Rivers and Wetlands
Our rivers are arguably our most important natural features. However, far too many of our waterways have been overused and undervalued. Less than a fifth of England’s rivers are currently classified as healthy by the Environment Agency, and climate change is putting more pressure on them. In South Somerset, we have a number of active community organisations helping to reverse the decline of our rivers and waterways. Find out more about these organisations below, including how you can get involved.
What's the problem with phosphates on South Somerset’s rivers?
We are seeing an increase in nutrients (including phosphorous and nitrogen) within our waterways, which has led to an increase in eutrophication, and a reduction of species due to the dominance of more nutrient resilient invasive species (such as the excessive growth of algae and aquatic plant life). This is adversely affecting the quality of the water, in turn damaging our local ecology.
The increase in phosphates can be linked to its use in our water treatment and sewage works, fertilisers, animal feed, food and drink, washing detergents, and other industrial applications.
Watch our recent webinar on the topic, which provides an overview of phosphates and why they are causing an environmental issue in South Somerset and beyond, as well as the associated impact it is having on development across the district. This is followed by a presentation from one of our Parish Environment Champions about the role of “Citizen Science” and how you can get involved with monitoring phosphates on your local river, including ways to mitigate the impact of phosphates!
Find out more about the challenges facing our waterways and volunteer to become a Water Guardian here.
Yeovil Rivers Community Trust
YRCT are a Community Trust specialising in the restoration, preservation and sustainability of the rivers and streams in and around Yeovil and are also promoting the creation and management of ponds and wetlands for people and wildlife. They are involved with a range of local projects including river restoration and habitat enhancement projects:
Dodham Brook restoration and enhancement scheme, including habitat restoration and the construction of aquatic benches - click here for more information;
Yeo Catchment Strategy Project, which aims to improve the Yeo catchment by implementing a series of actions to promote the restoration of natural river processes, improve wildlife connectivity on the river, provide diversified habitats and enhance biodiversity - see here;
Preston Brook community pond and wetland;
Ninesprings lake, pond and water vole habitat enhancement project;
Yeovil urban sustainable drainage (SUDS) and surface water study, which is looking at addressing surface water flooding hotspots in Yeovil.
CATCH - River Cale
Community Action to Transform Cale Habitat (CATCH) is a volunteer led community group whose objective is to improve and maintain the habitat of the River Cale in the Wincanton area, whilst also encouraging a diverse, natural balance of wildlife.
In 2014, following years of decline, CATCH, in conjunction with the Environment Agency successfully repopulated the river with 4,500 juvenile fish, and reintroduced Chub, Dace, and Roach back into the river.
Recent projects have included pollarding sections of unmanageable willow trees along the riverbanks to improve the river habitat, as well as annual kick sampling and water quality monitoring for the Environment Agency, and regular community-led litter picks along the river.
The group are currently focusing on the stretch of the river flowing through Wincanton and towards the A303, however the aim is to eventually monitor and evolve the project along the entire length of the River Cale.
To find out more information and to get involved, please visit the CATCH website.
Re-imagining the Levels
Re-imagining the Levels (RtL) is a community group that was set up following the devastating effects of the floods in 2013/14. The floods demonstrated the pressing need for a more joined-up approach looking at the causes and solutions to flooding across the entire river catchment. The changing climate will continue to pose a critical challenge to the people and landscape of the Somerset Levels.
The “Trees for Water” scheme, led by RtL in partnership with the Somerset Rivers Authority, the Environment Agency, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG) and the Woodland Trust, has been a great success, planting around 19,000 trees in the winter of 2020/21. The scheme is open to landowners and parishes across the Levels catchment area.
RtL already have a number of schemes looking to plant next season (2021/22) and are hoping to expand into Sedgemoor and Taunton and West Somerset Districts. They are also keen to grow the number of Schools and Community Plantings involved.
If you know of any suitable community sites or landowners thinking about plantings, or want to help volunteer, visit the website here.
Somerset Catchment Partnership
The Somerset Catchment Partnership (SCP) brings together a range of organisations,
including the Somerset Rivers Authority and the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group South
West (FWAG), working collaboratively at a river catchment scale to deliver cross-cutting
improvements to Somerset’s water environments. The Somerset Catchment Partnership
covers the majority of Somerset County with an area of 2,820 km2 including catchments
of Axe, Brue, Parrett, Tone and West Somerset Stream.
Key achievements in 2020 included:
the creation of 23 hectares of new habitat through woodland and hedgerow planting, which helps to ‘slow the flow’ of surface water and reduce flooding;
850 farmers and landowners engaged through land management advisory visits; and
£2 million of funding secured for project delivery.
Call out for Water Guardian Volunteers
Somerset Wildlife Trust and Wessex Water are looking to recruit and train volunteers in the Brue Valley catchment area to help monitor watercourses, identify possible pollution incidents and report them to Wessex Water for further investigation. Water Guardians will be the eyes and ears on the ground, playing an integral role in both the health of their local river and in their communities.
So if you live in areas such as Bruton, Street, Glastonbury and Castle Cary, or if you don't live here, but want to get involved because you have an interest in rivers, and are willing to travel, please follow this link to register and find out more.
Be a Citizen Scientist with West Country Rivers Trust
West Country Rivers Trust are looking for volunteers for their Citizen Scientist initiative.
You'll help to educate and engage people with the water environment, produce data,
spot pollution events and create a network of catchment communities that are
invested in their local environment. Visit their website here to find out more.
Invasive Species - Monitoring
An invasive non-natural species (INNS) is a species that has been transported out of its natural range. INNS have been classed as “those that upset the balance of the ecosystem because they are bigger, faster growing or more aggressive than the native species and also have no natural predators to control numbers” (Environment Agency, 2003).
What can I do? By familiarising yourselves with INNS, visitors to the rivers in South Somerset can help in the fight against some invasive species. Intelligence on the distribution and status of invasive species is vital if we are to combat their spread or mitigate their worst impacts. ID sheets are available here.
Some of the INNS that can be found in South Somerset include:
You can report sightings of invasive species to the
Natural Flood Management
The concept of natural flood management involves implementing measures that can help to protect, restore and emulate the natural functions of catchments, floodplains, rivers and the coast.
Natural flood management works best when a ‘catchment based approach’ is taken, where a plan is developed to manage the flow of water along the whole length of a river catchment from its source to sea. This way, natural processes can be used upstream and on the coast to compliment engineered flood defences – such as walls and weirs – in populated areas.
Natural flood management not only reduces flood risk it can also achieve multiple benefits for people and wildlife, helping restore habitats, improve water quality and helping make catchments more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The image below illustrates the types of natural flood management that will be encouraged as part of a 'catchment based approach'. Click on the link to find out more.