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

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.

 

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

 

Sign open letter to political parties to support nature

River lovers are being urged to sign an open letter calling on all political parties to adopt a five-point plan for wildlife in their manifestos for the next General Election, likely to take place in 2024.

The Rivers Trust movement has joined an 80-strong coalition of partners to support the Nature 2030 Campaign. It is led by the Wildlife and Countryside Link and supported by celebrities including television personalities Steve Backshall and Chris Packham.

Research shows that the UK has become one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with more than one in seven native wildlife species facing extinction.

The campaign outlines that in 2022 sewage was discharged for more than 2.4 million hours across England, Scotland and Wales, accounting for more than 389,000 sewage spills. Commitments were set in 2021 to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, but there’s a long way to go to meet these targets. With only seven years to go, just 3% of land and 4% of sea have this protection. We need stronger environmental leadership and the Nature 2030 campaign demands it.

Wetland restoration scene
A wetland restoration scene from our nature based solutions safari © South East Rivers Trust

Thousands of people have already signed the letter, which was launched at Westminster in July.

As one of the largest regional rivers trusts, the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) is urging supporters to back the campaign, which has five key asks for political parties:

  • Double the wildlife-friendly farming budget to £6bn for ambitious farm improvements and large-scale nature restoration
  • Make polluters pay for nature restoration by requiring big businesses to deliver environmental improvement plans and funding to counter damage
  • Create green jobs on a large scale, including setting up a National Nature Service delivering wide-scale habitat restoration
  • Increase protection and funding for wildlife sites by creating a Public Nature Estate to fulfil the promise to protect 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030
  • Set up a new law guaranteeing a right to a healthy environment, establishing a human right to clean air and water plus access to nature, plus building nature into decision making

Hester Liakos, co-CEO of SERT, said: “Rivers are at the heart of the battle to restore nature. Our work with local communities, farmers and landowners demonstrates the positive difference that nature based solutions and natural flood management can make in improving the health and biodiversity of rivers. But to make this difference on the scale that nature truly needs requires more funding and greater commitment and leadership from Government – so we’re asking our supporters to sign this open letter to demand action from all political leaders.”

Our work backed by either EU or the UK Government includes PROWATER and Environmental Land Management Schemes.

Tessa Wardley, Director of Communications and Advocacy at the Rivers Trust, said: “The public are rightfully outraged by the state of our rivers and we need political parties to make firm commitments towards their recovery, which are then backed up by action. Delivering the Nature 2030 policies would significantly improve the health of our rivers, which are absolutely core to tackling the biodiversity, climate and wellbeing crises we face as a nation and planet.”

Click here to sign the Nature 2030 letter today

 

Statement on Thames Water fine for pollution near Gatwick

The South East Rivers Trust notes today’s judgement at Lewes Crown Court that Thames Water has been fined £3.3million for polluting a section of the River Mole near Gatwick Airport on October 11, 2017.

About 1,400 fish were killed in the incident on the River Mole between Crawley in Sussex and Horley in Surrey.

In a statement, SERT said:

“There is no excuse for polluting rivers which are the lifeblood of our landscapes. This incident decimated fish populations on the Gatwick Stream and impacted the ecology of the river far beyond into the catchment of the River Mole.

“Six years after this pollution incident the river and local angling club are still suffering.

“We welcome Thames Water’s fine, while hoping it would have been higher.

“We are furious to hear the Judge’s conclusion that Thames Water attempted to mislead the regulator.

“They have asked to work with us to help repair the damage by providing £1m in the form of a voluntary reparation to help improve the river’s habitat and water quality that is so important to the local community.”

SERT is already using the voluntary reparation to improve the health and resilience of the Gatwick Stream and other waterways impacted by this pollution event.

The money is being used to fund projects, such as the Caring for Crawley’s Rivers project, that improve the quality of the river habitat, identify and remedy systematic water quality issues in the catchment, and engage local communities in the health of their rivers, including carrying out education sessions.

SERT will also be working to gather data and evidence to support the development and deployment of these remediation projects and to monitor their success.

Mapping out a vision for the River Mole

The health of the UK’s rivers is increasingly at the forefront of the public consciousness. It is therefore vital that organisations working to protect and restore our rivers communicate openly and effectively with the public through innovative channels. It is also vital that all organisations working on a river network combine their efforts in a collective approach. What happens upstream affects the downstream.

We are delighted to launch the latest in our series of catchment ArcGIS Storymaps, on behalf of the wider River Mole catchment partnership. This partnership brings together about 45 organisations and individuals who are committed to protecting and enhancing the health of the watercourses across the entire river network. The South East Rivers Trust (SERT) co-hosts the partnership with the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Through the River Mole Storymap anyone interested in the multiple threats to the river’s health, and the activities of the Catchment Partnership which aim to mitigate those threats, will be able to access detailed information, beautifully mapped for context and understanding.

Below, Dr Lewis Campbell, the Catchment Manager, provides a brief introduction to the Mole catchment, and highlights the work some of the organisations involved in its care and restoration.

Clay and chalk bring different issues

The River Mole at Leatherhead
The River Mole at Leatherhead

The catchment of the River Mole covers an area of just over 500km², spread across Surrey and West Sussex. The catchment is largely rural pasture and farmland, but is home to some significant urban areas including Crawley, Reigate, Dorking, and Leatherhead.

The catchment’s main watercourse, the River Mole, rises to the west of the town of Crawley, before flowing for 80km until it joins the River Thames opposite Hampton Court Palace.

Differences in the natural characteristics of the catchment in its upper and lower reaches provide a division into two sub-catchments. The area from the town of Leatherhead down to the confluence with the Thames forms the Lower Mole and Rythe sub-catchment, whereas the area above Leatherhead forms the Upper Mole sub-catchment.

Across its watercourse, the River Mole is joined by numerous tributaries, including the Gatwick Stream, Tilgate Brook, and Baldhorns Brook, to name a few. Although the river largely flows over clay, it carves out spectacular cliffs in the chalk bedrock in the area between Leatherhead and Dorking, also known as the Mole gap.

Challenges include pollution, weirs, flood and drought

Tilgate Weir prevents fish passage
A weir at Tilgate is one of many barriers to fish passing along the river

The water bodies that make up the Mole catchment vary in their Water Framework Directive (WFD) classification status from Moderate to Poor, and this reflects the numerous and varied challenges facing the catchment.

The major issue impacting the catchment at large is pollution from waste water sources. The catchment is home to several relatively large towns, so there are a number of sewage treatment facilities present which discharge treated effluent directly into the river, and occasionally also untreated sewage in times of higher than usual rainfall.

The Storymap allows residents to see Thames Water’s live sewage release data. These discharges carry with them excessive nutrients, such as phosphates and nitrates and micro-organisms, which can have a negative impact on the quality of the habitat available for aquatic life such as fish and plants.

The catchment runs primarily over clay. Couple this with the relatively large urban areas and the presence of the UK’s second largest airport (Gatwick) and rain that falls on the catchment very quickly makes its way into the water course, directly from hard surfaces such as roads and runways, or from fields.

This run-off carries with it numerous chemicals and other pollutants which can also degrade the quality of the river habitats available for wildlife. In rural areas, run-off will also carry significant amounts of soil and sediments from fields which can clog up the valuable gravel areas in which aquatic invertebrates like to reside, reducing the food availability for larger organisms such as fish.

Another issue is that fish are also negatively affected by the numerous barriers within the catchment. These barriers are often types of weir – solid structures placed into rivers to alter their level and flow. These physically stop fish from navigating the full extent of the water course. This prevents them from accessing the variety of habitat types that they require to thrive, something particularly harmful to those species such as salmonids and the critically endangered European eel which have complex life cycles that involve migration to and from the ocean.

Parts of the River Mole are prone to low flows
Parts of the River Mole are prone to low flows

Interestingly, the catchment is prone to both flooding and problematic low flows. Many of the catchment’s waterways have been historically altered to make them more navigable, or to make way for development. This often involves straightening and re-enforcing the river channels, which disconnects the river from their adjacent flood plain.

Disconnection from the flood plain means that during periods of heavy rainfall the water which quickly runs over the catchments clay and concrete into the rivers has no way of escaping the channels, resulting in excessively high water levels and flooding. Conversely, in times of low rainfall, connected flood plains can retain water which slowly makes its way into the watercourses, maintaining flow. A lack of connected floodplains in the catchment means that the Mole and its tributaries often experience low flows during the height of summer, again negatively impacting aquatic life.

Water quality work under way

As the climate becomes more unpredictable it is likely that these issues will occur more frequently or with increased severity. Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to try to avoid this situation, or help the catchment cope.

Partnership members work either individually or together on projects to improve the catchment, but meet on a regular basis to share expertise and experience. The idea is that by working together, groups can pull their knowledge and resources together and agree actions that are right for the whole river (a holistic approach) rather than act in isolation on small sections.

One of the partners, the River Mole River Watch, which is spearheading catchment wide water quality monitoring efforts through their network of volunteers. This initiative will allow the partnership to identify locations which are being particularly impacted by pollution and poor water quality. Armed with this knowledge, catchment partners will then be able to design and implement measures to prevent pollution, or reduce its impact.

Learn more about our eels project and Crawley focus

European eel
European eel image Photo by Darryl Clifton-Day

SERT also works with communities and landowners to identify ways to reduce run-off pollution in urban and rural environments, such as changes in land management practices.

Where reduction of pollution is not possible, SERT is involved in projects to improve river habitat, create backwater refuges and remove barriers so that fish and other aquatic organisms can move into less polluted areas. SERT is also leading on projects to reconnect the waterways of the Mole catchment with their flood plains, providing natural flood management and low flow resilience.

Our work at SERT on the Mole already, among many listed on the Storymap, has included a project to promote and help the critically endangered European eel. During the Thames Catchment Community Eels project – part of wider work on several rivers across the south east – we found twice the number of barriers to eel migration, such as weirs, as had been recorded previously.  We also ran workshops and assemblies for 1,136 children and put on other public education sessions, to highlight how this species of fish needs to be able to reach the ocean to complete its life cycle.

We are currently working up our Caring for Crawley’s Rivers project, which will combine river restoration with community engagement such as education in schools and with other groups.

With our newly launched catchment Storymap, you can take a deeper dive into River Mole catchment and the actions that our catchment partners are taking to protect it. You can also find information on opportunities for you to get involved.

Visit our River Mole Storymap, find out about the work to protect and enhance the river and how to get involved!

Learn about London’s chalk streams on your rail journey

Have you ever looked outside a train window and wondered what it is you are passing, or thought about the history of the towns and the landscape around you?

Learning about the subjects that feature along your journey is exactly what you can now do on a rail journey between London Waterloo and Southampton, thanks to an App called Window Seater, launched today.

Tales of how the River Mole might have got its name, the lifecycle of the endangered European eel and what makes London’s chalk streams globally special now feature on the Window Seater app, which invited the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) to talk about rivers that passengers will pass.

Window Seater interviewed Polly Penn, SERT’s Head of our Working with Communities, to gather insight for an audio story on London’s chalk rivers.

Fascinating histories of art, culture – and rivers

Walking next to rail line
Polly Penn’s audio on Window Seater captures the essence of river life outside the train window. Picture by Adam Borkowski Pexels

The Wandle, Hogsmill and Mole rivers criss-cross under the railway and feature among 11 stories that listeners can enjoy  between Waterloo and Southampton.

Passengers who have downloaded Window Seater are notified as they pass points of interest on their journey, from art, culture and community to history and geography.

You can hear about links to author Jane Austen and fictional spy James Bond, plus Woking’s alien invasion and Britain’s first ever car journey, or pioneering women in motorsport, alongside Polly inspiring you to explore rivers and pathways along them.

The concept for Window Seater was born by Pete Silvester, who – living in Paris at the time – began talking to an old man, a regular on one particular route. This companion started telling him about all the places and histories they were passing.

How fascinating would it be to act as a  guide along rail routes around the world, Pete thought?

Meeting like-minded, story-loving travellers Marcus Allender and Richard Edwards in Myanmar (Burma) in south east Asia in 2016, the trio went on to develop Pete’s fledgling concept of Window Seater.

Now, it has been taken on board by South Western Railway.

Inspiring listeners about eels and river walks

Polly gives a commentary about the River Wandle, The River Mole and the Hogsmill River, which all feature along the route.

Eel monitoring happens along the route
Eel monitoring by the South East Rivers Trust happens along the route. Picture by SERT

She explains that where the train passes the Mole near Hersham, this is close to where SERT has a monitoring station for the European Eel as part of a project to help protect this critically endangered species.

Polly further explains the surprising lifecycle of this fish and how her perceptions of eels shaped her views before she moved from the countryside to London.

Her commentary outlines the ability to reconnect with nature via rivers, waterways being spaces where you can unwind and relax, telling listeners that they can walk right along the Wandle or Hogsmill and mentions points where the river intersects with the rail network.

A spokesman for Window Seater said: “At first glance from the train window, south west London suburbia doesn’t shout intrigue – but when we looked a bit harder and saw the little rivers that criss-cross under the railway we knew there had to be a story there.

“It was a delight to collaborate with the South East Rivers Trust and to get Polly’s personal insight into this fascinating part of London’s geography and ecology.”

So next time you are on a train from Waterloo towards Southampton, why not download the free Window Seater App from Apple or Android stores and listen to this tale of our rivers as your train passes through the rolling countryside?

Download the Window Seater App

Have your say on your local water company’s five-year plan

Every five years, water companies in England are required to produce a Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP), which outlines how they intend to meet the expected water demands not just in the next five years but over the next 50 in their respective service areas.

These plans take into account increasing population, climate change and growing risks of drought – while also protecting and enhancing the local environment.

An important part of the WRMP plans is customer feedback on topics which concern them most. They are currently in draft form and out for public consultation.

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

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

Volunteers find double number of eel barriers on River Mole

European eels face more than double the number of barriers as had previously been recorded when travelling along the River Mole and its tributary rivers, a pilot conservation project has found.

Volunteers trained by the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) as part of the Thames Catchment Community Eels Project found 119 impediments – such as weirs, sluices and culverts – 66 of which were new to existing data.

Thames Catchment Community Eels Project

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

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

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

Action on sewage in rivers

Raw sewage is entering UK rivers on a horrifyingly regular basis, damaging our river ecosystems and putting public health at risk. In 2019 alone, untreated sewage poured into England’s rivers for an astounding 1.5 million hours, over the course of 200,000 separate incidents.

What’s really shocking is that, much of the time, this practice is completely legal.

Across the UK is a network of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are essentially Victorian-era relief valves on the sewage treatment infrastructure. If sewage piping, or even a sewage treatment works, is becoming overwhelmed with sewage and rainwater, it is diverted and discharged into a nearby watercourse instead of backing up into homes.