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Bringing the Beane back to life

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Water

By Meg McCann, Lead Project Officer for the Colne and Lea catchments

Chalk streams are a rare and valuable habitat. 80% of all chalk streams are found in England, mainly in the south and east of the country. Along with the Environment Agency water companies, landowners, farmers, fisheries and river users have a role to play in protecting and enhancing them.

As the lead project officer, I have worked closely with the local water company, Affinity Water, and other partners to help protect and revitalise chalk streams in the Colne and Lea catchments lying to the north and west of London since 2015. Our objectives have been to restore these precious habitats, improving wildlife and recreational value while also increasing resilience to climate change.

One of the chalk streams we have focussed on has been the River Beane, which faces many threats including abstraction, impoundment structures preventing fish passage and sediment from agricultural run-off. As part of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP), we asked Affinity Water to address the main issues affecting the River Beane. WINEP is an agreement with water companies to deliver a programme of improvements broken down into yearly milestones, agreed with Ofwat. As the regulator, the Environment Agency is responsible for agreeing with the water companies what measures are going to be undertaken to improve our rivers.

Working with the landowner

This has been a challenging project, as part of the river runs through Woodhall Park, a Grade II listed parkland. Any changes had to be in keeping with the historic landscape and required consultation with the Local Conservation Officer. The lake and weir needed to remain in place but were preventing fish passage, and flows were slow due to trapped sediment.

In addition, a breach in the bank of the lake back in 2016 had caused the lake to drain and revealed that, over many years, the lake had filled with silt contaminated with hydrocarbons, which was detrimental to the ecology of the stream. Lakes such as these can interfere with the functioning of a healthy river, and can have a damaging effect on the ecology.

This gave Affinity Water an opportunity to improve the connectivity of the river, bypassing the two weirs. The first phase of the project was completed in January 2018 which bypassed the first weir, creating a new meandering channel across a grazing field so that fish could move easily upstream.

The second phase bypassed the next weir by installing a new river channel to improve fish passage, creating a range of chalk stream habitats, and splitting the flow of the Beane between the new channel and the lake. This meant the lake could still exist as part of the parkland, but wildlife can flourish in the flowing multi-habitat type channel – a win for people and wildlife.

Future work

This project has had extremely positive feedback from the Woodhall Estate owners and from the local community, who plan to work together on further projects. The work is so successful that it’s led to other landowners becoming interested in working with Affinity and the Environment Agency on projects on the Beane and other chalk streams.  Early indications confirmed by riverfly monitoring show there has been a positive impact on water quality. We are also seeing a lot of new plant species growing in the new river channel, an indicator of improved ecology.

Although the challenges associated with chalk streams are complex, projects and partnerships such as this can make a real difference. It feels great to be part of that work and to be able to showcase our successes.

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  1. Comment by Ray Walton posted on

    The Environment Agency and partners should actually 'Practice What They Preach' regarding protecting Chalk Stream Rivers and Streams and stop telling porkies. They are being continuously raw sewage polluted and over abstracted by the foreign owned/privatised Water and Sewage companies that the EA legally authorise and permit. No doubt the Beane will eventually be turned into another EA permitted 'open sewer' and over-abstracted by 'Infinity Water' who are the major cause of streams and rivers in the area from drying up each year.

  2. Comment by Paula Saunderson posted on

    I tried for 2 1/2 years to get EA to spear head regeneration of R. Lambourn in its lower reaches through an deprived Urban area with no luck. It's a SSSI, banks are BOAs mowed to death by 2 different local Councils. No one was interested so I went to a Rivers charity and we are now making some progress. Plus a child has sadly recently be drowned nearby so all attention is now on the Chalk Rivers.

  3. Comment by DGeoffrey W Carson posted on


  4. Comment by Jeremy Bennett posted on

    I agree with all the above comments , its a National issue issue (crime ?)
    I fish both on a chalk stream in Hertfordshire (Tewin - though I complete more work parties than actually fish) and also in the Cotswolds - I have witnessed a pollution incident of raw sewage being discharged into the River Coln below Fairford it was disgusting - In the Cotswolds area there is a great action group call WASP ( Windrush Against Sewage Pollution ) Try to find them on Facebook or Twitter .
    If chalk streams could bark or meow there would be a national outcry - In this country we have 80% of the chalk streams in the world - Think about it and we are killing them with pollution and over abstraction to name 2.

  5. Comment by Mike Beiley posted on

    Water and for that matter fishing in the UK is just too cheap.

    Unless and until consumers and politicians become willing to see prices rise substantially, water companies will continue to follow cheap and easy solutions to sewage disposal .

    Anglers need to get their act together too - for a start, stop leaving litter - is that too much to ask ?

    We've seen pollution time and again in the Lea and Roding Valleys in Essex/Herts together with pathetic low levels of fines for offenders and the regulator simply does not have enough clout.

  6. Comment by Peter Matthison posted on

    Nice Photo but dont see how it supports the point they are making. Having said that any help in improving the situation is to be welcomed.
    Just wonder what Dick Walker would have said?
    Sewage is a national issue so need to see things in context. As Mao said every journey starts as a single step.

  7. Comment by Derrick posted on

    I fished the Windrush in my youth around Witney fly fishing for dace, chub and even a trout from time to time. In the river clear at that time you could stalk the numerous fish in this healthy river. Now the Windrush is a faint shadow of its former self with a strange colouration reflecting sewage run off.

  8. Comment by James Cove posted on

    My concern is my local River, the Roding, in Essex. As a boy I fished the River from Woodford Bridge up river to Abridge. There were Chub/Roach/Dace/Gudgeon lots of Minnow. You could walk the length of these stretches of water, some were quite overgrown, but, were unobstructed. It is now impossible to get near parts of the River. Sections at Buckhurst Hill & Chigwell have been fenced off, bridges have been barricaded making access unreachable. Is this legal? There seems very little maintenance to these stretches which is so sad. Maybe a future project for the Agency?

  9. Comment by eric barnes posted on

    another major problem to our rivers and lakes is Cormorant predation of our fish species and the wildlife that also feed on all of our fish present in most of our unpolluted waters. Cormorants are increasing at alarming rates, I see this almost every time I visit rivers and lakes, also the nesting sites and trees are being decimated by the Cormorants droppings which contain one of the strongest stomach acids possessed by fish eating birds. One or two types of Cormorants were put on the endangered list many years ago but the government at that time stupidly put all Cormorants on the protected birds list, something needs to be done about this before it is to late for our Grebes, Kingfishers, Otters and all other wildlife that are dependent on our fish stocks, ACT NOW PLEASE

  10. Comment by Phil Lumley posted on

    Agreed, far too little too late! Stop the abstraction and pollution, the big water companies are only interested in making money and pay lip service in an effort to shut people up!

  11. Comment by brian medhurst posted on

    Why don't we as a nation abstract our water from the lower reaches of rivers? This way the flow in the upper stretches is maintained. Also high rainfall events and droughts are becoming more common, so why don't we do the bulk of our water abstraction during times of plenty, but ease up during droughts?

  12. Comment by S smith posted on

    Why weren’t the lower river dwellers consulted on the project at the Woodhall estate.
    It has resulted in flooding our land and homes lower down the river. It is shocking that this was allowed. As in other comments, the water companies have far too much power and seem to get away with doing whatever they want, causing horrific damage to the rivers and peoples lives.
    I find it astonishing that fish life is given more thought and priority to human life. The environment agency agreed to the detrimental project at the Woodhall Estate because the project included what they believe to be a way for fish to move around a bit more and in return affinity water and the Woodhall estate get to do whatever they want, causing more damage to the river and flooding to all the river dwellers living further downstream.


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