Just 16% of our waters (14% of rivers) meet the criteria for ‘good ecological status’, the same percentage as in 2016. .… no surface water bodies have met the criteria for achieving ‘good chemical status’.
Stand with your back to the river, and look around. What you see will have a huge impact on the river.
The catchment — especially the geology, topography and land use — is fundamental to the river.
For example, the River Itchen in Hampshire is a chalk stream. The underlying rock is chalk and it is fed by spring water. The gradient is low and the river flows gently through water meadows, arable fields and urban areas. The Itchen is a low energy river, with moderate flows and the water level doesn’t vary much through the year, nor does it change course very much over time. Plants can thrive in the river and on the banks.
It is very different to the River Usk in Wales which is rain fed, with it’s headwaters in the Brecon Beacons. Here there are steep gradients and sandstone rock, sheep pasture and coniferous woodland. The upper River Usk is fast flowing and ‘spatey’ — when it rains, the river rises rapidly to become a brown torrent and in summer it can have very low flows. It is a high energy river, changing it’s course by eroding banks and depositing sediment. It has few plants in the river and bankside trees can be removed by floods and deposited in the channel.
There is a wealth of material on the internet that explains the theory of rivers, processes of erosion and deposition, how the landscape is changed by rivers etc. at every level from primary school to post graduate. This website is one of the more concise and clear examples.
The three legged stool
The three vital components to the health of a river are water quality, water quantity and habitat. All three elements must be in good condition for the river to support a thriving community of plants, insects, fish, birds and mammals. If any one of the legs of the stool is missing or wonky, the ecology of the river will suffer.
For example, a concrete ditch can have clean water, the right amount of water but still be devoid of life because it lacks habitat for plants, insects and fish.
Our work is focused on improving river habitat, with trout acting as the ideal an indicator of a healthy river. If wild trout are thriving, the river is good condition.
We at the WTT like to manage rivers for their wildlife, giving them the space to develop naturally and deliver the tremendous benefits to our quality of life, to biodiversity and to mitigate the effects of climate change including floods and droughts.
Listed below are links to pages on this website about rivers and river habitat within the channel and on the banks (riparian zone).
Within each of the topic pages there are links to videos, articles, documents, blog posts, projects and external web sites to provide further information.
Each topic page link will open in a new tab.
River habitat projects (summary page)
- case studies are under the ‘Projects’ main menu
Barriers in rivers – weirs, culverts and hydropower
- for beaver dams, check out the Beaver Resource Hub
The video below is about a specific river — a chalk stream in Norfolk — but the issues and the personal connection to the river described in the film are very typical of many of our rivers. It is an excellent film!