Latest News from Letcombe Brook – August 2021

River reports from Letcombe Brooke Project Manager Mark Bradfield.

August 2021

Residents may have noticed that the level of Letcombe Brook near the Old Mill was very low w/c 16 August. This was because Mark Bradfield from the Letcombe Brook Project and the EA lifted the sluice for a short time to investigate options for a restoration project and potential fish passage project at this location. Mark was saving a few bullheads that got stuck in the silt.

At present the brook is heavily impounded at this section due to the sluice, which results in heavy silt build up, which blocks fish and water vole passage and increases flood risk. Further investigation is needed as it’s quite a technical issue but we are working closely with the EA and keen to engage with all stakeholders to try and improve the natural functioning of the river at this location. It could be so much nicer with clean gravel bed and less shading and its really important we consider the increase in flood risk brought by climate change and more intense rainfall. 

The brook has already been disconnected from its floodplain unfortunately, and it would be great if we could link it back into its floodplain and allow the river to flood at times of heavy flow which would help protect some homes from flooding downstream. More housing development/built environment and less ground penetration certainly adds to the fast run off problem and flash flood risk.

Unfortunately all the mills and dams along the brook prevent it flowing freely (25 blockages in total!) and silt builds up behind them. And as the is river disconnected from floodplain it can’t dump out any of the silt at high flows. Silt goes in from agricultural land and road runoff, then drops out where the brook is overwide and flow impounded. Tonnes were sucked out of this bit about 10 years ago at great expense. If we could get the river functioning more naturally that wouldn’t need to be done every few years, but that will not be easy to achieve at this location.

October 2020

The Letcombe Brook Project is excited to announce it is working with the Environment Agency (EA) and Cain Bio-engineering to turn a flood bypass channel into a fish pass at Lower Mill, East Hanney, with full support from local landowners. 

Various blockages and features such as mills restrict fish movement along the Brook and this is one of the reasons why the  Letcombe Brook fails the Water Framework Directive. The fish pass will enable wild brown trout present in the brook, as well as coarse fish such as chub and roach, to travel from the River Ock into Childrey Brook and then up the Letcombe Brook as far as Dandridges Mill, East Hanney. Fish will be able to access better habitat and spawning grounds, interbreed more widely and move in reaction to flow levels and pollution incidents.  Removing obstructions to flow will also help to restore natural functioning to the river and reduce flood risk. 

“We are extremely grateful to the Environment Agency for funding this important project. With the help of our ‘Friends of Letcombe Brook’ volunteer team, Hanney Flood Group and local landowners, we will be able to greatly enhance our precious brook for the benefit of fish and other local wildlife.” said Mark Bradfield, Letcombe Brook Project Officer.

As part of this project staff and volunteers have been clearing the way for Cain Engineering and further improving the site through pollarding some of the willow trees along the banks to let more light into the channel. This will encourage riparian vegetation to grow, very important for life along the Brook.

 “A major beneficiary should be Britain’s fastest declining mammal, the rare and humble water vole. We are so lucky to have them in the brook and we’re hoping that numbers will increase once their river habitat has been improved.” added Mark.

About the Letcombe Brook Project

The Letcombe Brook Project was set up in 2003 and is a registered charity since 2017.

The Letcombe brook is a chalk stream and these are globally rare. The UK has 85% of the world’s 215 chalk streams, most of which are concentrated in the South East of England. The brook supports a diverse and specialised range of wildlife, some of which are endangered and have therefore been declared a Priority Habitat by natural England.

Over the centuries the Brook’s habitats and river corridor landscape have deteriorated and been faced with many environmental issues and development pressures.  The World Wildlife fund published a report in 2014 stating the chalk streams in England were ‘in a shocking state of health’. The Letcombe Brook Project works with local people and organisations to enhance and protect the natural beauty of the brook and to help people appreciate and enjoy the environment. 

The Letcombe Brook flows 12kms, rising from the springs in Letcombe Regis and Letcombe Bassett and flowing north until it joins the Childrey Brook and on into the River Ock. It is a prominent feature flowing right through the heart of Wantage and Grove. 

The Letcombe Brook Project is a partnership project funded and supported by the Vale of the White Horse District Council, the Environment Agency, Wantage Town Council, Grove Parish Council, Letcombe Regis Parish Council and East Hanney Parish Council.

Ways you can get involved:

  • Volunteer- There are varied tasks being carried out to help the rivers. One of our volunteers said “Working parties are great fun, working with like-minded people and a great deal of satisfaction is received in the working sessions”. For more information on volunteering visit letcombebrook.org.uk 
  • Funding- To meet these challenges we need to be able to have access to appropriate tools, equipment and specialist expertise, therefore all funding is appreciated not matter how small.

For more information, please visit letcombebrook.org.uk

 

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