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Water, Water Everywhere: With The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust

The award-winning charity, The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust, protect and restore the catchment area along these two great rivers, as Ruth Lawrence discovered recently, in conversation with charity director, Peter King

If someone asked you to estimate the length of the River Ouse, what would your answer be? Maybe 35 miles perhaps, roughly the distance from its source in Slaugham to its union with the sea at Newhaven. The Ouse actually consists of 750 miles of streams, rivers and brooks, spreading across the landscape like the trunk, branches and twigs of a tree. The neighbouring River Adur has a catchment area of 500 square kilometres and reaches out across the landscape in a similar manner. Both are an important spawning ground for sea trout, and both are utilised for coarse angling. The Victorians, ever keen to impose their plans on the landscape straightened and deepened the rivers, adding weirs, locks, flood prevention measures, and sections of stillwater along their length.

If you’ve walked, swam, fished or paddled along these rivers, you’ll appreciate how much of their course has been modified in the past. The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust is the body tasked with restoring and improving many of those Victorian innovations and creating connectivity more akin to the natural flow of these two rivers. Trust director, Peter King, explained to me how the charity aims to encourage a richly diverse riparian environment with the aim to benefit wildlife and people, while creating resilience against drought and flooding. Although this sounds like a titanic job, considering the modest size of the Trust, Peter applauds the efforts of volunteers who have played a crucial role in practical work and citizen science projects.

Trust members can take on a task or a variety of tasks during the week and at weekends or concentrate on the regular monthly practical sessions on the third Sunday of each month. There remain a variety of volunteer roles, all waiting to be filled by enthusiastic people willing to spare anything from an hour to a full working day, to help keep the water flowing and the landscape thriving.

Volunteers build and install berms, which are brushwood bundles woven around sunken posts to create habitat, improve the flow dynamic, and prevent erosion. One of the most popular volunteer jobs is tree planting. What could be more satisfying than planting a sapling, then watching it grow to maturity over the years, providing shade, filtering pollution and reducing flood risk? There are river clean ups, removing the detritus of human activity, clearing plastics and other waste from clogged channels and bankside vegetation, restoring the river to its pristine, natural state. If wildlife is your interest, why not join an invertebrate monitoring group, or help install fish ladders which have helped open up 150km of river to migratory species?

Redundant or broken barriers to flow and movement still exist in the river system and need to be removed or to incorporate a fish passage to keep access clear for the species that rely on them. Peter told me it’s important to improve fish migration up and downstream with the use of fish ladders, by-pass channels, and even barrier removal. Small fish can’t jump over permanent obstructions and winter floods can push them over barriers and downstream. This work by volunteers, coupled with eddy forming berms and the creation of fish refuges, allows fish to rest before continuing on their onward journey.

Peter was quick to reassure me that people can do as much or as little as they wish, there are no long days of hard, compulsory physical toil. A contribution of a single hour will be appreciated, but for those that are feeling inspired it’s possible put in anything up to a full six-hour day. Any necessary training, equipment, guidance and full insurance are provided along with copious tea and biscuits, and delicious cake, thrown in as essential perks of volunteering! All ages, backgrounds and abilities are welcome; the Trust is inclusive, and all help is greatly appreciated.

The Trust is passionate about involving communities with their local river systems. Their ‘Enhancing Places, Inspiring Communities’ project, or EPIC for short, is an urban chalk stream restoration project to realign the Broadwater Brook in Sompting, enabling people to enjoy a river trail and a wildlife viewing hide. Since its inception, well over 2,000 people have attended several events and activities, and more than 1,000 school children have been engaged in the project, which has recorded over 500 species.

Peter maintains volunteers are the lifeblood of the Trust and it is vitally important that local people are involved in the restoration and enjoyment of the rivers that run through their lives. The Ouse and the Adur are intertwined with their communities across Sussex; and for interested readers, there are numerous ways to meet and get involved with like-minded individuals in caring for these dynamic living rivers.