Make a noise about the sorry State Of Our Rivers

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.”

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Promise sticks and sit spots – an education outlook

Jonathan Dean, our Education Development Officer, writes about how the South East Rivers Trust education programme is evolving to address our climate and ecological emergency.

When environmental education really got going more than half a century ago, there was a belief that it would increase environmental awareness and lead to more pro-environmental behaviour.

Research is now proving that our colleagues only got it half right. Environmental education does raise awareness of the climate and ecological emergency, but it doesn’t automatically lead to pro-environmental behaviour. For that, we need promise sticks and sit spots.

A recent RSPB report highlighted that four out of five children in the UK are not connected to nature, specifically their sense of their relationship with the natural world. There are five pathways to nature connectedness: noticing, feeling, beauty, celebration, and care for the natural world.

We’ve taken inspiration from the nature connectedness research group at Derby University to play our part in improving this relationship for the wellbeing of humans and nature.

We’re pleased to be officially including nature-connection activities in all our Project Kingfisher sessions from this September onwards, following successful trials in the previous year. We still deliver learning linked to the National Curriculum, but more than 80% of feedback from teachers and pupils has highlighted that our new nature connection activities are the most popular and memorable parts of the session.

“In the interactive walk they honestly just loved being in nature. So many kids don’t get a chance to be in and explore nature and they loved it!! Pooh sticks was great fun!!” Hillbrook Primary School wrote on our feedback form.

What are promise sticks and sit spots and how do they work?

Pupils contemplate the river during a session
Pupils contemplate the river during a session

Promise sticks and sit spots are activities designed with the five pathways in mind, to improve young people’s connection to nature.

Promise sticks are a nature-connected version of the classic “Pooh sticks”. At the end of a busy session, having learned all about river features, wildlife and the challenges faced by our streams and rivers, ‘promise sticks’ is a chance to reflect on learning, make meaning of what’s been seen and make a promise to take care of nature.

Children search out their favourite stick and come back together as a group. Each child, holding their stick firmly in both hands, quietly makes a promise of action they will take to care for their river.

They might promise to pick up litter, reduce their water consumption, or bring friends along to share their newfound knowledge.

The key is, we (the grown-ups) don’t get to know what the promise is: it’s between them, the promise stick, and the river! From a bridge over the river, children take their turn to give their promise to the river and watch their promise stick flow downstream – and out to sea. They have made a promise to all of it, to do their bit for now and the future.

Taking a quiet moment

SERT staff take a few moments to try sit spots
SERT staff take a few moments to try sit spots during a staff day

Sit spots are a formalised way of taking a quiet moment for yourself. We were hesitant when we first trialled this activity. We wondered if 30 primary school children would manage to sit or stand quietly at the water’s edge for five whole minutes and take the opportunity to connect with the sights and sounds of the environment.

We couldn’t have been more wrong! Sometimes it takes a few moments for the pupils to settle in, but this chance to connect with the beauty of nature and feel alive through the emotions and feelings that nature brings, has yielded some of the most powerful learning experiences for the children we work with.

Here are a couple of comments from pupils who we took to the River Wandle at Ravensbury Park – proof of the simplicity involved in nature:

“School is always go, go, go, so it was great to have time to just chill out, have some peace and quiet and enjoy nature.”

“I noticed the female duck had a blue patch on its side which I never saw before.”

We don’t always call them back after five minutes either, we tell them to come back when they think five minutes has passed. It’s not uncommon for us to witness children paying close attention to the ripples, the fluttering leaves and the floating birds for up to ten minutes. We’re proud to be able to provide these opportunities to young people and give them a bit of respite from hustle and bustle of daily life at school.

Our Project Kingfisher sessions are available across the Beverley Brook, Wandle and Hogsmill river catchments in south London.

Elsewhere, Our River, Our Water continues to run as a partnership programme with other rivers trusts across part of Berkshire, Hampshire, south London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

These latter sessions are free and some schools are eligible to apply for support with the costs of transport to get to our river education sites. Check out our website for more information.

Visit our education webpage for details of all sessions and how to book.

Also read: Seven reasons to put the local river on the school curriculum.

 

 

 

Become a Junior River Ranger at London Rivers Week sessions

Children aged 5-11 can become official Junior River Rangers for the South East Rivers Trust during London Rivers Week (29th May to 4th June).

Nature scavenger hunts, craft activities and river dipping demonstrations are all part of three interactive sessions packed with family fun that are being put on by the waterways charity.

The sessions will give primary school-aged children the chance to explore and understand the natural world around them and learn about what thrives along popular spots in south London.

Learn from our experienced educators

Children learn by exploring nature
Children who sign up to our half-term sessions can become fully fledged Junior River Rangers © South East Rivers Trust

Children will learn why rivers are important and pick up water saving tips from SERT’s experienced educators, completing enough “green” and “blue” activities from the charity’s Junior Rivers Rangers scheme to earn a badge and certificate on the day.

The sessions, as follows, are free but must be booked in advance.

30th May 9.30am to 12pm: Discover wildlife by exploring the Beverley Brook in Barnes through crafts and scavenger hunts. Session supported by Barnes Common.

31st May 9.30am to 12pm: Sign up for river dipping and other fun while exploring the River Wandle at the Sutton Ecology Centre, Carshalton. Supported by Sutton Council.

1st June 9.30am to 12pm: Explore the River Wandle with scavenger hunts and a chance to get close to nature at Kimber Skate Park. Supported by Enable at Wandsworth Borough Council.

‘Experiencing nature first hand is key’

An education session
Children learn about nature by experiencing it in person

Robyn Shaw, SERT’s Assistant Education Officer who is leading the sessions, said: “Inspiring children to love and value water at the earliest opportunity in life is at the heart of our education programme.

“There’s no better way to understand the types of wildlife that thrives in our rivers than to experience it first hand and to explore it through creating nature art and seeing what is in the river.

“Our popular Junior River Rangers programme also ensures youngsters champion water saving in their homes and gardens. The activities are designed to show them how the water in our rivers is connected to what we use, stirring them to think about climate change, which is a key them of this year’s London Rivers Week.”

London Rivers Week, now in its seventh year, aims to inspire the public to help learn about and protect the capital’s waterways through walks, talks, interactive sessions and seminars.

Focus on climate change

This year’s theme is climate change and how river restoration can reduce its impact, for people and wildlife, through restoring habitats to reduce the effects of extreme weather.

London waterways charity Thames21 is co-ordinating the week, which features more than 30 events spread across the capital. Liz Gyekye, Communications Manager, said: “There’s a very wide range of events for people to get involved with this year, from meandering river walks to craft classes and topical debates.”

Sir Tony Robinson, actor, author and TV presenter, said: “As a devoted admirer of the Thames and its tributaries, I am proud to be supporting London Rivers Week 2023. We need healthy rivers to help us to tackle the negative impacts of the climate crisis.”

* London Rivers Week is run on behalf of the Catchment Partnerships in London (CPiL) via its sister organisation London Rivers Restoration Group (LRRG). The full list of events can be found here.

More than 40 river restoration projects – reinstating a natural process and biodiversity to waterways – have taken place in London since 2000. Since 2000, about 28 miles (45km) has been restored. The principal organisations running London Rivers Week are the Environment Agency, Thames21, the South East Rivers Trust, London Wildlife Trust, ZSL, CPRE London, the Thames Estuary Partnership,  and Thames Water.

* The Junior River Rangers scheme is part of the Trust’s educational programme. Education is one of SERT’s mission’s cornerstones. We have a range of initiatives to encourage young people to engage with rivers. Project Kingfisher is our core educational programme covering our South London Rivers (Wandle, Hogsmill and Beverley Brook). For more information visit our education page.

Seven reasons to put the local river on your school’s curriculum

Jonathan Dean, our Education Development Officer, plays a central role in developing and delivering the Trust’s education strategy. He oversees our formal education work, extending across all our catchments. Here, he shares his thoughts on why rivers should be an important part of the curriculum for any school in the south east of England.

Junior River Ranger water saving competition

Calling all children and families! Learn to love rivers this summer by becoming a Junior River Ranger and be entered into a special prize draw by showing us how you have saved water.

Enjoy our Junior River Ranger activities, then complete the form for this amazing summer holiday competition that will get the whole family out in nature.

Our fantastic competition’s deadline is Sunday 9th October.

SuDS not floods – pass it on!

The South East Rivers Trust has been working with Sutton Council to deliver a SuDS in Schools project in Carshalton. Delivering a sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) project has been a new and valuable experience for the Trust.

Timing could not have been better for this SuDS project.  Along with all the extreme weather events around the world that have been in the news, closer to home flash flooding has hit the headlines.  Not only does this demonstrate the urgent need to address surface water flooding, but it has brought the issue to the public’s attention.  It is the perfect chance to capitalise on the growing awareness of climate change and interest in environmental issues to get SuDS on the public agenda.

For more information on SuDS, click here.

School River Challenge on the Emm Brook

While works are being planned to restore the Emm Brook in Riverside Park, Wokingham, the South East Rivers Trust has begun engaging the community through an interschool competition.

Primary schools in the area were all invited to take part in the School River Challenge.   Schools competed to get the most pupils to become certified Junior River Rangers.  The prize? A class set of river dipping equipment.

The competition was run over the June half term.  It was launched in each school with an assembly – delivered virtually over Zoom – in the week beginning 17th May.  Many teachers took the week before half term to undertake some of the Junior River Ranger activities as a class.  Children were then encouraged to complete the remaining activities with family and friends.  In the course of the competition, we received more than 300 hits on our Junior River Ranger webpage!

Nature based solutions to man-made problems

There is no doubt that we are going through a massive and positive paradigm shift. It is finally hitting home that human activities thoroughly depend on the health of the natural environment and the sustainability of the many services it provides. The natural environment has rapidly moved from the periphery to the very centre of conversations, with action on fundamental issues from our own well-being to agriculture and the economy.

Humans are an increasingly urban species, although a major consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is how we have come to realise the importance on being in contact with Nature, and how Nature can provide us with many solutions to the problems we create.

One of those problems is road runoff.  Most of us are highly dependent upon cars or other vehicles and the massive road network carved into our catchments, to get us or the goods we buy from one place to another.

 

SuDS design and delivery

When Covid-19 affected our plans for the SuDS in Sutton’s Schools project, the South East Rivers Trust shifted its focus from Education and Engagement to Design and Delivery – increasing the expertise we are able to give on future sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) projects.

The primary objective of any SuDS scheme is to alleviate flood risk – capturing and storing rainwater, reducing pressure on the drainage system.

We worked with schools to deliver clear benefits, whether it be for wildlife, as calm spaces or to enhance the work of particular lessons.

The SuDS in Sutton’s Schools project was managed by the London Borough of Sutton council and our role has been to deliver education and engagement to help schools meet flood relief targets.  The primary aim has been to alleviate flood risk in the Hackbridge area – known as Critical Drainage Area 33.

The SuDS in Sutton’s Schools project was delivered in schools in two phases – using the summer holidays to deliver the bulk of the work.  The first phase was completed in 2019 and, because of delays caused by Covid-19, the second phase was completed in 2021.

Thames Catchment Community Eels Project

We’re eel-y excited to announce that Thames Rivers Trust in partnership with the South East Rivers Trust, Action for the River Kennet, and Thames21, have been successful in gaining funding to aid the long-term survival of the European eel.

Eels have a spectacular and complex life cycle! European eels spend most of their lives living in Europe’s rivers, including here in the UK. When they are ready to spawn they migrate more than 6,000km across the Atlantic to the Sargasso Sea, where their lifecycle begins again.

Once hatched, the larvae make the incredible journey back across the ocean to our rivers, and develop into young eels, also known as elvers, before swimming upstream.

First rain garden complete

The weather could not have been better for our planting day at Sutton Council’s Denmark Road Offices, writes Charlene Duncan. This planting day was organised to enable staff members to contribute to the new rain garden. Thanks to the hard work of everyone who came out, the rain garden is now complete!

Nearly 30 members of staff volunteered their time to transform the area in front of the building. It was a great chance for staff to meet people from other departments and to socialise with colleagues.  Staff members gave what time they could, from 20 minutes to more than three hours!  Every contribution was greatly appreciated.

This rain garden is part of our SuDS in Sutton’s Schools project.  It demonstrates sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) to the schools involved in the project and the wider community. SuDS are measures that divert water from the drains to reduce flood risk and improve the quality of water flowing into our rivers.

By waiting until the autumn to plant up the rain garden, we have increased the new plants’ chances of survival.  Planting during this summer’s drought would have meant the plants required a lot of watering.  While a bit of watering is still necessary for the newly planted garden, once established, the water from the offices’ downpipes will be all that is needed.

So, a massive thank you to all volunteers who gave up their time.  And, an extra thank you for those of you who could not give your time but offered moral support and encouragement on the day.  The garden is looking lovely and it’s all down to you.

Now all we need is some rain.

Watch our timelapse video of the rain garden being constructed