The River Thame Liaison Group
Doug set up this group following the River Thame Conference in 2014 which was prompted by serious pollution of the river by sewage released from the Aylesbury Sewage Treatment Works (STW) between November 2012 and July 2013. Thames water was fined over £20 million as a result of their negligence. Money was also provided which enabled the RT Conservation Trust to expand its activities into Buckinghamshire and take on more staff.
In order to monitor the performance of the STW and set up lasting communications between Thames Water and the local community, Doug set up the River Thame Liaison Group. This meets every 6 months at the STW and participants include the RT Conservation Trust, Buckinghamshire County Council, angling interests and the Environment Agency.
River Thame Conservation Trust: Working for a river catchment with healthy fresh waters and wildlife, valued and enjoyed by local people
The Trust now works closely with the Freshwater Habitats Trust and has carried out some major projects to enhance the river, including new wetland sites, fish passes, bank and stream enhancements and renaturalisation. For more on this , see their web site.
‘Save The River Thame’ merged with the River Thame Conservation Trust at the end of 2015. They had been doing conservation and research work along the Oxfordshire part of the Thame, and already had charity status and funds. The Trust gained from our personnel and benefitted from our achievements, which included:
- A grant and assistance from The Rothschild Foundation to build a new web site.
- New protective fencing along the river bank on land in Starveall Farm.
- The establishment of regular liaison meetings with Thames Water at the Aylesbury Sewage Treatment Works.
- Developing relationships with landowners and Parish Councils.
- A camera on the river near Cuddington that takes photo’s of wildlife that pass it.
The merging of these two bodies has resulted in something far greater and more energetic which is already making a real difference along the length of the River Thame. The Trust’s management has been rejuvenated and they now employ a Chief Executive Officer (part time) and a full-time Projects Officer, Emily Godfrey. Emily came to us from Essex where she succeeded in engaging the public along the River Colne so that the entire catchment is being looked after and improved: you may have seen the coverage on Countryfile earlier this year. She is very energetic and knowledgeable and already has over 70 volunteers who are engaged in conservation projects, surveying birds and invertebrates, sampling and testing the water and monitoring sections of the river.
August 2015 UPDATE
Development of our new web site is underway, with the help of the Rothschild Foundation, and very exciting. The draft site looks great and it will be highly interactive with a lot of it based upon a map of the river in its valley. We will highlight wildlife and hope to set up some motion-sensitive web cams that will offer live images of otters, fish, birds and dragonflies. We will also show how a wildlife corridor is being developed along the river and link this to the Thame Valley Walking Route.
I am going to walk the route and take photographs on the way that will be used on the web site. I started last weekend from the northern end, which passes Eythrope with its lake, where you always see fish, kingfishers and dragonflies (in summer). The Thame valley route already exists, running from Aylesbury to a few miles south of Thame, but we want to modify it and extend it to where the Thame joins the River Thames at Dorchester-on-Thames.
July 2015 UPDATE
* Our Working Group met in June to review progress and plan our activities over the coming quarter.
* We have a green light to start development of the new River Thame web site which will be owned by the River Thame Conservation Trust and will cover the entire River. We plan that it will be highly interactive and show wildlife sightings, water monitoring results, projects underway, rights of way and news. Jon Baines, who lives in Stone, has agreed to be our web site manager.
* We continue to test the water for nitrates and phosphates on a monthly basis, but we need more testers. Some volunteers have found it difficult to find the time, but this is important and needs to be done over the long term, especially as central government cuts are reducing what the regulators can do dramatically. It will be down to local communities to look after their environmental resources, such as our lovely river, so it is important and a worthwhile contribution to become a tester. It only takes a few minutes to do the tests, plus travel time to get the sample. If you are interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Currently nitrates remain very high (usually farm run-off) and phosphates remain low (organic matter such as sewage results in high phosphate) and the river is running clear.
* Biodiversity: Quite a lot of fish, especially chub and carp, are being seen in the river including small fry. Dragonflies being seen include banded demoiselles (lots of these), common blue damselflies, red-eyed damselflies and migrant hawkers. No darters or red damselflies have been seen since 2013. The signal crayfish are back and being harvested professionally once again. There have been signs of otters at Eyethrope and also in the lower Thame towards its confluence with the Thames. Kingfishers are seen regularly at several spots along the river.
* We want to help landowners along the River Thame to join us in improving the status of their bit of river and are discussing fencing a stretch of pasture in Starveall Farm near Stone with the farmer, Patrick Lambert. In the meantime, Michael Heybrook continues work to improve wildlife habitats at Manor Farm in Chearsley and Waddesdon Estates are taking part in Save The River Thame and farming to the highest environmental standards.
* We are communicating with Thames Water and hope to meet with the new management of the Aylesbury Sewage Treatment Works soon. They have assured us that the share our concerns about the River and also want to see it improve. What we always have to keep in mind is that pollution events tend to happen each decade approximately, so we can’t take our eye of this ball – we’re in it for the long term.
May 2015 UPDATE
Following a joint meeting with the River Thame Conservation Trust and our future Web Site Editor, Jon Baines, I wrote a report and sent it along with a photograph to The Bucks Herald news team. After a bit of delay they have kindly published a really nice article under the heading “River Given A New Lease Of Life” which was also put in the Thame Gazette and the Oxfordshire Times!
Work has started on detailed planning for the new River Thame web site, and we are enormously grateful to the Rothschild Foundation for sponsoring this.
Fish are appearing more frequently on the river and these were seen below a cattle bridge east of Winchendon.
During May, increasing numbers of Banded Demoiselles have appeared along the river but no damselflies have been seen at all.
There are woodcock and grey partridge in the meadows on the south bank of the river around Winchendon.
Our next Working Group meeting will take place towards the end of June, and I hope to have caught up with the new managers of the Aylesbury Sewage Treatment Works by then.
River water testing continues on a monthly basis.
The Save The River Thame campaign is getting to work and building the framework for achieving long-term improvements in our river and its wildlife. We have now joined up with the River Thame Conservation Trust, a voluntary body that has been working on the southern section of the river, from Thame to Dorchester, for a few years. This means that we jointly cover the entire river, and being linked to the Trust means that we won’t have to waste time setting up as a body in our own right as they are firmly established and have charitable status. Our group will continue to focus on the Bucks section of the River from Aylesbury to Thame.
Our water monitoring team is active and growing. We are testing the water on a monthly basis for nitrates (mostly caused by farm fertilizers), phosphates (from fertilizer or sewage) and checking the water clarity. Currently, nitrate and phosphate levels are on the high side which is something that we are concerned about and we would like to find out more about the exact sources of these pollutants so that we can start to tackle the causes. These chemicals act as fertilizers in the water and tend to result in strong growth of reeds and other plants in the water which can end up blocking the waterway. They are also bad for the sort of aquatic organisms that exist in a healthy, clean river and both chemicals are subject to legal limits (which are being broken in parts of the River Thame).
We are starting on work to build an interactive website and have activated a Twitter account @riverthame1 where we post news and developments.
There some very good news, for a change! We are meeting with landowners along the River and finding ways to work with them and involve them where possible. Waddesdon Estates is the biggest landowner in our area, and they are already in our Working Group team, and contributing to our efforts. We met with two inspiring landowners at Manor and Notley farms near Chearsley last week who have both been working for some time on improving wildlife along their stretches of the Thame. Like Waddesdon they have Level 1 Stewardship status and are creating wetland habitats and generally encouraging biodiversity on their land whilst running working farms. Whilst on these farms, we saw linnets, lapwings, Canada geese, ducks, teal, kingfishers, finches, roe deer, rabbits and evidence of a lot more: so these farmers have aF passion for the countryside and its wildlife, and really love the land.
With landowners showing so much commitment for the river environment and wildlife, Thames Water need to do their bit to ensure that the water is in excellent condition.
If you are interested in getting involved with testing the water, please email email@example.com.
Save The River Thame has had press coverage recently on BBC South Today News (though it was rather brief and didn’t make it clear who is doing all this), BBC 3 Counties Radio and the Bucks Herald. Doug has been asked to write a short article for this week’s edition and this has been submitted.
AN Update Oct 5 2014
The Save The River Thame Working Group held its first meeting on Oct 2nd, and a report on that will be forwarded to you shortly. We have lots to do!
One of the first things on the list is to set up a team to start a planned programme of chemical testing of the river water. We have the testing kits, for phoshates and nitrates, and they are easy and quite fun to use, and the process is rapid, so it doesn’t take up a lot of time. Our aim is to get people to test in a particular location at regular intervals and feed the results to Andrew Callender of the River Thame Conservation Trust, who will collate them. You will receive some training, and then reports on the developing picture.
If you are interested in joining the testing team, or know someone who may be, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE SAVE THE RIVER THAME PROJECT
The River Thame was polluted by material from the Aylesbury sewage works during July 2013. This killed most of the fish and other wildlife that lived in the river, and is an episode in a downward trend of water quality that has taken place over the past 30 or more years. It must stop.
On July 8th, the Save The River Thame campaign held a seminar in Aylesbury at which the state of the River and its catchment were described and discussed, and a decision was made on how to start work on returning it to a good state and keep it that way. A board director of Thames Water told us that they were committed to improving the state of the river and that the sewage treatment works in Aylesbury, which caused the pollution last summer, has been given a major upgrade. The facility’s new manager told us that it should now be capable of coping not only with the increased housing around Aylesbury, but also surges in water because of storms and flash floods.
AVDC told us that there were many large planning applications and appeals by developers for new estates around Aylesbury, and that they were working to keep a check on these and to protect the countryside and integrity of Aylesbury Vale as far as was possible, given the Westminster Government’s priorities and requirements.
The catchment is currently in an average to poor state, owing to pollution from household and industrial waste (hopefully now under control in Aylesbury at least!), fertilisers and pesticides from agriculture, livestock, and run-off from roads.
I was given the job of heading up a working group to work alongside the River Thame Conservation Trust to build up a system of monitoring the river, providing early warnings of problems and building public awareness. All those attending, from Thames Water, The Environment Agency, AVDC, Bucks County Council, the anglers, land owners and wildlife groups offered to support this work. Also, BBC South Today News and The Bucks Herald have been very supportive and assured us of their continued interest and coverage.
Currently, the river is clearer than it has been for some time and a few fish and dragonflies have been seen in and along it. However it will take up to ten years for the river to recover fully if there are no further serious incidents, and this is what the Save The River Thame campaign is all about addressing – the long term protection and improvement of our river and its tributaries.
The River Thame flows through a gentle, rolling English landscape from north of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, to join the River Thames at Dorchester on Thames. All of the land is highly populated and is either farmed or developed into settlements, roads and light industry. Water quality has been declining for decades, polluted by sewage works output, agricultural run-off and road run-off.
During the summer of 2013, most of the fish were killed and all of the dragonflies disappeared and didn’t return because of pollution that is likely to have emanated from the Aylesbury sewage works, which are managed by Thames Water. This was far from the first such incident and local anglers have been suffering and recording similar incidents since the 1980s.
The result is that water quality across the entire River Thame catchment area is below legal standards and there are only pockets where water approaches a good standard. The population of the area is increasing with plans for many new houses around Aylesbury and Thame which will add to the effluent to be managed so put more stress on infrastructure. River water across the country improved dramatically as environmental legislation forced people to stop dumping pollutants into streams and rivers in the 1970’s, but these gains are being eroded in recent years. Also, water quality in the Thame used to be actively monitored and backed by severe sanctions if polluted, but any such action is currently left to the Environment Agency, which is a poor substitute for community interest and local political will.
Various projects have taken place to improve water quality and biodiversity locally, but last summer showed that if there is a serious pollution incident, this work can be rapidly undone. What is needed to address this parlous situation is for there to be a political will to improve the water quality, and greatly improved community interest to maintain it.
Action To Date:
I alerted AVDC officers and Waddesdon Estates to the problem and was subsequently informed that enforcement action was being taken against Thames Water at the Raban’s Lane sewage works. Since August 2013 I have written press articles, researched the background and discussed the situation with individuals and officers.
An article in the Bucks Herald has been followed by interest from BBC South and other journals who are interested in covering the initiative.
Save The River Thame now has the support of:
* Thames Water
* MP’s David Lidington (Aylesbury) and John Bercow (Buckingham)
* Buckinghamshire County Councillors, and several Parish Councils in the Thame Valley.
* The Environment Agency.
* AVDC Biodiversity Officers.
* Local angler representatives.
* Waddesdon Estates.
* Many residents and individuals in Thame Valley villages.
* The River Thame Conservation Trust.
* The Freshwater Habitats Trust.
Why is it important?
* Water quality is critical to both biodiversity and public health.
* The state of the catchment is a disgrace whilst it is below that required by legislation.
* The sort of pollution that has been taking place is unnecessary and speaks badly of the privatised water industry.
* A beautiful river with healthy wildlife and good access is important for public health and happiness as well as the health of the overall countryside.
* It will be of great benefit to current and new residents and could attract tourism.
Achievements To Date
1. The seminar on July 8th was a great success (according to all those who attended) and had strong support from Thames Water, The Environment Agency, AVDC and Bucks County Council.
2. We have had coverage on BBC South Today TV News bulletins before and after the seminar.
3. The Bucks Herald and Thame Gazette have been printing regular articles on developments.
1. Continue to gather interest and support.
2. Start to build the team who will form the Working Group.
3. Create a web page and start social media information campaign.
We want to secure long term improvements through a community-led project that reduces pollution of the river and prevents further accidental releases.
About Doug Kennedy
I am initiating this project as a private individual because I was appalled by the effects of the pollution during the summer of 2013. I am also a Parish Councillor at Cuddington and head up the local Footpaths Working Group. I am a life-long environmentalist and have a masters degree in Environmental Decision Making and a B.Sc in Biology. I write regularly in the local press and have an occasional blog.