Most of the world’s chalk streams are found in England and our own beautiful River Lambourn is one of the most special as it has almost completely natural flow regime known as a ‘winterbourne’ between Lambourn and Great Shefford, drying up for several months each year.
It is classed as a main river therefore the risk management authority is the Environment Agency (EA) who have published guidelines for how people who live on or near a river should help look after it. EA’s Guideline to Owning a Watercourse explains your responsibilities and rules to follow and permissions you need to do work near a river.
Here is some information based on the guidelines and local knowledge that might be useful. Please see below some important safety issues for anyone who goes into the river.
You normally own a stretch of watercourse that runs on or under your land. If a watercourse runs along the boundary of your land, you normally own from your bank to the centre of the watercourse. The deeds for your property or land will tell you if this is not the case so do check your deeds if you’re not clear about ownership. As a watercourse owner you have riparian rights to use the water for domestic purposes, and to swim, boat and fish (unless fishing rights are sold or leased and the angler has a valid Environment Agency rod licence).
Your responsibility is to:
1.Report an incident to the Environment Agency Incident Hotline
• report any flooding, blockages, collapsed banks
2. Let the water flow naturally
• remove any blockages eg loose foliage or branches flowing past your property
• control weed which can hold back the water flow and cause river levels to rise
The long, flowing Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus) is best cut after it has surfaced and flowered as cutting it before it flowers will stimulate it to grow back stronger and thicker. The ranunculus weed is cut back to 10cm to allow for a certain amount of regrowth as it is good for the river habitat, an excellent gauge of health and part of the biodiversity needed for the trout.
The lighter coloured and ‘leafier’ looking Water Cress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticam) is not so good when it dominates an area, although it is a good habitat for trout. It grows in silt and quantities vary dependent on many factors including phosphates in the water. As it is an invasive species, the cress needs to be completely pulled out by hand, rather than cut, which has the additional benefit of removing some silt at the same time.
Once weed has been pulled out of the water, EA advice is to leave it on the bank side for a few days to allow the small invertebrates living in it to wriggle back to the river! (It is also easier to move when some of the water has drained away!)
3. Prevent pollution
• don’t throw waste water or chemicals into the river
• don’t position your compost heap near the river as nutrients will leech into the water
• don’t use herbicides within 1 metre of the top of the bank without permission from the Environment Agency
• remove litter, animal carcasses, garden waste on banks
4. Protect wildlife
• do not disturb birds, nests, spawning fish
• rescue fish in the winterbourne section before it dries up
James Potter organises this every year in Eastbury, rescuing up to 20 mature fish and hundreds of yearlings and transporting them to Great Shefford where the river flows all year. East Garston residents also do this on an ad hoc basis.
The river is beautiful to admire as it wends its way through our villages and in the summer many local children enjoy playing in the water. There are a couple of issues though to bear in mind.
Animal Dung & Sewage
It is advisable that anyone who goes into the water takes appropriate hygiene precautions because when livestock have access to the stream for drinking water and dogs might pee/poo on the banks there is always the risk that their faeces get into the water. There is also the possibility that a dead animal carcass is in the river upstream of you somewhere out of sight.
Another thing that sometimes happens across the country is the discharge of very diluted sewage into a nearby waterway, in our case the River Lambourn.
This happens because even when the surface of the ground is very hard and dry, underneath there is a ‘water table’ where ground water collects in the chalk like a sponge; sewage pipes run through this sponge and if the pipes are cracked, ground water seeps into them. This means that a lot more water goes into the pipes than they can handle and some of it needs to be discharged out of the sewage system.
Some organisations like the WWF are concerned about this kind of pollution of our rivers (see this Independent article from October 2017) but the EA claims that the discharge is so diluted that it will not cause any health problems (such as gastroenteritis, E.coli and salmonella) unless you drank an awful lot of it or have a pre-existing medical condition.
There is a substantial amount of broken glass and sharp stones in the river bed so it is strongly advised that well soled shoes/wellies/crocs are worn when walking through the water.
For more information about river upkeep please contact:
Lambourn – Environment Agency on firstname.lastname@example.org 03708 506 506
Eastbury – James Potter on email@example.com 07899 795060
East Garston – Chris Tonge on firstname.lastname@example.org 01488 648370
Great Shefford – Steve Ackrill on email@example.com