2023: A Year in Review

January 26, 2024

2024 is here and all of us in the RTCT team are excited about continuing to work for a healthy River Thame catchment with our incredible network of supporters, volunteers, partners and funders. Before we dive into our year ahead, we would like to take a look back at all that’s been accomplished in the last year and thank the      people who have made our work possible.  

Special thanks to our partners & funders who have made our work possible:

Environment Agency, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Rivers Trust, John Spedan Lewis Foundation, Natural England, Pilio Ltd, Rothschild Foundation, Thames Water, SMS Environmental, South Oxfordshire District Council, Banbury Ornithology Group, Waterstock Village and the Woodroffe Benton Foundation

We would also like to thank all of the individual donors who have generously contributed to the Trust and the many volunteers who have donated their time over this last year.

Message from the CEO, David Fraser

2023 seemed busy at the time, but it is only by looking at all the project outcomes detailed below that one gets a full sense of what that hard work produced: real impact. Those projects are diverse in what they entailed but each undoubtedly contributed to the Trust’s goal of attaining a healthy river catchment with clean water and thriving wildlife, valued and enjoyed by local people.

My other observation is that the scale of 2023’s achievements seems out of proportion to our small (albeit magnificent) team of 5.2 staff. That’s because we are not alone: the Trust benefits greatly from a body of volunteers, partner organisations, landowners and trustees who share our vision. Those allies amplify our impact, through their time, moral support, collaboration, and expertise. The magic ingredient that all our supporters bring to the party is a shared appreciation for the natural environment of the Thame catchment.

Alongside the delivery of projects, a key priority for the Trust has been to secure larger and longer-term funding to enable us to deliver even more for the Thame. We’ve been busy generating ideas and pursuing funds to enable us to do just that. We’ve pursued funds for projects ranging from engaging young people with nature to reducing flood risk through nature-based solutions and helping farmers pursue water and nature-friendly farming measures. We’ll be in a position to share some significant outcomes of these funding bids in the coming weeks – watch this space.

It would be disingenuous to highlight all the good news, without acknowledging that many pressures are acting upon the natural environment, with the Thame catchment being no exception. We will continue to inform, influence and indeed listen to, relevant organisations to further our cause. We’ll act locally – for example through our role as Thame Catchment Partnership co-host, and nationally, through the Rivers Trust (our umbrella body), who amplify the voice of local trusts and can represent our collective interests at the governmental level.

So, here’s looking forward to 2024, with realism about the challenges but optimism about the opportunities – and our collective resolve.

Here are just some of the many highlights of 2023...

Thame Water Spill Map Launched

In January 2023, Thames Water launched a real-time web portal displaying information on raw sewage discharges from its treatment works, revealing the extent of the issue. To read RTCT’s response to the sewage map, click here.

Ministerial Visit

We were privileged to have a Ministerial Visit from Rebecca Pow, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Nature), who toured our floodplain restoration project at Rose Dale’s Organic Farm and congratulated us on the success of this collaborative effort between RTCT, Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Environment Agency to create vital wetland habitat.

BBC Radio Feature

In March, we were featured on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today during their Biodiversity Week. Our discussion centered on the Eythrope Wetland project, emphasising its importance as a habitat "stepping-stone" along the River Thame and its positive influence on wildlife in the area.

Chalk Stream Habitat Improvement

Thanks to our dedicated volunteers and partners the Chiltern Rangers, over 400 meters of chalk stream were improved as part of our Chalk Stream Strategy funded by the Environment Agency.

Fish Ladder Improvement on the Chalgrove Brook

We undertook modifications to an important fish pass on the Chalgrove Brook (originally built in 2016 in partnership with the Environment Agency & The Wild Trout Trust) to improve its function and allow fish to move up and downstream at all times of year.

New Farmer "Super" Cluster

RTCT played a key role in the merger of the Thame Valley and Lower Thame farm clusters resulting in the creation of the Thame Catchment Farm Cluster.

New Riverfly Monitors

In April, another group of enthusiastic volunteers participated in a course to become certified Riverfly monitors. They were trained to accurately sample aquatic invertebrates, measure the health of rivers and monitor for pollution events using Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (RMI) methods.

Barrier to Fish Removed on the Chalgrove Brook

Our creation of the Stadhampton Fish Bypass Channel marked a significant achievement by enabling fish migration between the lower Chalgrove Brook, and 3.5 km of previously inaccessible chalk stream habitat upstream.

Monitoring our Precious Chalk Streams

Collaborating with the Rivers Trust and Thames 21, we deployed monitoring equipment to understand the impacts of sewage treatment works and other pollution sources in the vulnerable chalk streams of the River Thame catchment.

6 Months of Catchment-Wide Water Sampling

Our Water Quality Monitoring Network, launched in November 2022, achieved a milestone of 300 datasets, showcasing community dedication to monitoring water quality.

Pressing for Improvement to Water and Sewage Infrastructure

RTCT staff and supporters met with Thames Water at the Stewkley Sewage Treatment Works to convey our concern regarding extensive sewage spills reported from the works back in January 2023, as reported by The Times.

Brown Trout Found in the Chalgrove Brook

In 2023, RTCT fish surveys undertaken in the  Chalgrove Brook and other important tributaries, supported by the Environment Agency, recorded brown trout and identified various other species. RTCT plans to initiate an annual programme of fish surveys to improve our understanding of fish communities in the catchment.

Volunteers Add Botanical Diversity to our New Fish Bypass Channel

Volunteers continued their impactful work, introducing native plant species to the Stadhampton Bypass Channel and improving habitat in the Chalgrove Brook, as reported on by BBC Oxford.

Farmers Come Together to Promote Sustainable Practices

In June, Thame Farm Cluster members came together for a tour of D’Oyleys Farm with talks from Wild Farmed and Thames Water’s Catchment Management Team, highlighting sustainable farming practices.

Eythrope Wetland Recognised for its Biodiversity and Habitats

A new Local Wildlife Site designation for our flagship Eythrope Wetland Creation project was formally recognised by Bucks Environmental Records Centre. (Photo credit: Jill Mead)

Volunteers Improve Chalk Stream Habitat

Volunteers helped out at Cuxham Mill, introducing new gravels to improve the habitat in the Chalgrove Brook below the improved fish ladder we worked on earlier in the year.

Kestrels Successfully Breed at Eythrope Wetlands

A live cam was set on a Barn Owl box by Bucks Owl and Raptor Group at the Eythrope Wetlands near the River Thame. However, a pair of Kestrels (having no regard for the intended residents) made it their home! The live stream offered a unique view into their world.

Inspiring the Next Generation of River Enthusiasts

We attended Nature Day at Waddesdon Manor, inspiring the next generation of River Thame advocates with an “aquatic minibeasts” activity for children and parents.

Volunteers Achieve a Full Year of Monthly Water Sampling

The Water Quality Monitoring Network celebrated one year of coordinated monthly monitoring across the Thame catchment, thanks to our passionate volunteers. Read the Year One reports for the monitoring sites here.

Local Wildlife Site Expanded, Improved, and Protected

Waterstock Local Wildlife Site was expanded to encompass adjacent high conservation value floodplain, recognised by the unveiling of three fantastic new interpretation boards highlighting the wildlife the sites support.

Success at our 2nd Annual Water Conference

The Thame Catchment Partnership hosted its 2nd Water Conference, which served as a rich forum for enhancing understanding of the catchment, and inspiring action It covered various topics, including farming, local planning, newt conservation, sewage treatment, citizen science, & water quality monitoring.

Communities Celebrate Rivers Week 2023

We organised Rivers Week 2023- a week of daily, community-focused visits to sites within the catchment highlighting its wildlife and natural resources.

Chalk Stream Improvement Work Parties

Volunteers worked along the Chalgrove and Scottsgrove Brooks, opening up the channel to sunlight to encourage aquatic plants and installing woody habitat structures, enhancing conditions for wildlife.

Bringing Farmers Together to Inspire Soil Health Improvement

Soils Day, held at Waddesdon Estate, brought farmers and land managers together for a day focused on practical measures to ensure healthy soil, sustainable food production and resilient ecosystems.

As we enter 2024, we're inspired by the progress achieved through last year's collective efforts. From restoring habitats to advocating for cleaner rivers, every action has made a difference. But our work continues! If you'd like to get involved in the next year, consider making a donation, joining our volunteer network or spreading the word about River Thame Conservation Trust. Thank you for your ongoing support, and here's to a promising year ahead.

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