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Living Rivers Update

Posted: Friday 28th March 2014 by Living Rivers

It's been a busy few months since the last blog - here are a few of the things I've been up to!

River and wetland restoration on the River Ash

Widford tree work

A new river restoration project has recently started on the River Ash at Widford. This involves removing a lot of the over-shading alders by the river, to allow more light to the river and encourage in-channel and bankside plants to develop. Most of the trees are being removed completely, but some are being pinned into the channel as Large Woody Debris, or LWD (yes, that’s the technical term!). This LWD has multiple benefits: the leaves and spreading branches provide cover and habitat for fish and invertebrates, and the structure itself will encourage areas of faster flow as the water flows around and under the trunk. This creates a variety of in-stream conditions and habitat niches, as well as helping to scour the river bed and expose the gravels which are currently buried under silt.

One of the things which I’ve become aware of is that in the past few river restoration projects have involved monitoring of the site before, during and after the works. There is surprisingly little hard evidence that such projects are successful – theory, experience and word-of-mouth both suggest that we’re doing the right thing, but there is little scientific data to back this up. Consequently, I’ve been working with staff at the Natural History Museum in London and students at Imperial College to come up with a monitoring regime for this stretch of the Ash.

Invertebrate samplingA few weeks ago we went out to do the ‘baseline’ survey of the river before the work commenced. We took samples from ten sites along the stretch, including sites upstream and downstream of the planned works. The samples will be sorted and identified down to species level, and these samples will be repeated at the same time next year and for the next five or so years. Hopefully we’ll be able to see the population of invertebrates in the river improving both in the number of species and the number of individuals we find, as a result of our work.

Several exciting new restoration projects are currently being planned for both the Beane and the Mimram – watch this space for updates.


School visits

As some of you know I’ve done a few school visits over the past two years to various primary schools around the county. This has been developed into a larger scale project, focused on schools in St Albans with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of our local chalk rivers and of saving water. I recently revisited a class who I’d taken out to the river earlier this year, to interview them about their trip and see how much they’d remembered. You can see the results on film below (thanks to staff and pupils of Maple Primary School).

Chalk talk

It’s been a busy month for me on the talks front, with talks to Osidge Library, Stevenage Environmental Partnerhip Summit, Herts Geological Society and the London Freshwater Group. The talk to the Geological Society in particular opened my eyes to how much there is to know about our chalk rivers. During the break I was fascinated to learn about all the different types of chalk we have in Hertfordshire and how their properties influence the landscape and the rivers. For someone who hadn’t even realized there were different types of chalk, this was quite an eye-opener! I hope to explore this a bit more over the coming months and maybe hold a joint event with the society, focused on the geology of our river valleys.


Abstraction reform

Defra have recently been consulting on their proposed reforms to the way abstraction is managed in the UK. Their proposals have the potential to make a huge difference to over-abstracted rivers and groundwater sources, but, as ever with these things, there are a number of safeguards and amendments which will need to be in place to ensure the environment receives the protection it deserves. I’ve recently responded to this consultation on behalf of HMWT, trying to ensure that the reforms (which are currently quite focused on surface water abstractions from rivers) will also take into account the quirks and vagaries of groundwater-fed systems such as chalk rivers. But the reforms certainly represent a big improvement on the status quo, so fingers crossed…


Catchment management plans

It doesn’t seem long since we were pulling together Catchment Partnerships for the Beane, Mimram and Stort. As many of you know, HMWT are hosting catchment partnerships for these rivers, which have resulted in the creation of web-based catchment plans (e.g. We are now the catchment hosts for an extra four rivers – so we now cover all the rivers in the upper Lea catchment. These new rivers are the upper Lea itself, together with the Ash, Rib and Quin. We’ve started the process of pulling together a catchment partnership for these rivers – three workshops over as many weeks has certainly kept me on my toes!

Hopefully by the end of the year we will have similar web-based catchment plans for each of these rivers, full of practical projects which will help to improve these rivers and get them to ‘good’ ecological status.


Riverfly hub

Riverfly monitoringPlans are also ongoing to develop a Riverfly training hub for Hertfordshire and the Chilterns. If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know about the Riverfly Initiative – a ‘neighbourhood watch’ scheme for rivers, where local volunteers are trained to carry out invertebrate sampling in the same place every month and identify eight groups of invertebrates with differing sensitivities to pollution. This generates a score for the sampling site – changes in this score can help identify pollution events (and even help prosecute polluters!). The idea behind the 'training hub' is to train a small number of local people to become Riverfly trainers themselves, in order to try and ease the bottleneck which currently exists – lots of people want training but there aren’t enough trainers (or money) to train them! I’m working with a number of people and organisations, including the Chilterns Chalk Stream Project, on this.


I’ve also been lucky enough to recruit a fantastic new volunteer, Jo, who’s been a huge help in maintaining the existing catchment plan websites and Twitter accounts for the Beane, Mimram and Stort. Thanks Jo! If anyone has any news stories or features they’d like putting on the websites, please let Jo know.


Dates for your diaries

I’ve got a few river-focused events coming up and it would be lovely to see some of you there.

Guided walks:
Amwell and the Ash Valley – 26th April
Wings and Water in the Ash Valley -1st May

So, lots happening – please get in touch if you’d like to know more!



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