Celebrating Rivers Week 2023: A Community-Driven Conservation Success

November 3, 2023

In the month of September, we marked our second Rivers Week – a dedicated week of community-driven events that was scheduled to coincided with the international celebration of World Rivers Day on September 24th. Rivers Week is all about raising awareness and inspiring action for the rivers and streams flowing through the Thame catchment. Throughout the catchment area, local community groups, with the help of our team at RTCT, organised a variety of engaging events, all in honour of our cherished rivers. Here’s a roundup of what went on during the week:

Community Walk hosted by Haddenham Safe Walking & Cycling (HaddSWAC)

Haddenham Safe Walking & Cycling, or HaddSWAC, are “a group of local folk campaigning to decrease our reliance on motorised transport in favour of stress-free walking and cycling in the village, as well as securing safe means of walking and cycling to Thame, Aylesbury and local villages.” They led a 5 mile long community walk through meadows and an near the Chearsley and Scotsgrove Brooks.

Thanks to David Stevens for organising and leading the walk. Here's what David had to say about it:

“We were very lucky with the weather on the day, although rain in the preceding days flooded part of our route. We had 14 attendees and while we had hoped for a few more the important thing was that everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Our (modified) route took us time-traveling to the sites of Notley Mill and Notley Abbey, with commentary on river ecology, history and the local walking network. The need to divert showed how rainfall works its way down the valley, sometimes slowly, with conditions underfoot not always reflecting the day’s weather. I particularly enjoy this walk for the skylarks, which were in melodious evidence as usual. In terms of watercourses, we noted the unnamed and lesser known as well as the more regularly celebrated; we read the effects on the landscape of the River Thame, Chearsley Brook and more-distant Scotsgrove Brook; and we enjoyed the moment, like hearing an emerging brook on the spring line. We also discussed River Thame Conservation Trust’s citizen scientist network.  The only shadow: reports of Cuddington STW discharging untreated sewage upstream, on the Wednesday before the walk, which spilled for three-and-a-half hours.”

Riverfly Monitoring Open Session hosted by Risborough Environment Group (REG)

For Rivers Week this year, the Risborough Environment Group held an open session of Riverfly monitoring for anyone to come learn how citizen scientists assess water quality in our local streams. They also led an optional stream-side guided walk to learn more about the precious watercourses that flow off the Chiltern chalk into Princes Risborough. A team from REG have been monitoring aquatic invertebrates through the Anglers' Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) as part of RTCT’s River Thame Riverfly Hub for years now. They also have been key volunteers in our Water Quality Monitoring Network. We are very appreciative of all the time and effort they have put in to monitoring, protecting and advocating for our rivers.

For more information contact: regbucks@gmail.com

Water Quality Talks hosted by Sustainable Wheatley

Sustainable Wheatley, a community group with an objective of  “stepping lightly on our planet through sustainable practices”, hosted an evening of talks on water quality in the Thame catchment. Mike Bowes, of UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology spoke on the water quality research on the Thames catchment that has been carried out for over 15 years from the gauging station on the River Thame at Wheatley. Mike detailed how the water quality and ecology of the River Thame have changed over time, with results indicating phosphorus concentrations have decreased significantly since 1998. Ammonium levels have also decreased since 2016, however this has corresponded with an increase in nitrates. He also informed the audience how the Thame compares with other tributaries of the River Thames. It consistently showed some of the highest levels out of all the Thame tributaries for phosphate, nitrate and boron.

Chels Hothem, our Volunteer Coordinator, presented a summary of findings from our volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Network which spans 40 sites across the entire catchment. These two talks prompted an engaging discussion with the audience. The influence of sewage treatment works, agriculture and urban runoff on the water quality in the catchment was discussed. Overall, the talks showed that while improvements to the water quality in the Thame have occurred over last 15 years further improvements are needed. The RTCT data, which focuses more on the small tributaries that flow into the main River Thame, clearly show that some of our most sensitive freshwater habitats, like our precious chalk streams flowing off the Chilterns, are suffering from unnaturally high nutrient levels. The interest and enthusiasm evident at the meeting reinforced the understanding that river health is a prominent concern with the public.

Bat Walk at Waddesdon Estate with Bucks Bat Group

The North Bucks Bat Group, which exists to promote bat conservation in Aylesbury Vale, Milton Keynes and Chiltern Hills through recording, monitoring, education work, practical conservation and by advising the public (NBBG works in partnership with the Bat Conservation Trust and in collaboration with other bat groups), hosted an Bat Walk at the Eythrope Wetlands at Waddesdon Estate at RTCT constructed in 2019.

While the weather led to the group having very wet bat walk with only 2 species of bat heard, participants nonetheless had a great wildlife experience, with lots of house martens feeding over the wetlands with bank voles and shrews running through the grass. The group was keen to survey this area because mosaics of floodplain habitats are of very high value for bat communities, especially when these habitats include riparian tree cover. Areas of open water provide valuable water sources in times of drought, as well as being hatching grounds for swarms of small insects that provide easy foraging during critical periods, such as maternity, pre and post hibernation. Some species, such as Daubenton’s, Soprano and Nathius pipistrelle bats are strongly associated with feeding along waterways or at water bodies, while others such as Noctule are more associated with feeding over the floodplain meadows.

River Life Survey in Nether Winchendon

Photo credit: Ben Crowther

A group of 17 local residents from Nether Winchendon hosted a River Life Survey. The group used the Rivers Trust’s newly launched Big River Watch app to record what they saw and contribute to a national citizen science database. Adam Price, a long-time Riverfly monitor with RTCT also attended to give the group some background on aquatic invertebrates and how they can be used to monitor the health of a river and catch pollution incidents.

Jenny Clarke, who organised the event, said this: “It was so good to meet Adam who really added a lot to our group understanding and we will have quite a few people who will want to meet Adam regularly to see if we can go to other areas of the river to do [Riverfly monitoring].”

River Life Exploration in Wingrave & Rowsham hosted by Wingrove WILD

Wingrave WILD organised an event to raise awareness about periodic raw sewage discharges from Wingrave STW. This event, featuring a presentation on STW performance and an engaging display of wildlife photos, underscored the importance of protecting our rivers.

Here’s what Phil had to say about the event: “In conjunction with the Wingrave Wild Group, we held an event to publicise the current problem of non-compliant discharges of untreated sewage from Wingrave STW and its causes, plus a demonstration of aquatic invertebrate life to be found locally.  After a quiet start we had about thirty attendees. What they lacked in numbers they made up for with a keen interest and a desire to help.

I had hoped to have fish and invertebrates from our local stream, Rowsham Brook, but we had 60 mm of rain on Wednesday night resulting in a 63 hour storm discharge [from the Wingrave STW] so the brook was polluted and running fast and high making it unsafe to venture near so I collected invertebrates from the Thistlebrook.  The sample included Lesser Water Boatman, caseless caddisfly, stonefly larvae, water beetle larvae and freshwater leeches.  They proved a fascinating attraction for the visitors and the youngest (12 years old) member of our water monitoring team did a fantastic job explaining things whilst at the same time showing people how to monitor water quality.

We had a powerpoint presentation on the STW and its performance.  It was interesting watching people’s faces when it got to the timelapse recording of the outlet pipes during a storm discharge.  It brought home the damage being done.

We had a display of wildlife photos, fish, crayfish, amphibians, birds and mammals, with narrative which visitors studied with interest.

I count the event a success and am pleased with the growing awareness and outrage in the village regarding the performance of the STW.”

Many thanks to everyone who participated in Rivers Week, especially those who organised events in their local areas. As a small organisation, RTCT understands the importance of collaborating with other community groups as an essential way to achieve our shared aspirations for the Thame catchment.

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