Keeping Herefordshire’s soil where it belongs

Soil washing off fields is an increasingly common problem across the UK. Not only is it a waste of a precious, non renewable (at least in sensible timescales) resource, it causes serious pollution in rivers and streams and dangers to road users. More intense rainfall and increased intensification of agriculture appear to be making matters worse.

Herefordshire is especially vulnerable. The fine red soils which give the County much of its landscape character, are easily mobilised by heavy rain and the undulating terrain means it can move quickly and over long distances.


On 15 June, a number of heavy but localised showers and thunderstorms in Herefordshire resulted in tonnes of soil being washed from many field onto roads, then into ditches and streams. This resulted in some of the larger watercourses, like the River Lugg becoming discoloured through increased turbidity. Levels of nutrients, for example phosphate would also have been raised significantly.


The main areas of concern are where steeply sloping fields have been cultivated next to watercourses, especially potatoes, maize and soft fruits grown under plastic. Here the risk of soil erosion is much higher. We have identified many of these locations using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) information, aerial photography and field surveys. Because agriculture is so dynamic we need to keep reviewing this information. What is a high risk maize field one year might be low risk pasture land the next.

These higher risk sites were shown to be washing significant quantities of soil during Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 June with significant impacts to roads and watercourses.

It is not just the Environment Agency that is concerned about soil washing off. Local Authority Highways are particularly concerned about this issue.


 Putting aside the obvious road safety issues associated with mud on highways, the cleanup costs from soil on roads can be very significant for Local Authorities, who will seek to recover these costs from landowners wherever possible. 


Increased runoff from fields also increases the risk of flooding to local properties with floodwater depositing large quantities of sediment onto private land .

As Regulators, we have been working to identify high risk sites, where soil run off is likely to be most significant and where risk to local watercourses is greatest.


 After rainfall events we gather evidence and information that we use for future enforcement and prosecution action and to refer sites to the Rural Payments Agency, where a breach of the soil standards in England have been identified under cross compliance.    

Farm HEREfordshire has been set up in the last year in an attempt to raise awareness of soil erosion and pollution while promoting sustainable and profitable farming. It is possible to achieve both! It’s a partnership supported by industry, voluntary organisations and statutory bodies like us. See more about its work and some nice little videos here http://www.wyecatchment.org/farm-herefordshire/
If you see large amounts of soil washing off into local streams please report it on our 24 hour incident hotline 0800 80 70 60. 

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River Teme fish rescue

Featured

The River Teme is one of England’s finest lowland rivers. It rises near Newtown in Wales, meanders through Shropshire and Worcestershire before joining the mighty River Severn just below Worcester. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its entire length.

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Despite its size, however, sections of its upper reaches are prone to drying out during periods of dry weather. This is a fairly frequent occurrence, happening, on average, around once every three years. The stretch most at risk is from Knighton to the confluence with the River Clun at Leintwardine.

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Drying out happens very quickly with low flows changing to a completely dry river bed within a day or two.

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Because the upper parts of the Teme rely on catchment runoff (rather than groundwater) for its flow, an extended period of dry weather quickly translates into low flows and then drying out. That is what has happened this year. The record-wet year of 2012 topped up our reservoirs and groundwater reserves very nicely but the lack of rainfall runoff for the last month (combined with high temperatures and evaporation) has resulted in the upper Teme (and other similar rivers) starting to dry out.

Fishy haven

The Teme is an excellent fishery and is home to a wide range of game and coarse fish. It is very popular with anglers who travel great distances to sample its challenges. The upper Teme is an especially valuable spawning ground for salmon and trout.

You may have thought that a drying river wouldn’t cause too many issues as the fish (being sensible creatures) would just move downstream as things dried out. The problem is that as the flows reduce , large, deep pools of water get cut off as the main river bed becomes dry. The fish tend to seek these pools out as they are deeper and cooler and tend to contain cover (weeds and fallen trees).

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The sun then gets to work on these pools, warming them quickly and oxygen levels in the water fall quickly. Obviously, in time, the pools themselves will dry out.

Launch the rescue team

We monitor high risk river areas like the upper Teme on a regular basis during dry weather. Our fishery officers have years of experience of where and when to look.

Once we know fish are becoming stranded and rescue is possible we scramble our rescue teams from Shrewsbury, Kidderminster and Tewkesbury (depending who’s closest).

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We use electrofishing to catch the fish in the pools. A small electric current is passed through the water which is sufficient to momentarily stun fish. There is quite an art in knowing where to look for the fish and how to efficiently get the optimum charge to the right spot!

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Members of the rescue team scoop them up in nets as they come to the surface and put them into buckets of water.

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The fish are then transferred to a large aerated tank of water towed by a landrover. This keeps them safe and happy until the rescue is complete. They are then taken downstream to a location where flows will be maintained and released.

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Teme haul

During the morning of 18th July we rescued around a hundred large fish from a dozen or so pools. Sadly the small fish and fry cannot be rescued. Some beautiful brown trout were saved as well as salmon parr, stone loach and bullheads.

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In addition we scooped up lots of brook lamprey and returned them to a safer place.

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Work like this is made possible by the money we receive from rod licence sales. We hope that anglers agree that it is important work in safeguarding the natural fish stocks in our rivers.

If you see and dead fish or fish in distress please call our incident hotline 0800 80 70 60