Wildlife groups take action for water voles on the River Misbourne

Wendy Tobitt, BBOWT  |  Published: Dec 18th 2017
volunteer group photo, courtesy BBOWT

The River Misbourne in south Buckinghamshire is being transformed into a wildlife-friendly habitat, thanks to the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust working with the Wild Trout Trust, Environment Agency, Buckinghamshire County Council and Groundwork South along with local conservation volunteers.

Julia Lofthouse, Water Vole Project Officer with the Wildlife Trust, explains why this work is needed: “The River Misbourne is a precious chalk stream which flows for 17 miles from its source in the Chilterns to the Colne Valley. This project is working to improve habitats for wildlife, in particular the rare water vole and brown trout populations which live in the river.

“In some places the river’s gravel bed has silted up so that brown trout aren’t able to spawn. In other areas the banks have become overgrown with trees and shrubs so that water voles don’t have grasses and plants to feed on.”

The River Misbourne habitat improvement project is focusing on a section of river from above the Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre downstream to the confluence with the River Colne. 

Julia explains what’s happening: “Staff and volunteers from the wildlife groups and local project partners are opening up the river, using tree branches and other material cut from the vegetation to reinstate banks and recreate the winding nature of the stream.

“Narrowing the stream speeds up the flow of water which then washes away the silt. As the river naturally bends around the new banks it creates pools where trout can live and invertebrates such as mayflies and dragonflies can reproduce.

“Cutting back the overhanging trees allows more light onto the banks where grasses, reeds and other vegetation will provide food and cover for water voles. The water voles on the Misbourne are one of only three populations remaining in the county. Ultimately we would like to see them extend downstream and along the River Colne to link up with the nearby population on the River Chess.”

Rob Mungovan, Conservation Officer at the Wild Trout Trust says: “Partnership working can be the key to success on rivers as so many people use and enjoy them. We are very pleased to have been able to lead the volunteers to ensure that the river is in a great shape for wildlife, especially its vulnerable wild brown trout and scarce water voles.” Allen Beechey from the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project worked alongside the Wild Trout Trust on the river enhancement work.

The River Misbourne project, which is funded by the Environment Agency, started in October 2017 and is due to finish in March 2018.

Nancy Baume, Project Manager at the Environment Agency says: “This fantastic project is part of the Chalk Streams Partnership. Across Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire we are working with partners to protect and restore our globally rare chalk streams for the benefit of people and wildlife. Alongside a programme of river restoration projects, such as The River Misbourne habitat improvement project, we are working with Affinity Water to reduce abstraction and make sure more water remains in the environment.”

In 2018 the team will be creating a gravel ‘beach’ beside the River Misbourne outside the Colne Valley Visitor Centre within Denham Country Park.

“Hundreds of children come here to go river-dipping in their school holidays and on school visits. This will make a lovely place for people to paddle and use nets to dip for mayfly nymphs and the abundance of other tiny creatures that live in the chalk stream,” says Julia.

Stewart Pomeroy from Groundwork South welcomes the work: “This project will improve the habitat for water voles and other species within the Colne Valley and will help create habitat links for water vole populations on the River Colne with populations further up the River Misbourne.”

To find out more about the River Misbourne habitat improvement project and how you can get involved, contact Julia Lofthouse, julialofthouse@bbowt.org.uk

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