As part of the Save The River Thame campaign I am looking into setting up a walking route on footpaths from Aylesbury to the Thames at Dorchester that traces the river is much as possible and visits as many wildlife habitats as can be managed along with points of interest on the way. I have been asking how this is best done and Bucks County Council have told me that a Thame Valley route already exists, but is no longer in active use. There were pamphlets (now available as a download at http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/media/951438/Thame_Valley_Walk_Leaflet.pdf ) and way marks and it is publicised in lists on some walking web sites. This demonstrates how it is very difficult to keep good ideas alive beyond a few years and in the meantime other walks have been developed and promoted such as the Aylesbury Ring and the Wychert Way.
The pamphlet, which I presume has been written within the past 20 years, and walk were part of the Aylesbury Countryside Management Project which “aims to conserve and enhance the countryside and its wildlife. We promote understanding of the environment and encourage access to the countryside through working with farmers, local residents, schools…….”. I found one aspect very sad and disturbing: the description of wildlife along the River Thame included species that have largely or completely disappeared, including cuckoos, reed warblers (cuckoos use their nests), reed buntings, golden plover, snipe and large flocks of lapwings. They also mention dragonflies which were pretty much wiped out following the sewage pollution in July 2013: they are coming back now, but some species are still missing.
The River Thame Conservation Trust, of which we are a part, is making efforts to restore habitats for birds, and some landowners are enthusiastic and are more or less amenable to sacrificing some land productivity to help. But Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) has completely disbanded its biodiversity team, the last member now being part of planning, and the Aylesbury Countryside Management Project is no longer active. In fact, as far as AVDC are concerned, if it doesn’t earn income for the Council to support its remaining operations, it won’t be supported in any meaningful way. The Environment Agency is being cut to the bone and the criminal case against Thames Water for causing the July 2013 pollution is unlikely to ever come to court because of this, so what remains in place to protect our rivers from corporate carelessness? All this at a time when green spaces are being built on in our push for more housing, and Aylesbury and Thame populations are increasing.
An awful lot has been dumped in the laps of the general public as government at all levels seems to be washing its hands of environmental protection and conservation because it doesn’t make money, and holds up some businesses from maximising their profits. The really sad thing is that it seems that our environment along this valley has degraded steadily over recent decades, during times when the councils and agencies were relatively well-off, so what can we expect for the future? It makes our job to protect the river look rather daunting.