Birmingham and Coventry's Urban Waterways

It’s about time for a new blog post and I thought it would be good to flag up some of the investigations that I’ve been doing in conjunction with Waterside Care (which, in itself, is supported by Keep Britain Tidy).

As well as initial investigations on the River Cole around the Shire Country Park and Burberry Brickworks, more recent forays to the little Westley Brook, River Sowe, Stonehouse Brook and a little stream in the Holly Wood Local Nature Reserve (between Great Barr and Queslett) have seen me criss-crossing the M6 and M69 and the surrounding areas.

What always surprises me is just how much of the Black Country/​Coventry area is essentially floating” on a vast network of underground watercourses which suddenly pop up into daylight in surprising places. Of course this puts a lot of pressure onto the biology of these streams — not only from the physical encasing” of their channels in brick and concrete (both above and below ground).

It is the ever-present threat of intermittent and chronic pollution that arrives in these modified watercourses that is a really difficult problem to crack. Whether it is misconnections to drainage systems or blockage of correctly-connected drains with fatbergs” and similar modern scourges — their sources can be difficult to track (and also difficult to solve when they are identified).

One of the functions of the WTT’s Trout in the Town project is to link up groups of people who are facing similar challenges across the UK. In that capacity, the projects that groups such as Friends of Bradford’s Becks are undertaking are really worth publicising.

Probably the most infamous activities of FOBB involve the use of a novel technique to analyse and detect mis-connected domestic drainage came from the Chair of the group (Professor David Barney” Lerner). This involved ransferring research carried out in his capacity at the University of Sheffield to use non-bleached cotton to sample river water — and then to look for fluorescence under UV light — which would indicate brightening agents used in laundry products. The best and most readily-available source of non-bleached absorbant cotton is, of course, in tampons — which is a ready-made story for newspapers; as this Guardian article shows.

For now I need to concentrate on completing the reports from the fascinating and challenging sites that I’ve visited as part of this investigation (supported by the Environment Agency, under the direction of Sarah Pick). The range of different conditions experienced in only four urban watercourses is really pronounced, and this is typical of the way that being a Trout in the Town Conservation Officer stretches my capacity to adapt and apply the principles of habitat protection and improvement.

What is equally striking is just how valuable the small river corridors — or even the larger urban green spaces — that are supported by these urban waterways. This value is so clearly reflected in the efforts of volunteer groups who dedicate so much of their time to litter-picking and all manner of environmental improvements.
I hope that my findings from this collection of visits and reports will produce guidance that can help these environmental guardians to achieve even more for their adopted waterways and surrounding ecosystems. I also hope that, where water quality is not up to the standard that can support really diverse aquatic flora and fauna, we can help to make progress towards significant improvements there too.

The only way that nature can thrive (and at the same time provide the essential benefits to human society) is through a combined improvement of water-quality and habitat.
Big thanks to all of the kind folks who hosted me on these visits — especially (but not limited to) the following: 
  • Westley Vale: Rosie and Veronica (Westley Vale Millennium Green Trust) 
  • River Sowe: Lyn and Sylvia (Friends of Sowe Valley) 
  • Senneleys Park: Fran, Mike and Rob (Friends of Senneleys Park) 
  • Holly Wood LNR: Mark Green and Steve Kelly ( Friends of Holly Wood Local Nature Reserve)