The last week of September was Loddon Rivers Week 2018!
From a bat walk in Basingstoke to wading in the Whitewater, we’ve had a brilliant week celebrating all the wonderful rivers flowing through the Loddon Catchment. A huge thank you to all the organisations, volunteers and members of the public who took part and made the week such a success.
Read on to find out more about what we got up to!
There was a fantastic turn out for the first event of the week. Around 50 people joined the Partnership for an evening walk through Mill Field Local Nature Reserve in Basingstoke to learn more about the local bat population. The walk along the river was led by Hampshire Bat Group and Wildlife Conservation staff at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and the group was lucky enough to encounter both soprano pipistrelle and noctule bats.
Hawley Meadows, an important floodplain site with wet grassland habitat, straddles the border between Surrey and Hampshire and was the location of Tuesday’s practical restoration task. The Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership and their bunch of hard working volunteers helped install this brash deflector to narrow the channel and improve flow dynamics.
This productive morning was then followed by a showcase of work and research being carried out in the Loddon Catchment organised by the Loddon Observatory, University of Reading. The event brought together researchers, students and other stakeholders to learn more about this fantastic river and meet other like-minded individuals in the field.
Wednesday saw a group of around 15 volunteers work together to produce floating islands for Erlegh Lake in the Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve. Five of these amazing wildlife refuges are now floating on the lake providing cover and shelter for many small creatures; well done team!
Natural Basingstoke, Marnel & Popley conservation volunteers and Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council worked alongside staff from Eli Lilley and Company as part of a corporate work party. The team managed to clear the wetland habitat in Marnel Park to improve the habitat for Great Crested Newts and other wildlife.
The following day was busy with two practical river restoration tasks taking place at the same time in the catchment. Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership met with volunteers at Rushmoor Bottom on the Blackwater and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust gathered a crowd of helpers at Bassets Mead Local Nature Reserve on the Whitewater. The practical tasks at both sites were similar, with the aim being to install woody debris to create refuges for small fish and build deflectors to encourage a more diverse flow pattern. This is very important work as rivers were previously straightened, preventing them from behaving naturally and reducing the variety of high value habitats available to wildlife.
At the Bassets Mead event we also repaired stretches of the bank where animals such as dogs, had caused damage when accessing the river. This process is called poaching and causes big problems for rivers as it increases the amount of sediment erosion taking place. This extra silt and mud then smothers the vital gravels that fish use to spawn and which provide shelter for many invertebrate species. Using spiling (a woven wooden barrier traditionally made of willow) we reinforced the bank to prevent earth from being washed into the river. This repaired section was then fenced off to prevent further damage by passing pooches.
The next generation of River Guardians got involved with a fantastic Messy Play session at the Popley Fields Community Centre. The kids learned all about river wildlife and made this great collage of all the animals that call the River Loddon home.
Our final practical river restoration task of the week was run by the Environment Agency and took place on the Blackwater in Aldershot, fairly close to its source. Some large trees had been felled during the previous week, and it was the job of the team assembled to use these to create woody deflectors to improve the flow over a 300 m stretch of the river. These large woody deflectors were been pinned into place on the riverbed to divert the flow of water around them, creating areas of faster flows which clean up the previously silt smothered gravel riverbed.
We finished off the week with a couple of extremely interesting guided walks.
An early morning bird walk through Mill Field in Basingstoke, run by Natural Basingstoke, proved very rewarding for the group with plenty of blackcap and chiffchaff around. Meadow pipit, skylark and yellow wagtail flew by on the sunny but frosty morning. Other sightings included green and gold finch, a greater spotted woodpecker and a number of goldcrest and marsh tit. A perfect start to an autumn day!
The final event of the week was a guided walk along the Sandford stretch of the River Loddon, showcasing the recent rehabilitation work by Twyford and District Fishing Club in association with Cain Bio Engineering. The group were amazed to see how quickly the river had responded to the work carried out only a couple of months previously. From over-wide and slow-flowing to a more natural meandering path with a variety of flow speeds. This river is home to many fish species including chub and barbel which will really benefit from the newly cleaned gravel. This project shows how practical solutions which are commonly applied to smaller streams can also produce great results on larger rivers. You can find out more about this fantastic restoration project HERE.
Thanks again to everyone who joined us in celebrating the River Loddon, especially to our partner organisations who hosted events and to the volunteers who came alone to help! See you all at next year’s Loddon Rivers Week!