August 2016 – Messing about with our rivers
The sun shone throughout August as we continued with our work to re-survey rivers and drainage channels for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. Repeating a survey we originally done six years ago shows the changes in land use and how this impacts on our waterways.
The loss of many grazing meadows is particularly a cause for concern as grazing allows a rich diversity of plant life to flourish and creates a tangled fringe of vegetation which provides a microclimate for insects.
We have found that some of the meadows which were originally grazed by cattle have now become unused. Development companies have bought up land on the edge of towns and villages and leave these fields ungrazed while they attempt to get planning permission.
With the cessation of grazing, plants such as tubular water dropwort have become outcompeted by more rigorous species such as common reed and banks become dominated by thistles. In other fields a change from grazing to arable has resulted in more fertiliser use, which has caused nitrate levels to rise in ditches leading to an acceleration in weed growth.
Throughout the coming months we hope to work with landowners to look at ways of reducing run off and improving rivers for wildlife.
This month we have also been working with Rhino Plant, the River Stour Internal Drainage Board’s contractor as they begin the annual weed cutting of channels. Where access for machines is too difficult the rivers are cut by hand with scythes. The guys involved in this work have to have plenty of strength and stamina to undertake the physical demands of cutting and hauling the weed onto the banks.
Our work involves advising on Biosecurity to avoid the spread of crayfish plague which can be transferred from introduced signal crayfish to our native white clawed crayfish with devastating affect. We encourage contractors to check clean and dry their equipment and spray with a iodine solution to prevent disease spread.
We also look at ways of using the weedcut to create meanders and improve the flow of rivers, creating diversity in the channel which allows aquatic insects to thrive and fish to spawn.
Restoring the health and vitality of our rivers will prevent flooding and provide clean water as well as allowing people in towns to enjoy a therapeutic slice of the natural world.