Loddon Rivers Week has instant impact

Some of the volunteers who took part in Loddon Rivers Week witnessed immediate improvements to waterways, reports Lou Sykes, our Loddon Catchment Officer.

The annual week of events took place at the end of September. Activities varied from walks and talks to giving people hands-on opportunities to get involved in river restoration.

1 week, 10 events, 13 partners, 60 volunteers, 350 volunteer hours

As co-ordinators of Loddon Rivers Week, we would like to thank everyone who helped make the annual event such a huge success.

Firstly, it was fantastic that 60 people enjoyed either volunteering to improve water habitats, or visiting various sites to learn about nature via guided walks and talks.

Volunteers installed large woody material, replenished gravel in a chalk stream, surveyed fish and learnt about the habitat and the issues faced by the water environment across the Loddon catchment, which stretches across Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. People came out to enjoy 10 activities put on by 13 partners and which were spread far and wide across the catchment.

The Loddon and its tributaries feature some of the more unique and diverse freshwater habitats in the South East Rivers Trust’s area. These include peatlands, chalk streams and areas only usually accessible to fishing club members.

Work at Tice's Meadow, Farnham, to install large woody materials on the River Blackwater

Witnessing instant improvements

It was fantastic for volunteers to be able to see instant rewards for their efforts.

For example, at Bassetts Mead, in Hook, water was instantly flowing quicker over freshly made gravel riffles after volunteers put in huge efforts to add a massive 30 tonnes of gravel into this section of the River Whitewater. This took place with the help of a Hampshire & Isle of Wildlife Trust tractor. The work was funded by Hook Parish Council. Adding to last year’s efforts, a total of 60 tonnes of gravel has been added to a 160 metre section of the river. It was hard work! We offer huge thanks to volunteers – and the fish and invertebrates are very grateful, too!

Why is the work necessary and important? In a healthy river environment, some fine sediment is normal. It gets there from decaying plant matter and run-off from the surrounding land and provides habitats for mayflies, eel and lamprey.

However, because of modern urbanisation and land management practices, fine sediment supply to our rivers can be much higher than would occur naturally. This can be a problem, clogging riverbed habitats and preventing life-giving oxygenated water from flowing through the riverbed.

Fine sediment is transported by the river where flows are high and the sediment is kept in suspension, until it is deposited in lower flow areas, like along the margins. But when flows are too slow and sediment levels are high, it will deposit in areas it shouldn’t and can smother riverbeds, ruining habitat for fish and invertebrates.

To counter this, adding fresh clean gravels is a simple way to improve spawning habitats for fish and invertebrates by creating a coarse riverbed that water can flow through, as well as over. This allows invertebrates to live in the riverbed. Fish can bury their eggs where they incubate over the winter.

Adding gravels also increases habitat diversity as the river will move it in higher flows to create a more varied range of deep pools and shallow riffles.

Gravel was added to the river at Bassetts Mead

Perch spotted straight away

Other work parties also enjoyed the thrill of seeing swift improvements for their efforts to improve stretches of river.

At Tice’s Meadow Nature Reserve and Ivy Road Recreation Ground in Aldershot, volunteers installed large woody material in the River Blackwater.

This gives the river the kick it needs to start flowing faster in places and provides some variation in habitat and water flow, so that fish and water invertebrates can thrive.

Just 15 minutes after finishing work at Tice’s Meadow, perch – a freshwater fish – could be seen poking around, investigating the improved watercourse.

Perch found at Tice's Meadow in Loddon Rivers Week 2022

Learning about the Loddon

People who came on a guided walk of Greywell Fen, near Odiham, were treated to parts of the river that are usually reserved to members of the Greywell Flyfishers Club.

These visitors also had a valuable opportunity to learn about the importance of peatlands, which cover only 3% of the world’s surface but hold nearly 30% of its carbon. They also heard about the management and history of this area and its hydrology – how the water and land interact.

Elsewhere, the Fleet Pond Society provided visitors with the chance to delve into the history of the pond and how conservation by the group has improved the waterbody over the past few decades.

Following the successful removal of floating pennywort in Yateley in previous years, the Loddon Fisheries & Conservation Consultative (LFCC) ventured out to see if there was any regrowth. They were pleased to find only a few strands. This non-native invasive species, which originates from North America, can grow up to 20cm a day, producing 70kg of wet weight per square metre. As a result, it can cover a water body quickly, smothering the wildlife underneath, blocking out sunlight and reducing oxygen levels.

The LFCC also carried out fish surveys on the Emm Brook, ahead of our planned restoration work, and at Charvil Meadows to see how many fish are making use of the backwater created two years ago.

The Greywell Fen Walk, Loddon Rivers Week 2022

Thank you to partners and funders

As well as the wonderful volunteers, a special thank you must go to the Environment Agency for funding the coordination of the week, which has been running since 2017.

We are also hugely indebted to our partners including Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Loddon Fisheries & Conservation Consultative, University of Reading, Wokingham Borough Council, Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, Surrey County Council, the Black Dam and Crabtree Volunteer Group, Tice’s Meadow Bird Group, Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership, SOLVE (Save Our Loddon Valley Environment) and the Fleet Pond Society.

The week also received attention from various media, ranging from the Basingstoke Gazette and Aldershot News to an early morning breakfast interview on BBC Radio Surrey.

We look forward to next year when we get to do it all over again!

30 tonnes of gravel were added to the river at Bassetts Mead