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.”

 

 

 

 

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.

4 reasons to start your career in restoring rivers

“There is nothing better and more rewarding than seeing wildlife spring back to life on a river, especially when you have been involved in all aspects of the project, from conception through to design, delivery and monitoring. Seeing the direct impact you have had for the environment – makes this a very special job.” Toby Hull, Head of Restoring Rivers and Catchments

We’re currently recruiting to our Restoring Rivers and Catchments Team. It can be hard to picture yourself in a new role from just a job description, so we have curated the top reasons to start your career with us and help bring rivers back to life.

1. Job satisfaction and pride in your work

“If you love the outdoors and rivers, and are concerned by the issues facing them, working for SERT will help you achieve a real sense of job satisfaction. Being able to scope new projects, obtain funding, develop and design the project and then go out deliver the physical works is hugely satisfying and rewarding – and rare to be able to do all of that.” Harry Clark, Project Officer.

Creating a berm at Morden Hall Park
Creating a berm with volunteers on the Wandle

In many jobs, it can sometimes be difficult to see the direct impact your work has had. But at SERT you can see this in spades. Working as a Project Officer, or Senior Project Officer, you manage projects from conception to completion. You help identify what needs to happen, develop, and design the works, obtain permissions and funding, and then physically make the change on the ground. There is no greater sense of pride than seeing a stretch of river come back to life thanks to a project you designed and delivered.

“It’s an extremely friendly working environment with open-minded people. There is such a wide range of expertise across colleagues and that makes for great learning opportunities.” Caroline Ritchie, Project Officer.

2. A varied and unique role

Project Officer, Caroline, securing baffles to facilitate fish passage.

Working in the RRC Team is like no other career. There is a huge variety and scope in the type of projects you might be working on any given week. We break out concrete to naturalise riverbeds and banks. We create and enhance habitat by introducing wood and gravel back into rivers. We remove river barriers such as old concrete weirs to open up fish migration routes and to let rivers flow freely once again. We build wetlands and install ‘end of pipe’ solutions to improve water quality. We install leaky woody structures and build sustainable urban drainage solutions (SuDS) to help reduce flood risk. We love making meaningful and physical changes to the environment.

So what does a typical week look like for one of our Restoration Officers? You might start the week with the RRC Team meeting to catch up with colleagues on projects and a project meeting with external partners such as the local water company, Environment Agency or local council. On Tuesday, you’d head out to the river for a walkover with a local landowner, identifying opportunities to restore a stretch of river. Wednesday you could be installing large woody material in a chalk stream with an enthusiastic and friendly group of volunteers. Perhaps on Thursday you’re designing a wetland to clean up pollution before it enters a chalk stream. Finally, Friday you might pull together a proposal for a project, finalising the outline design and sending it off to a prospective funder.

As SERT works across the South East of England, our RRC Team have projects to improve rivers in a variety of different places and habitats ranging from working in highly urbanised sections of river, to public parks, through to small villages and across private farmland where you can really embrace the peace and quiet, working to improve wetlands, backwaters and chalk streams.

“We have a brilliant team with a wealth of experience and expertise in the river restoration sector.” Luke Beckett, Assistant Project Officer.

3. A wide range of training and a whole career pathway

Brasted Lower Weir being removed
The RRC Team tackle breaking up a weir.

Joining the RRC Team at SERT, you are provided with formal training, in-house experts and projects to build your skills and experience, which combined helps you to progress your career at SERT.

Practical training for countryside management often includes outdoor first aid, brushcutting, chainsaw, and basic tree felling certificates. Desk-based training has covered wetland design, CDM, contract writing, site safety and softer skills such as funding and project management. And not to mention river surveying techniques such as River Morph, Sniffer assessments for fish passage and Redd surveys. As an organisation, SERT’s action is led by sound scientific understanding and best practice. Projects at SERT span across multiple teams, you get to learn on the job from the years of experience in the RRC Team, as well as the varied skills and knowledge from the other teams at SERT.

If the knowledge from just SERT isn’t enough, we are part of The Rivers Trust movement – a network of 65 other rivers trust across England, Wales and all Ireland – the fastest growing environmental movement of today. We network at conferences, as partner on projects and share best practice in our day to day work to ensure we are all learning as one.

Our Project Officer, Harry Clark, joined the Trust as an Assistant Project Officer. Since then he has worked on a range of projects and been trained in many aspects from the use of chainsaws to underground cable avoidance. Harry spent time out in the field installing natural flood management measures, supported large-scale restoration work for our Acacia Hall River Restoration and was then supported in developing and leading his own projects. He’s learnt a wide range of skills and developed a sound understanding of managing rivers and their catchment while working with us which has led to his promotion.

We are one of the largest trusts and offer good career progression through a variety of roles within our trust. Or if you wanted to move to a different region, your skills would be directly transferable to another rivers trust so you’re in safe hands with us.

“It is rewarding and fulfilling. To work alongside passionate, genuinely interested individuals who, like you, are in it for the love of the job, environment and reward it offers.” Luke Beckett, Assistant Project Officer.

4. We’re a fun and friendly team

The RRC Team posing for the Acacia Hall Restoration Project.

We know everyone says we’re a fun and friendly team, but we really are. We’re all in our roles because we care about the environment and want to make positive change. We’re passionate, supportive, creative and our core driver is that we make the right difference for nature.

A bonus? We love our puns!. So don’t hold bass, there is no trout about it – read our job adverts and if you’re interested in these eely fintastic roles (which we think you will be) let minnow.

Check out our vacancies now! 

 

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 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.

Three actions to take after watching Swimming in Sewage

At the start of October, the South East Rivers Trust appeared on Channel 5’s documentary about sewage in our rivers. The programme demonstrated the extent of the problem nationwide, quoting swimmers and environmental campaigners. Below is a snippet of our involvement in highlighting the issues – and three actions you can take.

A combined sewer overflow
Dr Chris Gardner shows Michaela Strachan a combined sewer overflow © TurquoiseTV

“The soft sediment underneath – I think you can imagine what it’s made up of,” remarked Dr Chris Gardner to TV presenter Michaela Strachan during Swimming in Sewage: Britain’s Water Scandal.

Our Head of Science and Partnerships was describing what lies at the bottom of the River Hogsmill right next to a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), an  mechanism that sends raw sewage into rivers during heavy rainfall.

Aired on October 4, the documentary highlighted the effects of sewage being regularly pumped into our rivers, up and down the country. Rivers that were once clean to swim in are now full of what we flush down the loo, causing health issues for those unaware that raw sewage is being sent into them regularly, from these CSOs.

These pipes were designed to stop sewage backing up into homes during heavy rainfall, when sewage treatment works could not cope with the amount of waste and excess rainfall coming from urbanised environments. These single pipes combine waste water from our homes and businesses and surface water. They are supposed to be in operation sparingly. Last year, 15,000 CSOs across the country spilled water into our rivers for 2.5 million hours, the programme reported.

Chris Gardner and Michaela Strachan on the Hogsmill, for the Channel 5 Documentary Swimming in Sewage. Turquoise TV
Chris Gardner and Michaela Strachan on the Hogsmill, for the Channel 5 Documentary Swimming in Sewage. © Turquoise TV

Chris had given Michaela a tour of a clean looking section of the Hogsmill. One of only 210 chalk streams in the world, its clear water – filtered through springs – provides a superb environment for aquatic life.

But as Chris took the presenter to the confluence of where the river meets the Green Lane stream on the River Hogsmill, the colour of the water suddenly became much more murky. The cameras showed dirt and sediment on the riverbed.

Dressed in waders, the pair moved to the site of a CSO, where Chris pointed to clear signs of it sending sewage into the river very recently – most likely the night before when it had rained.

Investment needed

Michaela, recoiling at the thought of raw sewage in this rare chalk stream which should be rich in minerals, asked what could be done?

Chris replied: “We need to invest in the sewage works infrastructure. For the past few decades we haven’t had the investment to keep up with the population growth. We also have climate change and more intense rainfalls.”

Many of the sewers have been around since Victorian times, so Michaela also wanted to know if it was possible to upgrade them?

“There certainly is a technical challenge,” replied Chris, “but we put people on the moon with [what is now] the computer power of a pocket calculator 50 years ago so, surely, we can upgrade our sewage works to the standards required.”

Our Chamber Mead wetlands project, which began in late August, is very close to where the filming took place. The wetlands will help to divert water from road run-off and urbanised pollution away from the Hogsmill. It will divert the Green Lanes stream – as seen in the documentary – into a series of new wetlands and project 200 metres of this chalk stream.

But what can you do to help protect rivers from sewage and pollution?

First, you can demand action from your Water Company. The programme’s airing could not have been more timely, coming just after water companies submitted their business plans for 2025-30 to Ofwat. Our recent blog looks at these plans and urges you to sign up to your water company’s online session, where you can question them about the details. These take place before the end of November. Are their timetables for addressing this urgent problem of sewage fast enough? How will they upgrade infrastructure? What nature-based solutions in urban areas are they planning to combat water, combined with sewage, rushing into our rivers all at once during heavy rainfall?

Second, you can sign the Rivers Trust’s Nature2030 campaign, asking all political parties to make five nature pledges in their manifestos ahead of a General Election, which many expect to take place next year. This asks that the “polluter pays” and for a Natural Nature Service, to protect our environment.

Third, you can back the Rivers Trust’s call to end the #ChemicalCocktail polluting all our rivers. This letter to the Government asks for several protections to be included for rivers in the Chemical Strategy.

Loddon Rivers Week puts focus on the long term

Volunteers came out in large numbers during this year’s Loddon Rivers Week, held in September, to enhance river habitats in various ways, such as by adding gravels and installing deflectors.

Some of the 80+ volunteers across half a dozen sites, who clocked up more than 300 volunteer hours, were part of established groups which regularly look after sections of this river network.

However, this year’s focus week on the Loddon, co-ordinated by the South East Rivers Trust, was also a launchpad for future action to enhance this river network, which stretches across Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire.

Many people became involved in caring the river for the first time, including families keen to get involved in volunteer work parties or learning to assess river health through carrying out Riverfly monitoring for invertebrates, which they can do regularly in the coming months.

Our Loddon Catchment Officer Lou Sykes reports.

The Fish: improving habitats

Volunteers prepare to install gravel into the River Whitewater
Volunteers prepare to install gravel into the River Whitewater

Volunteers installed 21 tonnes of gravel into the River Whitewater at Bassetts Mead, Hook, to establish deep pools and shallow riffles, creating a rollercoaster of newly improved habitat for fish and invertebrates. Fresh gravels allow fish to spawn.

Over the past three years, in partnership with Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, 81 tonnes of gravel have been added to the river, improving a 200 metre section of the river.

During this year’s Loddon Rivers Week activities, volunteers also built a willow dead hedge, protecting the new riffles from dogs and children passing by on the footpath.

The new dead hedge at Bassetts Mead protecting the river
The new dead hedge at Bassetts Mead, protecting the river

The sun: bringing light to the Petty’s Brook

Petty's Brook cutting back trees to bring light to the river
Vegetation at the Petty’s Brook was cut back to bring light to the river

In Chineham, near Basingstoke, volunteers ‘daylighted’ a section of the Petty’s Brook. The stream in this section is largely overshaded, has a concrete lined bed and banks, and acts more like a small canal than river environment.

Overshading of a river can be one of the reasons that prevents the river from reaching good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive.

Trees are a vital element of the ecology of a river environment: they help to reduce water temperatures in summer months and to maintain oxygen levels in the water. Aquatic plants and algae are also an important component of a healthy stream, and excessive shading and reduced light prevents these from growing. We must create the right balance when restoring rivers, creating dappled shade to get the best of both worlds.

With the Chineham Volunteer Group, a relatively new group, we removed vegetation that was causing the river to be enclosed in a tunnel of trees and shrub, giving the stream encouragement to grow some aquatic plants.

Sticklebacks – a torpedo shaped small fish – moved in quickly post-clearance, giving young children at the event the opportunity to catch and inspect them in a net before setting them free back into their revamped environment.

The bugs: training communities to identify invertebrates

A riverfly sample from the upper Loddon
Families learnt to identify invertebrates in a Riverfly sample taken from the upper Loddon

Water quality is the hot topic in the Loddon catchment this year, with projects starting to accurately monitor the state of the water on our patch.

Riverfly monitoring, in part measuring which invertebrates are in rivers, is a nationally important citizen science initiative used to monitor the health of rivers and to detect pollution events.

This year, we included a riverfly ‘show and tell’ for a keen group of residents in and around Basingstoke who will soon be donning wellies or waders to start monitoring the upper stretches in our catchment.

We introduced the basics and set them up to get them identifying the invertebrates in the samples. The four bullhead fish that made it into the invertebrates sample were a happy addition to the , freshwater shrimps, mayflies, snails and leeches also found.

Revisiting the past to see the difference

In addition to all the new activities this year, we also revisited on old project at Arborfield near Reading – a novel nature-like bypass channel facilitating fish migration around four permanent weirs, which impound and restrict rivers: 11 years on, a quick fish survey showed brown trout, chub, barbel, perch and pike all living in the established channel.

As part of this event, the Wild Trout Trust demonstrated some habitat improvement techniques, installing a woody deflector and willow ledge, to improve habitat in the new channel.

Our video shows the water flowing over the new deflector.

Thank you to partners and funders

Loddon Rivers Week, which has been running since 2017, does not happen without an enormous amount of collective effort from partners, and a special thank you must go to the Environment Agency and Network Rail for funding the coordination of the week.

We would also like to thank the partners involved in the week, including Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Loddon Fisheries and Conservation Consultative, Wokingham Borough Council, Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, Chineham Volunteer Group, Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership, SOLVE (Save Our Loddon Valley Environment), Hook Parish Council and Rushmoor Borough Council.

We’ll be back next year to repeat the progress made this year! Meanwhile, read our River Loddon storymap to find out the issues faced by this network, learn about what the catchment partnership, comprised of dozens of organisations, has achieved already and how you can become involved. Or keep an eye on our events page for volunteering opportunities.

 

Water and sewage plans – are companies listening?

On 2nd October water company business plans for 2025-2030 were submitted to Ofwat, who will scrutinise them to determine whether they represent value for money for water bill payers.

Earlier in the year, we asked you to have your say about water companies’ draft Water Resources Management plans. Six months on, these have been updated to final plans, alongside ‘Drainage and Wastewater Management’ plans – which focus on the dirty side of the water equation. These two plans form the basis for how water companies will manage water and sewage for the next five years and underpin the just-released business plans.

Below, we assesses the updated plans from Affinity Water, South East Water, Southern Water, SES Water and Thames Water – the companies operating across the South East Rivers Trust’s (SERT) area.

You can still have your say

We’re urging you to take further action to ensure these plans leave our rivers and the environment in a better state.

Now that plans have been submitted, Ofwat is encouraging you to continue to have your say and question the companies about the details.

This autumn, the companies will host Your Water, Your Say sessions (listed at the bottom of this blog). You will be able to speak to water company representatives, in groups and online, about their plans.

Alternatively, you can write to the Secretary of State for the Environment with your comments at water.resources@defra.gov.uk or fill in a survey about the plans, by 1st December.

What are these plans and why do we care?

Over abstraction affects rivers
Over abstraction from rivers for our water supplies affects wildlife

Water Resources Management Plans (WRMPs) set out how water of sufficient quantity and quality will be supplied to the population for the next 50 years.

This is a massive challenge in the south east, where we face a shortfall of 2.6 billion litres if nothing is done.

The WRMPs include plans to build new ‘supply schemes’ such as reservoirs, water recycling plants and water transfers from other regions, as well as ‘demand measures’ – for example by fixing leaks and encouraging wise water use – to reduce water use per person.

 

At SERT, we care about these plans because ultimately water for use in our homes and businesses is pumped from rivers and groundwater aquifers, which also feed many waterways and their habitats. As climate change bites and the population grows, demand for water is increasing; if water resources are not managed appropriately, rivers and wetland environments will suffer.

Meanwhile, Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans (DWMPs) set out how sewer and drainage systems will be upgraded to cope with population growth and peaks in surface water as rainstorms become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Clearly, the current sewage treatment system isn’t fit for purpose, with raw sewage spilling into rivers and coastal areas on a near daily basis. SERT wants the DWMPs to ensure sewage systems are upgraded at pace and measures are implemented to slow the flow of stormwater into sewers and prevent sewer overflows. This is the first time that water companies have been obliged to develop DWMPs and we welcome their existence.

Do the updated plans respond to our calls for change?

Earlier in the year, we responded to consultations on the WRMPs, and a year ago to consultations on the DWMPs.

Leakage – some improved promises made

SERT, along with many customers and stakeholders, have urged the water companies to do more to tackle leakage.

Water companies in the region are aiming for the government’s target of 50% leakage reduction by 2050, but now with additional interim targets: 20% by 2027 and 30% by 2032.

Thames Water loses around a quarter of the water it puts into supply through leakage; it is particularly encouraging to see an increase in ambition since their draft plan, which only aimed for a 16% reduction by 2030.

We challenged SES Water to roll out ‘smart’ water meters to all customers, household and non-household, by 2030.

We are delighted the company has committed to doing so. Smart meters will help to quickly identify leaks in homes, schools and other buildings.

Leaks from plumbing in homes and buildings, including ‘leaky loos’, currently account for about a third of leakage. Meters will also help customers use water more wisely.

Per person targets for water standardised

Many respondents to the WRMP consultations, including SERT, urged water companies to have stronger targets for personal consumption of water use. We said that Thames Water’s aim that people should use only 123 litres per person per day lacked ambition, particularly when other water companies in the region were going further.

Therefore we are pleased that all water company plans now meet the Government target of 110 litres per person per day – and with new interim targets.

Water use per person targets have been standardised
All water companies have adjusted ‘per person’ water use targets to align with Government aims

For non-household water users – such as businesses, schools, hospitals – water companies are now aligning with the government’s new Environment Improvement Plan target of a 15% reduction in water use by 2050. South East Water, for example, is aiming to achieve this through smart metering for business customers, alongside water efficiency audits and measures to support reductions in water use.

This is welcome given the significant number of ‘thirsty’ businesses in their area, including fruit farms and golf courses.

While it is positive that water companies have stepped up their demand management strategies in response to customer and stakeholder pressure, companies are admitting that the new targets are challenging. Meeting them will require ‘fresh thinking’ and innovative approaches and will rely heavily on the pace of government-led interventions, such as introducing water efficiency labelling on showers and toilets.

Improved positions on reducing unsustainable abstraction

Water company management plans have set targets to reduce extractions
Drought scenes like these will become common without proper plans to supply sufficient water

SERT, alongside many others, supported the most ambitious reductions in water abstraction, particularly from sensitive rivers and aquifers that feed rare chalk streams. We also challenged water companies to increase the pace of abstraction reductions and ensure a robust approach to prioritising them.

So, we are pleased to see that the regional water resources plan looks to deliver reductions more quickly and that further work on prioritisation will be carried out with stakeholders such as ourselves.

In Thames Water’s plan, while we are supportive of abstraction reductions in the Darent valley, we would like to see abstraction reductions in the upper Darent advanced more quickly – this river has been over-abstracted for decades. In the Hogsmill, an over-abstracted chalk stream in south east London, SES Water and Thames Water have been undertaking investigations to establish the effect of abstraction reductions on stream flow.

It is clear there would be a flow benefit of reducing abstraction from the Hogsmill, and we welcome Thames Water’s proposal to reduce abstraction by 10.2 megalitres per day. We urge that this is implemented as soon as possible. We recognise that the shortfall in supply needs to be met but hope that the companies will consider the extra water that would be delivered to London via the Hogsmill itself if flows were increased.

Water supply schemes – big projects going ahead, but…

Improving the size or reservoirs or building more is one solution to water management
Improving the size or reservoirs or building more is one solution to water management

While curbing leakage and encouraging wise use of water will be crucial for addressing our water scarcity challenge, the deficit cannot be met entirely with these ‘demand measures’ – water supply solutions will also be needed.

For this reason, we are supportive of reservoir schemes being progressed in the next water company business plans. These include South East Water’s Broad Oak reservoir in Kent and extending Arlington reservoir in Sussex – provided that they are built on the basis of beneficial or negligible impacts to local freshwater habitats.

The long-proposed reservoir near Abingdon in Oxfordshire (Thames Water) is also being progressed, at the larger size of 150 million cubic meters. Despite local opposition, many customers and stakeholders recognise its importance in securing the south east’s water supplies for future generations. From SERT’s perspective, it will also facilitate reducing unsustainable abstraction from sensitive freshwater habitats such as chalk stream headwaters.

We do have concerns about some of the other water resources schemes being proposed, including the Teddington Direct River Abstraction on the Thames, where there are still questions about the impact on the river ecology.

Thames Water insists that the scheme meets the ‘required level of protection set out by the Environment Agency’ and say that the company is conducting more detailed studies and working with the community to understand and address concerns.

Value of nature-based solutions has been recognised 

Nature based solutions in the landscape
Nature-based solutions help retain water in the landscape for longer and increase biodiversity

Catchment and nature-based solutions are approaches that work with the landscape to retain more water in soils and wetlands.

They allow rainwater to infiltrate into soils and aquifers, replenishing water sources rather than rainwater rushing off the land to cause pollution and flooding.

These approaches offer additional benefits, including increasing habitat for wildlife and carbon sequestration, as well as better value compared to ‘grey’, engineered solutions such as storage tanks and drains.

Encouragingly, after the draft WRMPs only contained one such catchment scheme between them – which was hugely disappointing – last-minute changes to guidance enabled 73 schemes across 24 catchments to be entered into the revised plans.

Sewer overflows action still too slow

A sewage outfall
A sewage outfall © South East Rivers Trust

We welcome the existence of Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans (DWMPs) for the first time.

The targets in the individual DWMPs from each company reflect what has been set out in the Government’s Storm (sewage) Overflow Reduction Plan and in the Defra Plan for Water, published in April this year.

The Government’s plans – if met – mean that 52% of such sewage overflows would be improved by 2040 and all by 2050.

We feel these timelines are too slow. We want cleaner rivers to enjoy now, not in 25 years.

These timelines are also off track to achieve the Water Framework Directive, which requires all rivers to reach Good Ecological Status by 2027 – sewage overflows currently account for 12% of rivers not achieving Good Ecological Status.

We welcome the accelerated rate of tackling sewage overflows in the Thames Water DWMP – with 51% of overflows being improved by 2035. The plan also includes upgrades to 30 sewage treatment works across the Thames Valley by 2030, and the investigation of options for a new sewage treatment plant in the London area.

Southern Water’s DWMP will reduce the use of all their 979 sewer overflows to less than 10 times per year, but only by 2050. However, by 2030 they have committed to reducing the number of spills from sewer overflows by 80%. They say they will start by tackling the overflows that release close to high priority sites, such as shellfish waters, between 2025 and 2030, and bathing sites by 2035.

We welcome the drive in the DWMPs towards nature-based solutions. Southern Water is prioritising the use of these solutions over ‘grey’, engineered solutions to address sewer overflows. There are wildlife, amenity and carbon benefits to these approaches, as well as cost savings: Thames Water says that its plan, which also prioritises nature-based solutions, is two-thirds the cost of a ‘grey-only’ plan.

Verdict

Overall, while we still think some elements of the plans could be fast-tracked, we welcome the increase in ambition since the draft plans.

The business plans amount to £96 billion of investment across England, which is desperately needed to keep our rivers clean and flowing and to ensure plentiful water supplies.

It’s important that customer money is used transparently, responsibly and cost effectively. This is why we urge water companies and government to prioritise nature-based solutions, which offer good value for money, as well as improved resilience to floods and droughts – and benefits for nature.

These should be delivered in partnership with local environmental NGOs that have the expertise and local connection to rivers.

What YOU can still do

Water companies have to demonstrate customer support for their business plans. To enhance and maintain the environmental ambition of these plans in the face of government push back, it’s important that you, as water customers, make your voice heard.

The five-year Business Plans were sent to Ofwat on 2nd October.
Here are the links to the 2025-2030 plan for the five companies in SERT’s area.

Affinity Water

SES Water

South East Water

Southern Water

Thames Water

Each company is now offering an online Your Water, Your Say session to allow customers and stakeholders to challenge the plans.

We urge you to join these sessions to voice your support for:

  • ambitious abstraction reduction targets
  • increasing the pace of tackling sewer overflows
  • prioritising the use of nature-based solutions.

The dates are as follows (known links provided):

Affinity Water Wednesday 18th October 6pm
SES Water Thursday 16th November 6pm
South East Water Tuesday 31st October 6pm
Southern Water Monday 27th November 6pm
Thames Water, Thursday 30th November 5pm

See our attached document for questions you can ask your water company, along with general ones for each supplier.

 

 

 

 

 

Ploughing a joint course for the Medway’s rivers

Sharing a stand with the Kent Wildlife Trust at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match in September gave us a fantastic platform to tell the public all about rivers – and in particular our work nearby, writes Cleo Alper, our River Medway Catchment Officer.

SERT and Kent Wildlife Trust at the Ploughing Match. Picture by Anne Tipples
SERT and Kent Wildlife Trust at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match. Picture by Anne Tipples

The popular annual ploughing match, run since 1947, was held near Tonbridge alongside the River Beult, where we have carried out a great deal of work, including nature-based solutions to improve water sources on land.

Demonstrating what's in rivers with a riverfly spot check
Demonstrating what’s in the River Beult with a Riverfly spot check

Through a Riverfly sample we sourced on the day, we demonstrated some of the life below the surface in the River Medway – of which the Beult is a tributary.

We were able to discuss with the public the importance of monitoring our waters for riverflies – mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies – which are at the heart of freshwater ecosystems and a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Visitors to our stall were delighted to learn about these species and also see we had found shrimp and pea mussel, among other creatures.

It was inspiring to talk to more than 100 people who had a wide range of interests, knowledge and experiences of the river and local wildlife.

We had encouraging conversations around observations of what is happening with our rivers and about what the community would like to see in the future.

Listing what we found in our river sample taken from the Medway
Listing what we found in our river sample taken from the Medway

The event demonstrated both how much local people are aware of the importance of their local river and the range of concerns they have. These include diminishing wildlife and nature, water quality issues, and low water flow.

Collaborating with Kent Wildlife Trust on the stall was a real pleasure. A shared stand allowed us to talk about the work we are doing in partnership to restore rivers and our landscape and to showcase the wide range of partnership work and restoration occurring in the River Beult, one of four catchments on the Medway, and beyond.

Among the work we spoke about were the benefits of natural flood management and how these manage flood risk, increase water storage and create habitat. We also spoke about the benefits of nature-based solutions and our work on the River Teise. Here we are working on restoring wetlands to create more habitat and increase resilience to low water flows, plus putting in leaky woody structures to improve the river flow and the range of habitat. We are currently working on installing a backwater to increase biodiversity and prevent flooding.

We also told the public about our PROWATER work, managing landscapes to retain water for longer, the results of which include restoring key habitats and healthy soils and grasslands.

Co-Ceo Hester Liakos with staff at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match
Our Co-CEO Hester Liakos with staff at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match

 

Working wonders in Wandle Fortnight

Dozens of volunteers made a huge difference to the River Wandle during Wandle Fortnight (11th-24th September), carrying out restoration or learning to record invasive species across the catchment.

Firstly, about 40 volunteers in total worked across five days at Morden Hall Park, continuing our on-going work along this section of the Wandle at the National Trust site.

In a separate event, we also trained more than 20 people how to spot invasive non-native species (INNS) so they could go out during the Fortnight and record their presence using an App, to inform our catchment work.

These two events were intrinsically linked: when we take volunteers to continue our Morden Hall Park work twice a year in autumn and spring, the first task is to remove floating pennywort. This invasive plant is regularly seen across other parts of the Wandle and was one of the top types of INNS our volunteers were trained to record.

We also took the opportunity of Wandle Fortnight to schedule an event to talk to residents about a weir lowering project.

The problems with pennywort

Removing floating pennywort at Morden Hall Park in September 2023
Removing floating pennywort at Morden Hall Park in September 2023 as part of Wandle Fortnight

Like many invasive species, the pennywort might look colourful, but this fast-growing plant crowds out native plants, takes oxygen from fish and insects and cuts out light, inhibiting aquatic wildlife. At Morden Hall, the removed pennywort is composted by the National Trust. It can form a big mat, meaning volunteers drag this a short distance to a boat or suitable exit place for it to be lifted out of the water.

If pennywort is left to decay in the river, the bottom of slow moving sections as useful river channel for wildlife, depleting oxygen levels as it breaks down. This further serves to prevent many invertebrates and other species from completing their life cycles, reducing biodiversity.

Once we removed the pennywort, volunteers then turned their efforts to installing four more deflectors – large pieces of wood – and creating three more berms along the banks at Morden Hall, completing the current round of work, funded by the Environment Agency, we have been doing there since 2020.

Watch volunteers work on a berm

Manoeuvring the deflectors and putting stakes in to keep them in place is tough physical work, but the benefits are huge as we change a once-straight river into a meandering channel where the flow is much more varied. These large tree chunks, cut down as part of woodlands management by the National Trust, help to clean gravels and create pools behind them, providing areas where fish can spawn and thrive.

Planting a berm at Morden Hall Park on the River Wandle
Volunteers planting a berm at Morden Hall Park on the River Wandle

The berms, which are built as an extension of the sides of the river, are made of brash. Volunteers planted them with sedge species that work best in shady areas. These plants were mostly relocated from the wetlands and help to filter out pollutants and excess nutrients while providing habitats for invertebrates.  Golden flag iris was one plant inserted into these berms. Volunteers, many of whom have returned after previous sessions, could see the vegetation from previous efforts providing nourishment for nature.

Project officer Harry Clarke said: “The twice-yearly efforts by volunteers at Morden Hall Park are really starting to bear fruit and be visible. Now we can see moor hens, herons and ducks regularly making the most of the benefits of a narrower river channel and much more vegetation along the banks.”

The flow of the river now has a much more meandering course as a result of our work over the past few years – and our video shows the results.

Training volunteers to help us map invasive plants

Our INNS training session at Sutton Ecology Centre was attended by 22 people, who learned about various plant species that do harm to our rivers. Newly educated, they were empowered to carry out surveys on walks alongside rivers, starting in Wandle Fortnight. They have until the end of October to record them on an .  The data these citizen scientists collect will help us – as catchment partnership hosts for the Wandle – form plans to tackle INNS on the entire river network in the future.

While floating pennywort, Giant Hogsweed and Himalayan Balsam might be best known and the most common invasive fauna on our rivers, volunteers were also trained to look out for Japanese knotweed, parrots feather, New Zealand pygmy weed and giant rhubarb.

Japanese knotweed, introduced to the UK in the mid-1800s, is known to be along the river at Poulter’s Park. Emerging in March, it can grow at 5-10cm a day and easily displace native vegetation. Dying back in winter, it leaves bare soil which, if washed out, can spread downstream. Where large stands of the plant persist on river banks there is an increased sediment input into the river. In slow moving waters this silt will accumulate and smother the riverbed, rendering the habitat unsuitable for fish spawning.

We asked volunteers to survey for giant rhubarb (gunnera tinctoria) for the first time, because it has been found in other parts of the UK. Giant rhubarb is an ornamental plant originally found in Chile and Argentina which thrives in streams or roadsides, liking damp conditions.

This plant’s wide leaf span and large dense stands can have a dramatic impact on the local biodiversity by excluding light. On rivers it causes erosion to banks, exposing them to fast running water after die-back in winter. Identified as a non-native invasive species, it is illegal to knowingly allow it to spread outside a property.

Parrots feather’s rapid growth means it quickly outcompetes native vegetation, forming mats and blocking sunlight and depleting oxygen levels for river wildlife. Left to spread in the wild we’re likely to see an increasing area of land lost to grazing as well as significant impacts on our biodiversity and road-side drains.

Similarly, New Zealand pigmy weed likes garden ponds. It also harms the growth of native vegetation in rivers forming a dense mat and reducing food, shelter and refuge for aquatic species.

Rachael Edwards, Volunteer Officer for SERT, said: “The efforts of volunteers as they walk along riverbanks looking for these species will really have a big impact on the action plan we, as hosts of the Wandle catchment partnership, can put together to tackle INNS for many years to come. We will then be able to focus our efforts on problem areas and know where, for example, to focus our efforts for our popular ‘balsam bashes’.”

Explaining the Goat Bridge weir project

One of our last events in Wandle Fortnight was to talk to residents about a project to lower the weir at Goat Bridge and make changes to the river channel, improving a section at Mitcham for wildlife.

Explaining the Goat Bridge weir and restoration project to residents
Explaining the Goat Bridge weir project to residents

Nearly 30 people attended our community event where partners from Thames Water, the London Borough of Sutton, the Environment Agency and engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald explained the project at a nearby community centre and by conducting tours of the area.

The key reason for lowering the weir and installing rock ramps and bed check weirs is to make this part of the Wandle passable for fish. At present it is totally impassible.

Currently, the weir leaves about a 500m section of the River Wande with conditions akin to a lake, as opposed to a flowing river.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin later this autumn.

Full details about the project and its benefits to the river  can be found on our dedicated web page.

Our video shows how the weir at Goat Bridge creates a barrier to fish passage.

Natural England funds will bring back water voles, eels and trout to the Hogsmill

The South East Rivers Trust (SERT) has been awarded £393,000 as part of Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme, which aims to support targeted action to recover the UK’s most endangered species.

On 14th September, 2023, Natural England chose SERT to host the scheme’s launch at the Hogsmill Stepping Stones in Ewell, Surrey, where the fortunes of water voles, eels and trout will be boosted by the project.

A total of 63 projects across the country have been awarded a share of £14.5 million by Natural England to help recover 150 species nationwide. Following a competitive application round, the money will be used by environmental charities, wildlife organisations, local authorities and charities to deliver the Nature Recovery Network.

Launch of the WET Hogs project
Citizen Zoo demonstrate a water vole realise box at the launch of the Natural Species Recovery Programme

The funding supports propagation, captive rearing, translocations, research and solution-trialling to find the best approaches to enable endangered wildlife to survive and flourish.

Some of the UK’s most iconic river wildlife has been in severe decline for decades, but now thanks to a generous grant awarded to SERT by Natural England, outcomes for rare and endangered wildlife and their habitat are about to improve on the Hogsmill river in South West London.

The WET Hogsmill project led by the South East Rivers Trust, will improve the habitat of the Hogsmill river, a chalk stream in South West London. There are only around 220 chalk streams worldwide meaning that this is an exceedingly rare and special habitat. The project will reintroduce Water Voles onto the river and create new habitats for both European Eel and Brown/Sea Trout. The project will run until Spring 2025.

Water quality testing on the Hogsmill
Water quality testing on the Hogsmill at the Natural Species recovery programme launch

Co-CEO of SERT, Dr Bella Davies said “We are thrilled to have been successful in our application to Natural England’s Species Recovery Grant to support the recovery of water voles, eels and native wild trout which have become near extinct on the Hogsmill river in South West London. The Hogsmill is a rare urban chalk stream meaning that it’s important for nature and an important resource for people too.

“Our project will restore river habitat and create backwaters where fish can take refuge from pollution by creating wetlands to improve water quality which will help reintroduce Water Voles which were once prevalent on the river. We are excited to see this much needed work begin on the ground to bring Water Vole, European Eel and Brown/Sea Trout back to the Hogsmill.”

The Hogsmill river is the first tributary of the non-tidal river Thames and a chalk stream making it a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority habitat. Despite its rarity and importance, the Hogsmill has suffered a wide range of pressures leading to decline and loss of habitats and species over the last century and beyond.

Water Vole numbers have declined sharply since the end of the 20th Century making them currently the UK’s fastest declining mammal with a 97% decrease in population. Once ubiquitous and found in their millions, they are now considered to be on the brink of extinction. Water Voles were once prolific on the Hogsmill but became locally extinct in 2017.

Partnering with Citizen Zoo, a conservation charity, SERT will release 150 Water Voles across two sites on the Hogsmill, supplementing 101 Water Voles previously released by Citizen Zoo in 2022. This will help to increase the genetic diversity of the population.

Water vole
Water voles will be restored to the river Hogsmill as part of our WET Hogs project

European Eel are also critically endangered with levels declining by 90-98% from historic figures. Eels migrate up rivers during their life span and recent surveys on the upper Hogsmill recorded just one eel in 2016 and three in 2022. The WET Hogsmill project will support the creation of a large wetland and backwater while also creating a more complex instream habitat which is favoured by European Eel.

Trout have been extinct on the Hogsmill since the 1900s, owing to 19 predominantly obsolete weirs barring their passage, and preventing them from reaching critical spawning grounds in the river’s headwaters. Over the past decade SERT has made 18 of these weirs passable for fish and other species by either removing them or installing technical fish passes or easements. In 2024 the final remaining weir will be made passable for multiple fish species including Brown/Sea Trout and European Eel. By spring 2025 these fish will once again be able to access and migrate throughout the whole river for the first time in over 200 years.

SERT will provide a wide range of complementary community education and engagement activities for members of the public, schools and local businesses. Planned activities include installation of an interactive nature trail, indoor and outdoor education sessions, and community talks to help local people and businesses understand how they can help protect rivers and wildlife.

There will also be several opportunities to volunteer. Those interested to learn more about the project and volunteering activities can sign up to our newsletter or bookmark our events calendar for more information.

Watch our Co-CEO Dr Bella Davies explain how the project will help species in the Hogsmill.

 

 

Helping the UK’s largest glasshouse food grower with water resilience

The Water and Land Stewardship Team at the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) is working directly with Thanet Earth, the largest food grower using a glasshouse in the UK, to support them on a pathway to greater water resilience.

This is part of our Holistic Water For Horticulture work, an initiative that supports growers across Kent with sustainable water management.

Thanet Earth estimates that it produces about 400 million tomatoes, 30 million cucumbers and 24 million peppers every year. To meet its water needs, the company pumps in groundwater and collects rainwater and condensation from the glasshouses (imagine a greenhouse on an industrial size). However, this is becoming increasingly unsustainable as the company grows and climate change bites.

The drought of summer 2022 was a wake-up call for many commercial food growers, who already faced unprecedented challenges in a time of environmental uncertainty and burgeoning economic constraints.

Thanet Earth from above
Thanet Earth glasshouse has its own reservoir

Extreme changes in seasonal weather patterns, water availability and rising prices for materials, fuel and other goods are just some of the factors affecting the sector as never before. At the same time, measures for food security and environmental sustainability must work hand in hand for the benefit of all.

Kent-based growers already work in an area that is classed as water-stressed, a designation that applies to all of the south east of England. In times of prolonged extreme heat and little to no rainfall such as 2022, restrictions can be applied to protect the environment and ensure that there is enough water for all.

Water is the foundation upon which horticulture businesses are built. The issue of water is particularly relevant for crops that grow under glass or plastic (protected crops), since sufficient quantities of good quality water must be used during the growing season.

Over the next year, SERT’s Water and Land Stewardship team will be investigating options to increase the water supply resilience of the Thanet Earth site. This includes measures to collect, store, abstract and share water, within the context of sustainable water management in the region.

The SERT team will help identify funding options to support the implementation of measures and facilitate contact with key stakeholders and practitioners. These include the local water company, other water abstractors and government agencies. We’ll also help navigate the changes to legislation for water abstraction resulting from the 25 Year Environment Plan and the implementation of the Environment Act 2021.

Water supply of crops at is carefully managed at Thanet Earth

Pleun van Malkenhorst, Managing Director of Rainbow UK (Thanet Earth), said: “As one of the largest local business water users, we are very aware of our responsibility to do so sustainably.  By working directly with The Water and Land Stewardship Team at the South East Rivers Trust this will help us to continually improve the way we utilise water on site.”

Dr Samantha Jane Hughes, Senior Water and Land Stewardship Officer at SERT leading on the project, said: “We are really looking forward to working with Thanet Earth over the coming year on how to improve water resilience for a business that is already highly innovative when it comes to alternative sources of water such as rainwater and even condensation harvesting.

Inside Thanet Earth Glasshouse
Thanet Earth is the largest glasshouse food producer in the UK

“The challenges for this sector are real and we will have to think out of the box and consult with different specialists in order to build a resilient pathway that supports the business, helps to ensure food security and does not impact the environment.”

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.

The HWH project works across the sector to identify site-specific measures to improve water self-sufficiency of growers and to reduce impacts caused by excess water runoff through nature-based solutions.

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

Liven up the Loddon in Rivers Week

Volunteers sought for gravel seeding and planting the ‘Loddon Lily’

Organisers of the annual Loddon Rivers Week are appealing for dozens of volunteers to don wellies and waders and help meet ambitious targets to put 75 tonnes of gravel into riverbeds.

‘Gravel seeding’ events, which will improve spawning habitats for fish and invertebrates, are among seven public volunteering activities during the annual focus week on the Loddon, co-ordinated by the South East Rivers Trust since 2017.

Another key activity of the week, running from 18th-24th September, will be a chance to plant one hundred Loddon Lily bulbs, re-establishing a rare species.

The Loddon Lily
Replanting the Loddon Lily we be a big focus of the week – Summer Snowdrop, by Elizaveta Mitenkova/Pexels

Adopted by many as the Emblem of the Loddon, where it was first found and categorised, this plant is also known as the Summer Snowflake. It looks similar to a snowdrop, but has more open flowers of drooping, white six-petalled bells. Growing next to rivers in April and May, the Loddon Lily produces seeds in July, which disperse along water courses.

The River Loddon, which rises in Basingstoke and stretches across Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire before reaching the Thames at Wargrave, has plenty of special characteristics. Its upper reaches – where many of the Loddon Rivers Week events will take place – are globally rare chalk stream habitats, hugely valuable for biodiversity and home to brown trout, water voles and otters.

Twelve organisations, from conservation groups to local authorities, are ready to welcome volunteers, or simply people who are interested in learning more from experts in their fields.

Lou Sykes, Catchment Officer at the South East Rivers Trust, said: “Like most rivers in England, the Loddon faces many challenges such as pollution, invasive species and poor habitat and water quality. Loddon Rivers Week gives local people a real chance to do something about this by getting involved in conservation.

Bassetts Mead gravel seeding
Gravel was added to the river at Bassetts Mead in Loddon Rivers Week 2022

“This work is vital to improving rivers and helping a wide range of wildlife thrive around it. Last year, volunteers were thrilled to see instant results of fish investigating the 30 tonnes of newly laid gravels on one riverbed and this year we have several opportunities to do this vital work in different places.

“Improving rivers and their surroundings makes them wonderful places not only for nature but also to visit. So, we’re particularly excited about boosting numbers of the beautiful Loddon Lily at our planting event, which will be huge fun for all the family.”

Loddon Rivers Week is supported by the Environment Agency and, for the first time, Network Rail.

The public will need to sign up in advance for activities:

Monday 18th September and Tuesday 19th September: Get stuck in to gravel seeding to create spawning ground for fish at Greywell Flyfishers Club, Hook, on the River Whitewater, 9am to 5pm.

Wednesday 20th September: Don waders for restoration work at Ivy Park Rec on the River Blackwater, Aldershot with the South East Rivers Trust and the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership, 10am to 3pm.

Wednesday 20th September: Come and install woody deflectors in the River Whitewater, creating some fantastic flow diversity in the watercourse at Greywell Flyfishers Club, 9am to 5pm.

Wednesday 20th September: Plant the Loddon Lily, re-establishing this rare species at Wokingham’s riverside parks.

Thursday 21st September: Join in gravel seeding at Bassetts Mead on the River Whitewater with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Network Rail and Hook Parish Council, 9am to 3pm.

Saturday 23rd September: The Chineham Conservation Group wants your help clearing vegetation to provide some much-needed light to the Pettys Brook. Tasks also involve a litter pick.

To book a place on any of the activities, visit our events page.

 

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.