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You Can’t Cuddle a Fish

Peter King of the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust  is an enthusiast for rivers and their landscape, the Adur and Ouse in Sussex in particular. At the River Summit held in the Pavilion as part of the River Festival hosted by the Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Trust and Love Our Ouse. He gave a fascinating talk on the work that is required, the work that has been done and the work that needs to be undertaken to improve the Ouse , to help return some of it to the way it was naturally, centuries ago – before people came along to exploit it, tame it and pollute it. 

Peter King of the Ouse & Adurs Rivers Trust talking at the River Festival, Lewes

“You can’t cuddle a fish”

Part of a display of fish drawings coloured in and annotated by children at the River Festival

“You can’t cuddle a fish”, he said, apologising that trout and eels may not have the appeal of otters or behaviours, but their health is a good indicator of a healthy river system. 

We have made a mess of our rivers across the British Isles over the centuries and the Ouse is no exception.

  • 85% of all UK rivers are failing to achieve a ‘Good Ecological Status’.
  • Only 19% of water bodies are good for fish … 

Human pressures: exploitation, containment, extraction and discharges have all caused problems. There has been an impact on the landscape and ecosystems affecting, resulting in damaging invasive species and the ability of native species to survive.

Peter made a compelling case for our doing far more to address the problems and improve the condition of our rivers. 

Regarding the single issue of discharges, he persuaded us that whilst Southern Water has 123 discharge points, and is clearly responsible for sewage discharge, that there are over 1,200 discharge points in the River Ouse catchment, and that as well as legal trade waste there are too many illegal discharges and therefore an urgent need to review permits.

“Put the wiggles back”

Having gone through the science, indicated the level of detail of surveys, worried us about multiple historic and ongoing problems, Peter also proposed fixes, showed how much has been done, how much more there is to do and tried to end on a positive note. That we can ‘put the wiggles back’, mitigate against flooding, improve habits and ecosystems, work with farmers and other businesses and landowners. 

Lots can be done, he explained, and illustrated some of the initiatives taken from the grandest engineering works to put meanders and pools back where straightening and canalising has occurred and removing locks where the river had been contained to form a lake for shooting ducks, to smaller, more modest improvements like adding logs and gravel to slow the flow, or putting in groynes and branches where sediments can collect. A visit to the higher reaches of the River Ouse downstream from the Ouse Valley Viaduct showed where this kind of work had been undertaken.

Branches pegged into the river bed to create a slight meader and pooling

We can all do our bit too. “The first flush of rain creates 80% of the pollution” – we can slow this run off with rain plainters, or with more space, a rain garden. 

Peter concluded on an upbeat note convincing us that it is not all bad news, there are plenty of stunning bits of the Ouse to enjoy.

He invited us to volunteer with the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust; tasks include: tree planting and river clean ups, river maintenance, monitoring and much more.

Peter.king@oart.org.uk

Publications

We realised there were gaps in the information available for certain Natural Flood Management techniques and measures. With the help of our partners we have produced a range of nationally available, printed and online materials which will help others to deliver NFM with more confidence. 

These include :-

Focusing on Flow in SussexA Woodland Trust case study and related reading.
Sussex Wildlife Trust > ‘How you can help with flood management

A CaBa case study

Rewilding Britain on How Rewilding Reduces Flood Risk
Rain Garden Planters from East of Eden
Stormwater or ‘SuDS’ Planter

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