The South East Rivers Trust are pleased to announce the start of a new and exciting partnership project to improve the health of the Emm Brook.
This tributary of the River Loddon will benefit from a series of river enhancement projects around Riverside Park in Woosehill, Wokingham.
The project is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (under its European Structural & Investment Fund) and the Environment Agency.
We developed the project in conjunction with other members of the Loddon Catchment Partnership (image below) and the Project is supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership and wider partners.
What’s the problem?
In the past, the Emm Brook through Riverside Park has been diverted, leaving a uniform, straight and featureless channel with little flow or habitat diversity.
For much of its length, it is also dark and uninviting due to overshading from trees, limiting its appeal to the people that use the park and leaving the channel devoid of aquatic vegetation.
Part of this stretch of the diverted Emm Brook runs alongside the main road, and surface water drains deliver polluted water and silt, further impacting its health.
Further reducing its value as a wildlife corridor, the Emm Brook is fragmented by several barriers meaning fish and other aquatic life find it difficult or impossible to move along its length. This means fish from lower down the Brook, or from the main River Loddon, can’t make use of potential habitats upstream so populations are isolated and therefore more vulnerable to the effects of pollution, drought, and disease. Weirs like these also drown out many of the natural river features upstream, degrading the habitat further. Read our blog all about How Weirs Affect Fish Communities HERE.
All of the above means that the park is underutilised by wildlife and often underappreciated by nearby communities.
Further upstream in the park, a balancing pond evens out the volume of water reaching the river after heavy rain. Hard surfaces like roads and pavements mean that rain can’t infiltrate into the soil and has nowhere to go except the river. This winters floods have emphasised how damaging that can be to homes and businesses downstream when heavy rainfall all reaches the river at the same time, causing a rapid rise in water levels. Balancing ponds even out this surge and help to reduce flooding damage downstream.
Features designed into this structure when it was built mean that polluted water from misconnected drains, oily water and detergent from home car washing can easily enter the river affecting water quality. Signs of this can be seen by the ‘sewage fungus’ growing on the inlet to the pond, and oily residues on the surface of the water near the outlet to the river.
What will this project do to help?
Before the river was diverted, it meandered through the park, flanked by woodland and unobstructed by man-made weirs. The remnants of this channel still exist and show great potential for a dynamic and wildlife-rich river habitat.
This project will reconnect around 230 m of this historic channel. Some areas will be opened up to allowing light in to allow marginal plants to thrive, as well as encouraging people to enjoy and care for this valuable river corridor. We will keep some areas more hidden and harder to access to encourage and protect wildlife. Moving the river back to its original course gives more distance from the road and its influence on water quality.
By making small changes to the existing balancing pond, we will help to ensure that water from the surrounding urban areas is as clean as it can be when it reaches the river. We are also working to improve the habitat within the balancing pond and provide appropriate access for people to enjoy nature while protecting wildlife from the pressures associated with being in an urban setting.
The health and wellbeing benefits of being able to connect with nature are well documented. A key ambition for this project is to help reconnect people who live in nearby towns to the green and blue spaces right on their doorsteps. We will be running a series of events, encouraging people to become more involved with this project and to help us make it a space for local people: cared for by local people.
We also want to show how everyone can make a difference to their local river by simple changes to what we do at home. Many people are not aware that what we throw down road drains goes straight to the river. Working with schools and local community groups, the ‘Yellow Fish’ programme raises awareness of these issues and reminds everyone that only rain should go down the drain! We’ll be running this scheme with schools and local community groups to spread the word.