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Catchment Management Partnerships for Essex – What Are They and What Will They Do?

We are pleased to announce the creation of two Catchment Management Partnerships covering Essex. These partnerships will consist of interested parties and stakeholders who want to work cooperatively to improve Essex rivers and address the current and future issues our rivers and other water bodies will face.

They will work closely with the Environment Agency by feeding into and working to implement the River Basin Management Plans (an Environment Agency document that looks at the current state of the water environment, pressures facing them and actions that need to be taken to address these pressures).

The two Catchment Management Partnerships for Essex are Combined Essex hosted by Essex Wildlife Trust and South Essex hosted by Thames Chase.

Combined Essex includes the rivers and Tributaries of the Roach, Crouch, Chelmer, Blackwater, Colne and Stour and covers not only Essex but small parts of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk too. It extends fromBasildon and Southend in the south to Great Dunmow, Haverhill, Hadleigh and Harwich in the north. Essex Wildlife Trust are the appointed hosts of the partnership and they will be working closely with the newly established Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust, water companies, NGO’s parish councils and other local groups to improve the riparian environment of this catchment.

The Combined Essex partnerships builds on the successful Catchment Restoration Fund ‘Healthy Headwaters’ awarded to Essex Wildlife Trust (Essex Biodiversity Project) to improve parts of the Chelmer and Pant. These improvements include wetland and wet woodland enhancement, reconnection of old meanders and back channels, introducing fencing to reduce trampling of banks by cattle and other livestock, creating buffer strips of vegetation to reduce the affects of diffuse pollution and overland runoff and creating or improving in-channel and bank side habitats through such things as reprofiling river beds and banks and installing woody debris.

South Essex includes theMardyke valley to the west, and a number of small tributaries of the Thames Estuary to the east. It covers the Thames Estuary at Purfleet, Grays, Tilbury, Stanford-le-Hope and Pitsea. Thames Chase is the appointed hosts of the partnership and will be working closely with Essex Wildlife Trust and Thurrock council and they hope to build on this by working with other groups in the area such as RSPB and the Davy Down Trust. Some year ago Thames 21 worked to improve areas of the Mardyke by introducing off channel reed beds, improving the river banks and engaging the local community in the work. This partnership wants to build on and extend this Thames 21 project. They also want to work with the RSPB to continue the excellent work they are doing at Rainham marches and hopefully extend this to include the whole of the Mardyke in the Rainham area.

The main problems affecting Essex Rivers are the loss of habitats through over-straightening and over-dredging of water bodies which has been common practice for water habitat management for many years. Another major problem is diffuse pollution from fields and urban areas entering water courses. These factors have led to our rivers having high levels of phosphorous, which can create algae blooms and result in the removal of oxygen from the water, killing fish and invertebrates and loss of habitats for fish fry and invertebrates to thrive and grow. Unless these issues are tackled then the biodiversity of our waterbodies will continue to decline and result in lifeless rivers. The Rivers were straightened and dredged to reduce flood risk to developments near to water bodies but the challenge now is to find solutions to flooding that will also allow habitats to develop that will increase the biodiversity of these habitats. The aim of these partnerships is to tackle these problems while still considering issues such as flood risk but trying to find solutions that will benefit both areas.

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The topics below represent the pressures that many waterbodies in the Combined Essex catchment face. They have been divided into six main categories, but it is quite often that these categories can overlap as pressures relate to each other.

Diffuse pollution occurs as water moves across the land or through the ground and picks pollutants. These pollutants can come from a variety of places, including urban and field run off. The pollutants that enter the river can range from sediment to toxins to excess nutrients, meaning that diffuse pollution can cause a whole range of different issues. The variety in these pressure groups means that it is something that can be quite difficult to tackle. It requires groups of people, business and stakeholders to work together in order to solve this problem.

Fish should be able to travel up and down a river freely, allowing them to move and breed in the most suitable habitats for them. It is important that fish populations do not become isolated, as this makes them more susceptible to disease and puts pressure on their survival. Unfortunately, there are often many barriers along rivers that prevent fish from being able to migrate up and down stream. Where barriers have been identified, they will be seen as a ‘pressure’ on a waterbody. Thankfully, there are many solutions now that can be put in place to aid fish passage, even over large barriers.

The flow in a river can vary greatly throughout the year as rainfall and run off can have an effect. This is a natural process. It is when flow is impacted by non-natural processes that it can cause problems. Sometimes, water can be intercepted or removed from a system; this will reduce the flow, therefore changing the habitat conditions. Some species are happy in high energy rivers. This means that when flow is reduced, these species will no longer survive. The opposite of this can occur when excess water is entering a river, for example through increased runoff. Low energy systems then become high energy and displace the species that live there.

A species that is not meant to be found in a particular area is known as an invasive species. Invasive species can be from a different habitat or a different country altogether. Most of the invasive species that we find on our rivers have come from other countries – plants that people have imported for their gardens or animals that have been released for food or by animal rights activists. Control of invasive species requires a lot of time and effort. We are fortunate that we do have a range of methods to manage most of the invasive species that cause havoc on our rivers, but there are still some which we are still struggling to control.

Many of our rivers have been heavily modified over the years as rivers have been used for a wide range of purposes. Physical modification is one of the biggest factors that causes our rivers to be unhealthy. The issues that it can cause range from reducing habitat, preventing migration of mobile species, and even have an effect on the water quality. Where structures and modifications are no longer in use or necessary, they should be removed to allow the river to regain its natural state. Unfortunately, this action is not always taken which means that many of our rivers are over straightened and contain redundant structures. It is possible to return a lot of our rivers to their natural state, through one off projects, but in other cases it is not possible as the river has been changed to protect assets or manage flooding. It is recognised that some modifications cannot be removed without having severe negative impacts both socially and economically.

This is pollution that comes from a single identifiable source. The pollution entering the river could include a whole range of pollutants. Some point source pollution is known about and licences, for example sewage treatment works. Other sources are not licensed, and therefore work needs to be done with landowners to fix the problems that are allowing the pollution to enter the river. Point source pollution is more easily controlled than diffuse pollution as it often only takes one management approach to solve the issue.