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Column 20th March 2019

Protecting brook in time of flow change and off into the future

It’s almost 2 years now since I wrote about the Letcombe Brook so time for an update.

As you may know this globally rare chalk stream is about 7.5 miles long and flows through the Letcombes, Wantage, Grove and East Hanney.

It supports a rich diversity of wildlife including wild brown trout, bullheads, otters, water voles, kingfishers and freshwater shrimps.

The Letcombe Brook Project is now a registered Charitable Trust and was set up to improve the biodiversity and landscape for people and wildlife.

Next year will see the Brook return to “natural flows” for the first time in many years as Thames Water will stop abstraction from the aquifer at Childrey Warren.  This will also see the end to topping up of water levels by the Environment Agency that have been carried out to limit any impact caused by the abstraction.

Chalk stream flows are often seasonably variable and some periods of low flow should be anticipated.

This means that ensuring free flow of water and easy access for wild life from one part of the Brook to another is going to be even more important.

Therefore any manmade barriers such as small waterfalls or weirs really need to be modified or removed or channels around the obstructions put in place to enable fish and other wildlife to move freely along the length of the Brook.

At the moment the main reason for the Brook not having reached “good” as defined by the Water Framework Directive is because the barriers are inhibiting the ability of fish to access spawning areas or repopulate areas affected by pollution or low flows.

Of course this has to be tempered by the need for natural flood management, providing solutions to slow down and store water on the land to reduce peak flows and flooding downstream.

Work continues managing trees and shrub (mainly willows and brambles) to let light into the brook to encourage water plants and in turn increase invertebrates and fish.

Project Volunteers are involved in practical conservation and keeping the brook clear of litter. They also help monitor the health of the river through the Riverfly Monitoring initiative.

A new initiative for volunteers “The Friends of Letcombe Brook Saturday work party” is a regular "first Saturday of the month" session in the morning (9.30 start) meeting at Willow Walk, Wantage.

Contact Mark Bradfield at letcombebrook@hotmail.com for more details or see Twitter @LetcombeBP.


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