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Let the rivers flow!

Posted: Tuesday 13th May 2014 by Living Rivers

The dry River BeaneThe dry River Beane

Headline news – as many of you will know already – is that Affinity Water, Hertfordshire’s water supply company, announced that their latest business plan has been granted ‘enhanced status’ by Ofwat (the water industry’s regulator).

What this actually means is that Affinity’s plan – which includes measures to almost completely stop some of the most environmentally damaging groundwater abstractions in the county, such as those affecting the Beane and Mimram – has been given the green light and they can start planning for its implementation early.

This is absolutely fantastic news for those rivers, and for the local river groups, some of whom who have been campaigning on this issue for over two decades. It’s a proud moment for them and for the local Environment Agency, who have worked hard to help achieve this. Credit must of course also go to Affinity themselves, for their environmental awareness and for the fact they have listened to the concerns of  local people, statutory bodies and environmental organisations like HMWT . They have put a lot of resources into making this happen, and will continue to do so throughout the implementation phase.

Where will the water come from to meet the deficit once the abstraction is reduced? Well, Affinity are taking a three-pronged approach – reducing leakage, reducing demand for water via education and metering, and importing water from other areas. Hopefully a combination of these factors will more than compensate for the reductions in groundwater abstraction (and any future demand increase from urban expansion and housing development…).

Affinity have recently come top of the Blueprint For Water Coalition’s ranking of the country’s water companies, in which they assessed each company's business plan in terms of the positive environmental measures they contained, such as reducing abstraction, reducing demand, improving waterbodies, reducing pollution and promoting metering. 


Behind the scenes at the museum

Volunteers working in the NHM lab


Last week myself and a group of keen Riverfly volunteers spent a brilliant day behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum in London. In my last blog I talked about the ongoing restoration project on the River Ash, and the invertebrate samples which were taken there to help assess how effective the restoration had been. We were offered the chance to help sort the samples in the NHM’s labs, which we couldn’t resist!

After a quick tour during which we admired the futuristic ‘cocoon’ which houses the collections in a climate-controlled environment, we got stuck in for seven hours of staring into sample trays! It was fascinating and really helped improve our invertebrate identification. 


One of the best things we found in our trays was what we concluded must be a fossil anemone or similar, only a couple of milimetres across, a tiny, delicate thing which drew the eye because of its beautiful symmetry. If anyone knows what it might be, pleae let me know!



Charlie and EllieSpeaking of invertebrates, those of you who watched this week’s Countryfile may have spotted a familiar face doing some invertebrate sampling! The programme focused on the Lee Valley, and started with a feature on one of its tributaries, the River Ash. Presenter Ellie interviewed farmer Nicholas Buxton about the work he’s done to help improve the river, before talking to myself and local volunteers Peter and Jonathan about what we can learn about a river's health from its beasties…

If you didn’t see it you can catch it until next Sunday on BBC iPlayer here – we’re the first feature.


Guided walk


Participants admire the River AshReserves Officer Jenny Sherwen and myself recently lead a guided walk around Amwell Nature Reserve and the Ash Valley. We had great weather and a good turnout!

If you’re interested in coming on any of my further events this summer, I’m running drop-in river dipping days in Wheathampstead on 23rd July and 9th August (no need to book), and a similar event on 12th August as part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, the week-long Festival of Wildlife. See the 'What's on?' page on our website for more details.


Balsam pulling - want to help?


Balsam pullingIt’s that time of year again..! The first of my balsam-pulling work parties happens this Thursday (15th May) at Whitwell on the River Mimram. Future work parties are planned for:

27th May, 26th June,  10th July,  24th July.

I’ll decide the locations nearer the time based on up-to-date info on where the balsam is this year, but we’ll always try and focus on those sites towards the top of the catchments to prevent seeds washing downstream. If you’d like to help out please get in touch for more details.


Catchment management


The process of forming new catchment partnerships for the Ash, Rib & Quin, Upper Lea and Middle Lea continues, with follow-up meetings in the diary for later in the summer to build on the initial workshops we had in March. We’ve been lucky enough to have some great responses from volunteers on the Ash, with some new River Champions taking on the role of ‘looking after’ their local patch and building interest and momentum about the river.

The existing Catchment Partnerships for the Beane, Mimram and Stort continue to generate project ideas, several of which are in development as we speak…

So as ever, a busy time on Hertfordshire’s rivers. If you’re interested in the Beane, Mimram and Stort, remember to keep an eye on the partnership websites and Twitter feeds for updates and wildlife sightings (; @BeaneMimramWild and; @StortWildlife

I’m not a very prolific tweeter but I am also on Twitter (@Charlie_Wellies) and you can keep up to date with all the local wildlife news by following @HMWTBadger.

Thanks for reading!


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