closer working relationship and explore the potential for water sharing or trading through the platform developed by Kent County Council. With businesses facing a “use it or lose it” situation in the not too distant future when the Act is implemented, if they do not abstract all the water they are entitled to under licence, sharing with neighbouring abstractors could be a way to help meet demand.

We are also planning a workshop in early 2024 on Water Abstraction Groups to encourage working collectively for greater water resilience.

Our project with Thanet Earth is part of our Holistic Water For Horticulture  [HWH] work, an initiative that supports growers across Kent with sustainable water management.

The HWH project supports food and drink businesses through the Courtauld Commitment 2030 Water Roadmap, a voluntary commitment that supermarkets, food brands and the  businesses that supply them sign up to protect critical water resources for food production, nature and local communities.

The key target of the C2030 roadmap is that 50% of the UK’s fresh food is sourced from areas with sustainable water management.

Would you like us to visit your farm or business and develop a plan on using water? Contact us by clicking on this link.

Community action kicks off Mending the Upper Mole

Engaging people with their local rivers is pivotal to the South East Rivers Trust’s mission to improve the health of our waterways. Communities that play a role in caring for their river are vital both in monitoring the river for signs of problems and for getting stuck in to help us fix them. Lewis Campbell, our Catchment Manager for the River Mole, reviews our recent community engagement events for the Mending the Upper Mole project and looks ahead to what we have lined up for 2024.

Lewis Campbell with volunteers at Horley
SERT’s Lewis Campbell with volunteers at Horley

Managing the amount of litter that ends up in our urban rivers is incredibly important. The presence of unwanted rubbish not only spoils the aesthetics of our waterways but also has significant ecological implications for the health of our rivers, streams and even our oceans.

For example, discarded plastic can cause problems if it is ingested by wildlife, or it can break down into microplastics and pose a significant pollution risk.

As part of our Mending the Upper Mole project, we have recently been out and about with our wonderful volunteers removing litter from two tributaries of the River Mole.

On 24th September, which just happened to be World Rivers Day, we set up our gazebo on Riverside Gardens in Horley and invited the local community to join us in a bankside cleanup along the bank of the Gatwick Stream. We were joined by our friends from River Mole River Watch and Horley Town Council.

Scout group members at our event
Local scout group members loved our event, from making crafts to taking part in the cleanup

Alongside individual volunteers from the local community, we also welcomed a local scout group, whose members not only enjoyed making crafts on our stand but set about gathering up the litter with tremendous energy.

After a few hours of work, we had removed a huge amount of rubbish from the landscape. Items mainly consisted of plastic bottles, drinks cans and food packaging. A shopping trolley and car tyre were among larger items.

Following the success of our Horley event, on 11th October we went south and hosted a group of enthusiastic volunteers for a clean-up along the Stanford Brook and its banks in Crawley. This time we were able to get into the river itself.

Looking in from the riverbank, the waterway looked relatively clean. Once we entered the water, however, the scale of the litter problem became clear: there was a lot of rubbish on the river bed which had clearly been there a long time. We collected large amounts of food wrappers and drinks cans and bottles. We also picked out three more shopping trolleys and the base of a vacuum cleaner.

Half a vacuum cleaner, found on the Upper Mole
The bottom half of a vacuum cleaner was found, among other items of rubbish

I’d like to extend a massive thank you to all who came and helped out at both events. To those who took part, the experience really emphasised the scale of the issue affecting our waterways: we can’t always see the extent of the damage being caused to our rivers, because much of it sinks to the bottom. Creatures in the river will try to feed on items such as plastic, while the larger items that we can see are an eyesore on cherished public spaces.

Besides tidying up our rivers, these events are also a great opportunity to engage with local people about our plans to improve the health of the waterways of the Upper Mole, around Horley, Crawley and neighbouring areas.

Back in 2017, a pollution event significantly impacted the health of the Upper Mole catchment. The South East Rivers Trust was given funding to deliver an ambitious suite of projects in order to improve the ability of the catchment to cope with such events in the future. These delivery projects will include removing barriers to fish passage, like the projects we have delivered on the Darent and Loddon, improving the quality of the river habitat, such as we have done on the Wandle, and creating wildlife refuges.

We will also work with schools and community groups in the Upper Mole to raise awareness of local rivers and to encourage engagement. Another aspect is to conduct citizen science to better understand how poor water quality is impacting the rivers and their wildlife, to help us form action plans to improve the river’s health. All of these projects come together to form what we have called the Mending the Upper Mole project.

We hope that 2024 will be the year when much of this work kicks off in earnest. A great appetite has already been shown not only by the volunteers who have turned up at our events, but by community leaders and conservation groups who are all keen to help.

There will be ample opportunities to get involved, whether you want to come and help us pick litter, clear overgrown river banks, take water samples, or all of the above. You can keep in touch with opportunities by bookmarking our events page, by signing up to SERT’s mailing list to receive our monthly newsletter or for direct enquiries email info@southeastriverstrust.org.

To learn about our Key Stage 1 and 2 sessions for primary schools on the Gatwick Stream at Grattons Park, visit our education page and read the Our River Our Water section.

The final haul at our Crawley cleanup
Volunteers with the final haul at our Crawley cleanup on World Rivers Day

 

Could you help us this Giving Tuesday?

Think of us on #GivingTuesday – 28th November

Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 and has now grown into an international movement that is embedded on the social calendar annually, with the simple idea of doing good.

What better way is there to do that than make a donation on Giving Tuesday (28th November 2023) or instead of a physical present this festive season, to help protect rivers – our very lifeblood?

While there are many great causes, one that underpins our very existence – water – is hard to ignore.

Much of our drinking water is abstracted from rivers, supplementing what is stored in reservoirs to supply the needs of our homes and businesses.

However, in the South East we live in an area that is classed as water-stressed. This means that we are already facing a water shortage because of a growing population and climate change, which brings with it erratic weather patterns, from sudden storms from which we can’t capture all the water to drought.

All this puts huge pressure on the wildlife that thrives in rivers. Your rivers. Rivers that have been straightened, boxed in by concrete or boarding along the edges thwarting animal movement between water and land, or restricted by weirs and other barriers – all in the name of convenience for people at various times in our history.

But this has left our rivers unable to function as they should, to allow fish to migrate (some as far as the sea) to better habitats, to allow flowers to flourish to attract pollinators, or to give creatures that move between water and land the chance to do so.

The very habitats that support the wildlife that supports our existence needs help – and we’re on a mission to make that happen.

However, we can’t install fish passes or ‘rewiggle’ rivers to make them places where aquatic life can truly thrive without funding.

By the end of November, many people are already making decisions about gifts for the festive season. Many of you might be tempted by offers on Black Friday weekend (23rd to 27th November). But many of you might be thinking that a gift to nature might be better for your recipients for Christmas-time festivities this year – a year in which we have made inroads in many areas.

Some highlights from this year include:

  • encouraging people in the Medway to take a first step to caring for their local river by addressing their reliance on single-use plastic – 70 people signed up to become official Medway River Guardians with many of them becoming River Champions.
  • working with landowners in the Beult to install nature-based solutions to retain back water in the landscape for the benefit of wildlife and people. We’re now building up similar work on the Darent
  • creating new fish passes, from a baffle weir to improving the wish stream so fish can access better habitats
  • training citizen scientists to map out invasive non-native species on the Wandle and continued our volunteering events at Morden Hall Park
  • starting to create a new wetland at Chamber Mead on the Hogsmill
  • introducing rivers to dozens of schools and hundreds of children through our education programmes
  • Hosting Loddon Rivers Week and contributing sessions to London Rivers Week
  • Setting up a project to reintroduce water voles, eels and trout to the Hogsmill
  • Advising the UK’s largest greenhouse salad crop grower on water resilience

We couldn’t do it without funding.

Please consider making a one off donation to the South East Rivers Trust this Giving Tuesday, or signing up to make a regular donation. Visit our donate page for details.

A backwater to boost the Teise

Anglers have already reported seeing small fish using a new backwater on the River Teise in Kent just days after it was created by the South East Rivers Trust.

Taking just over a week to construct in September, the backwater has created a refuge for aquatic life taking cover from high flows or pollution incidents emanating from the main river.

A natural depression had formed in the land
A natural depression had formed in the landscape

A natural depression in the landscape, which might actually have been the original course of the river, proved the perfect place to construct this new backwater, near Goudhurst.

The depression was dug out to a size of 20×8 metres by our contractors FGS Pilcher. They used two diggers and four dumpers to create the full depth of the wetland.

The deepest section was created where it would be fed by the river and then a slope was built to the far end. This will prevent fish becoming trapped and ensure that the backwater will always hold water, even during low flow conditions.

It is always a bonus when materials can be reused. We placed root plates and large pieces of timber within the backwater to provide additional habitat. The complex root plates provide great cover for juvenile fish, while the large pieces of timber may be used by amphibians accessing or exiting the backwater, or as a perch for birds.

We also have plans for other large pieces of timber generated during the construction works. We will be returning to the site to introduce some of these big bits of wood into the river, to help increase habitat diversity within the Teise itself.

We have begun to plant the backwater's edge with ferns
We have begun to plant the backwater’s edge with ferns

We have recently planted some of the backwater edges with ferns and other flora sourced from the riverbank nearby. These have been supplemented with a natural pond/wetland seed mix to attract insects and birds when they grow next spring. These will help the backwater become a haven for dragonflies and damselflies.

The work, supported by the Environment Agency, is part of our mission in the Teise Habitat Improvement project to improve this sub-catchment of the River Medway.

In recent years we have removed four concrete weirs to allow fish to reach different habitats and added woody materials such as deflectors to improve river habitat.

We have also worked closely with the Teise Angling and Conversation Society to improve the course of a heavily modified and dredged river and improve the habitats for brown trout, rainbow trout and grayling which frequent the watercourse.

The completed backwater on the Teise
The completed backwater on the Teise

New online tool highlights nature-based solutions to tackle road runoff

A new online tool has been launched this week to help tackle road runoff pollution in London’s rivers by highlighting the best places to install nature-based solutions such as wetlands.

The development of the first-of-its-kind tool by Thames21 builds on years of research by the environmental charity and its partners Middlesex University and the South East Rivers Trust, which contributed with mapping, scoping and reporting.

Pollution from our roads adds to a number of problems for our rivers coming from sewer overflows, litter and misconnected drains. However it is often the Cinderella of pollution topics, because it receives far less public attention than sewage or agricultural causes.

Research from the Rivers Trust shows that the UK’s 1,600 rivers are affected by a cocktail of chemicals that are speeding up aquatic nature-loss, affecting insects, birds and mammals.

Road runoff goes straight to rivers
Road runoff goes straight to rivers

Road runoff can contain residue from oil spills, as well as tyre and brake wear from vehicles. These build up during dry weather and are then washed into rivers and streams when it rains.

The new tool will help decision makers prioritise the right water quality improvements:

  • in greenspaces that lie between the road and the river
  • at road locations in Outer London where surface water drains to the rivers; and
  • on London’s main strategic road network (includes Transport for London’s roads and some sections of National Highways’ and local authority roads)

Thames21 started its initial road runoff project identifying key polluting roads in 2019, with funding from the Mayor of London, Transport for London, and the Environment Agency. The British Geological Survey built the online decision support tool ‘Road Pollution Solutions’ and provided some additional support through the UKRI NERC-funded CAMELLIA project.

The South East Rivers Trust contributed research on sites in South London, including Surbiton, using its GIS mapping technology and catchment-based approach, identifying places where solutions such as wetlands could be built to counter the pollutants. By providing a natural barrier and filter using nature-based solutions, some of this road runoff pollution can be captured and prevented from entering rivers in the first place.

Users of the tool can search different boroughs, pinpoint particular areas and see just how polluting they are. This will help to prioritise where solutions could be put in place as mitigation. The tool shows the location of rivers, sewage outfalls and areas that drain into waterways.

Online road runoff tool example
An example of how the road runoff solutions user guide works

Modelling has shown that 2,415 road sections covering a total of 451.43km of London’s roads assessed pose a high risk of causing road runoff and are therefore a priority. Roads where heavy goods vehicles regularly apply their brakes are often the worst affected.

Community groups can also easily see pollution hotspots and help to suggest solutions by working for example with the authorities or through catchment partnerships.

The tool – which extends to all outer London boroughs – allows uses to access data by boroughs or river catchment and includes the Wandle, Beverley Brook, Hogsmill, Upper Darent, Lower Cray and Upper Cray.

Working in partnership, authorities responsible for these roads could intervene by providing nature-based solutions in these areas to help make runoff cleaner, and improve water quality in local rivers and watercourses.

Find out how the tool works by reading the user guide.