"A Clear Future for our River"
Welcome to BART's
Autumn 2023 Newsletter
Catch up with what's been happening with Team BART! From river restoration, to community engagement, to river surveys and citizen science, we are working hard to improve the health of our rivers and connect people with their amazing blue spaces. Here in our newsletter, you'll be able to read about some of the many projects we have been working on.
As the crisp autumn leaves blanket our beautiful region, I am delighted to welcome you to the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust Autumn Newsletter. This season not only paints our landscape in vibrant hues but also marks a season of change, growth, and renewal for our organisation.
At BART, we remain deeply committed to our mission of preserving and enhancing the health of our local rivers and the surrounding environment. With your continued support, we've achieved significant milestones over the years, and the autumn season is the perfect time to reflect on these accomplishments.
In this edition of our newsletter, we will share the latest updates on our ongoing conservation projects, the incredible efforts of our dedicated team, and the positive impact we've had on the Bristol Avon River and its tributaries. We'll also introduce you to the faces behind the scenes, those who work tirelessly to protect and restore our precious waterways.
We are thrilled to unveil exciting plans and initiatives that lie ahead as we continue to adapt and evolve in response to the ever-changing environmental challenges facing our region. Your unwavering support and partnership have been instrumental in driving our success, and we look forward to what the future holds with great enthusiasm.
Thank you for being a part of the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust community. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the health and vitality of our rivers for generations to come.
Wishing you a wonderful autumn and inspiring reading.
Warm regards, Simon Hunter CEO, Bristol Avon Rivers Trust
BART welcome new members to the team
The Bristol Avon Rivers Trust team is expanding! (Team of 11). We would like to extend a very warm welcome to the newest members, Michael Thompson, Philippa Gist, Jacob McAdie and James McCallan.
Michael joins BART as Senior Project Manager, overseeing the delivery of a wide range of projects which improve the health of our rivers. Michael's qualifications and experience are wide ranging, previously working with Severn Trent Water Authority, having spent 15 years working at the Environment Agency and more recently in eastern and southern Africa.
He has managed programmes to negotiate environmental standards for water quality, for restoring sustainable abstractions and for supporting the design of wetland habitat conservation projects. He has also led teams that have secured significant funding streams for wildlife conservation and water development in the UK and internationally, including for large scale wetland habitat creation schemes on the Humber, the Severn and in the Lake District.
Philippa joins BART as Farm Advisor, working with landowners to improve river health in the Bristol Avon Catchment.
Philippa studied Zoology in Falmouth and since graduating has pursued a career in food and farming which originates from a love of the outdoors. She has gained experience working closely with community growing projects and food education outreach programmes. She has specialist knowledge of horticulture systems with a strong focus on creating farm networks, knowledge exchange opportunities and running events.
In the 4.5 years before joining BART, Philippa worked at the Soil Association in several roles supporting organic businesses to implement organic standards across a range of farming and processing operations.
Jacob joins BART as Project Assistant, supporting the team on a variety of projects.
Jacob holds a BA in Geography, focusing on human-environment interactions, going on to attain an MSc in Land and Ecological Restoration in which he developed his knowledge of restoration theory, surveying, monitoring and practices for a variety of ecosystems.
Before working for BART, Jacob worked and volunteered for a number of environmental organisations and conservation projects in roles ranging from bat surveying, physical site work and science communication.
James also joins BART as Project Assistant, supporting the team on a variety of projects.
James holds an MSci in Environmental Geoscience, focusing primarily on physical processes and their impact on the aqueous environment. Before working for BART, James gained a PGDE in secondary science education and has worked for three years developing a strong aptitude for communicating biology, chemistry, and physics to young people in stimulating ways.
James’ experiences in environmental volunteering and as an avid fly fisherman have acted to further embed a strong belief in experiential education as a means of fully engaging people to take interest, ownership, and action in their local environment.
Bristol Avon RiverBlitz 2023 Freshwater habitats account for some of the richest biodiversity in the world, and rivers are a crucial ecosystem for both wildlife and people. The more we learn about them and understand their processes, the more we can do to make them healthy again. This is why each year Bristol Avon Rivers Trust (BART) works with an army of volunteer citizen scientists to deliver the ‘Bristol Avon RiverBlitz’ to capture water quality data throughout the catchment. The data collected in July have now been analysed and the results are in!
This year’s annual RiverBlitz has been our biggest triumph to date, with an incredible 193 citizen scientists heading out to monitor their local rivers and streams. Many citizen scientists from this year’s RiverBlitz attended local events which were held on the Wellow Brook, River Biss, River Chew and Land Yeo. During these in-person events, volunteers were provided with their easy-to-use water quality testing kits and given demonstrations on how to use them before heading out to take their own samples. BART were thrilled to have such a fantastic turn out of dedicated and enthusiastic citizen scientists in these catchments – and in some cases, despite the very wet weather!
Between the 7th to 14th July, volunteers took part in water quality testing at their local watercourse, with an astounding 292 samples collected and recorded across the catchment. For the eighth year, RiverBlitz volunteers tested nutrient levels in watercourses across the Bristol Avon river catchment.
Nitrates and phosphates which were both tested, are amongst the most common pollutants of freshwater environments and can have wide ranging harmful effects on wildlife. They can enter our watercourses from various sources, such as pesticides and fertilisers washing into our rivers, waste from livestock, sewage overflows, and even treated sewage discharges as treating wastewater does not remove all chemicals. Find out more about nutrient pollution in this excellent video: Phosphates: Too Much Of A Good Thing.
Concerningly, results from this year’s Bristol Avon RiverBlitz show that when nitrate and phosphate results are combined, 89% of sample locations recorded high levels of nutrients, with only one out of the 293 sample locations showing a low concentration.
Why are nutrient levels higher this year and what's the impact? Nutrient data can be influenced by a range of factors including weather conditions, temperature, and inputs from other connecting waters. The 2023 Blitz began during a rainfall event following an extended period of extremely dry weather. This scenario could explain the elevated nutrient levels, as nutrients accumulated on land prior to rainfall are washed into the watercourse during the first storm event.
The impact of such events on aquatic wildlife can be substantial, as aquatic organisms can already be stressed due to low river flows and rising temperatures during dry weather. Heavy rainstorm events are likely to exacerbate this stress when toxins wash off roads and fields and enter the water channel, along with water company combined sewage overflows that discharge diluted raw sewage during periods of wet weather.
The Bristol Avon RiverBlitz data provides a high-level snapshot of nutrient levels throughout the catchment which will be shared with the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership to help pinpoint areas to concentrate future conservation work to improve water quality. Data for each watercourse collected since the first event in 2016 is accessible to the public via the Bristol Avon RiverBlitz visualization tool. This interactive map allows you to click on your local watercourse and see if it has high, medium or low levels of nitrate of phosphate. The tool can be accessed on our website here.
RiverBlitz Explorer map showing nutrient levels in the catchment's watercourses: red = high; orange = medium; green = low; grey = unsampled. Click on the map to explore the data.
The team at BART is already hard at work developing plans for the Bristol Avon RiverBlitz 2024. If your organisation would like to help fund the 2024 event, we’d love to hear from you: email@example.com
Thank you to the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Avon Wildlife Trust, Osbourne Clarke Charitable Trust, Triodos Foundation, Big Give, Bristol Water, Robert Clutterbuck Charitable Trust and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris for their contributions towards funding the 2023 project. A huge thank you to all of the citizen scientists that made this year the best event yet!
Thank you to Riskaware, who work with us to develop our online data platform. If you would like to know more about what Riskaware do, and the products and services they offer please visit their website.
Fish Recovery Strategy is Published The Bristol Avon Fish Recovery Strategy has been developed by the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership to guide collective action to deliver the vision and actions required for fish recovery which will benefit all ‘life below’ the water’s surface across the Bristol Avon catchment: Globally, the population decline of freshwater species is twice as rapid as that of marine and terrestrial species. The strategy essentially provides a set of guiding principles to improve freshwater biodiversity and serves as a tool to incorporate the value of rivers into decisions regarding asset management, public health, environmental recovery, and economic development.
Whilst being important functionally-linked habitat for the Severn Estuary SAC/Ramsar/ SSSI, the Bristol Avon catchment is not a protected site in its own right and so special proactive efforts are required to ensure its ecological recovery and conservation. It is, therefore, imperative that we apply the principles to agree actions for the Bristol Avon catchment to restore conditions that promote sustainable and healthy fish populations.
The need for a fish recovery strategy Fish have a variety of roles in the life cycles of other species, including providing food and serving as predators to sustain population growth and health across freshwater ecosystems. They cycle energy, chemicals, and nutrients. Key elements of nature recovery include fish and the ecosystems they support. They also contribute to the economical, physical, and mental health advantages of water-based recreational activities like angling.
However, just 12% of the waterbodies in the Bristol Avon basin have been classified as having Good Ecological Status (GES) in 2021, according to the Water Framework Directive with physical man-made alterations and increased phosphate and nitrate levels factors in not obtaining GES.
It is hardly unexpected that these circumstances have an effect on fish populations in the Bristol Avon river catchment. Fish deaths can result from poor water quality, and this is frequently made worse by low river flows. Weirs and other artificial barriers impede fish from migrating to reproductive grounds and moving away from potential danger or in search for food. The combined effects of a changing climate and an increasing local population will continue to have an impact on fish populations.
Brown Trout in the Bristol Avon (Image credit: Hunter Brumels)
Application of the Bristol Avon Fish Recovery Strategy The Fish Recovery Strategy forms part of the suite of regional and natural environment strategies that include: The Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership (BACP) Catchment Plan, The West of England Climate and Ecological Strategy and Action Plan, The West of England Nature Recovery Strategy, The Forest of Avon Plan and The Joint Green Infrastructure Strategy.
The Bristol Avon Fish Recovery Strategy should be considered in the development and delivery of the region’s Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS), and the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain and Environmental Land Management Schemes.
To advance in executing the strategy, a Five-Year Action Plan has been set out in the strategy providing a proposed initial set of actions to be discussed with suggested leads to confirm resources and timeframes.
BART's programmes of citizen science and monitoring continue to blossom! Alongside the continuation of schemes we have managed for many years, the River Detectives pilot is now expanding and Wessex Water Guardians is being launched in the area. We'll be working alongside Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to coordinate Water Guardians in the Wiltshire area. The different schemes offer differing levels of commitment from our volunteers and provide unique data to better understand the state of our rivers.
The image below illustrates the differing levels of commitment for the various citizen science and monitoring programmes coordinated by BART. RiverBlitz is BART's annual citizen science event where as many volunteers across the catchment as possible sample their local river once a year. BART Beacons keep an eye on their local river and report back to BART with concerns, at their convenience. Water Guardians look out for water pollution and other things, reporting back monthly. River Detectives take water quality samples once a month. Riverfly monitors are trained to identify a group of key invertebrates and then sample their local river monthly to check presence and abundance.
Not only do the volunteer's monitoring efforts provide us with invaluable water quality data coverage, but it is also a great way of engaging with and taking ownership of a beloved stretch of river, while at the same time enjoying all of the benefits that come alongside interacting with the outdoor environment.
Accessing the data
Citizen science data that is tirelessly collected by our River Detectives and RiverFly monitors is accessible to the public via the Bristol Avon River Detectives and RiverFly online tools. Our interactive maps allow you to select locations on your local watercourse to find out its chemical and invertebrate status. Each tool can be accessed on our website: River Detectives and RiverFly.
If you are interested in volunteering with BART for citizen science and monitoring, please scroll down to the 'Getting Involved' section at the end of the newsletter for more details about current recruitment or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d like to express our thanks to those resilient monitors who already provide data. This data acts to further our evidence base and therefore our ability to strategically target funding and local initiatives that make a difference on a local and regional scale. We’d like to thank RiskAware for their development and enhancement of our online data platform. If you would like to know more about what RiskAware do, and the products and services they offer, please visit their website.
Thank you to all the organisations who have contributed to funding the citizen science and monitoring programmes at BART. River detectives has been supported by Bristol Water, Bath and Northeast Somerset Council, and the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership. Water Guardians is funded by Wessex Water. During 2023, riverfly monitoring has been supported by Co-op, Regenesis Bristol, Denman Charitable Trust, Syder Charitable Trust, Walter Guinness Charitable Trust.
River Dipping events in the Chew From July to November BART have hosted four river dipping events in the River Chew catchment for various younger groups. The events involved educating the younger generation about the wildlife that lives in their local river, and to reconnect them with their local blue and green spaces. The children learnt all about river invertebrates, what makes our rivers unhealthy, and what we can do to help improve them in the future. The children also learnt about how riverfly invertebrates can be used as indicators of river health, and why it is important to look after their habitats.
The first event was hosted on the 19th July with Chew Stoke Church School, with 30 children sampling and identifying various river invertebrates. The children thoroughly enjoyed this new experience, and even managed to catch an endangered European eel!
The second event was hosted on the 25th July, and was a community river dipping event open to the public in Chew Magna. A group of 20 children and parents thoroughly enjoyed the session, with some of the children saying it was the best day of their lives!! Small groups took turns to get into the river and fish out the invertebrates, which were then taken and separated into the identifying trays and dividers. The session was finished off with a mini-raft building activity, where the children worked in groups to create their best mini rafts from foraged natural materials, which we then raced down the river.
The third session was hosted in Chew Stoke with a local beavers group. The children learnt about the different types of invertebrates and fish species that are present in their local watercourse and how they can be used to indicate river health.
The final river dipping session was with Chew Magna Primary School. A group of 30 students explored their local watercourse and used our Freshwater Nature Trail guides to identify the different types of invertebrates they caught. The session was finished off with a mini-raft building activity, where the children worked in groups to create their best mini rafts from foraged natural materials, which we then raced down the river.
A big thanks to the Co-op for funding these fun and educational events for our next generation of river guardians and local community.
Corporate Social Responsibility is thriving
Corporate volunteers have been out in force over recent months. Our corporate social responsibility programme is increasingly popular with volunteers making much appreciated contributions to improving river health. Groups join BART for the day across various sites doing various tasks. They might be working alongside woodland streams, out on farms or in our urban streams.
Groups from IOP publishing, DEFRA, and Babcock helped remove invasive Himalyan Balsam from our riverbanks. Groups from KPMG, Kelpie, Enhesa, Hunter IT and Burgess Salmon collected an impressive quantity of rubbish from our streams and rivers. Groups from Kier, University of Bristol, Burgess Salmon, Enhesa, OFR Consultants, Magor Brewery and Aura Power helped with all important maintenance of young trees BART have recently planted. Groups from Babcock and Rolls Royce got into waders and worked very hard helping with river restoration. Thank you to all the volunteers for their hard work!
Thank you to all the businesses who have helped support BART's work, as well as the individuals who have given time towards improving the health of our rivers.
As part of our Chew Reconnected project, BART installed rain planters at three schools in the Chew Catchment. Rain planters are a Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) technique which slow the flow of water going into our drainage systems and rivers. This can help alleviate flooding and sewage overflow.
We went back to Bishop Sutton Primary School in October and had a look at how the rain planters we installed last year are doing. The plants are thriving, they look beautiful and are slowing down rain water which falls on the school's roof. Here’s hoping that other schools, businesses and homeowners take note and do their bit to slow the flow of surface water reaching our rivers and the combined sewage network.
Pictures showing one of the rain planters when it was installed and one year later.
BART tops the charts for Riverfly sampling
BART's network of volunteer Riverfly monitors continue to diligently sample their local rivers and streams, reporting back their data to provide an indicator of river health. Impressively, BART monitors collect and report back more data to the national Anglers' Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) than any other group in the country!
Monitors calculate an index each time they sample, based on the presence and abundance of various river invertebrates. Riverfly monitoring is a national scheme, headed by The Riverfly Partnership with volunteers collecting data up and down the country. Between April 2022 and April 2023, BART riverfly monitors collected the most data of all the riverfly groups under the partnership. Our monitors were responsible for 6.5% of all records submitted.
A big thank you to all our riverfly volunteers, Jessy our amazing Freshwater Ecologist and of course Martyn Hale our volunteer riverfly coordinator. What an achievement!
Working to restore the River Marden near Calne
The team at BART have been busy undertaking in-stream habitat restoration on the River Marden near Calne. This work, made possible through funding from Calne Without Parish Council (CWPC), aims to diversify water flow and habitat conditions by creating several woody berms with the help of local volunteers. This project will help achieve the strategic objectives of the CWPC Climate Emergency Working Group which aims to restore and reconnect habitats in the Marden Valley catchment to enhance the area’s aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity.
This section of the upper Marden has suffered from a lack of flow diversity and over-siltation resulting in a poor invertebrate and aquatic plant community present in this stretch. Slow flowing straightened sections of the river create a uniform flow pattern across the channel width, reducing the microhabitats present and resulting in silt deposition that smothers gravel bed habitats which are essential for many invertebrates and spawning fish.
Working with contractors, BART staff and volunteers collected woody branches and brash from trees on site, in doing so helping open up sections of the canopy to maintain a roughly 40:60 light to shade ratio for the stream to encourage greater aquatic plant colonisation. At specified points along the river identified by BART, staff alongside volunteers secured aged chestnut stakes into the riverbed and packed the collected woody material to create wedge shaped structures jutting out into the river channel. These structures are called woody berms. The berms were secured using twine and designed to overtop in high flow conditions.
Creating woody berms helps add complexity to rivers, helping restore natural processes by creating areas of faster and slower flows, increasing flow diversity and create areas of scour and deposition. This process enhances the physical diversity of the river by encouraging it to “re-wiggle”, in doing so increasing the microhabitats found in both the river cross section and downstream profile with benefits for a variety of species and communities. By increasing flow diversity in the newly narrowed channel, our berms will help expose gravel habitat essential for trout spawning. Over time the berms will in-fill with silt and bankside vegetation will colonise helping to stabilise the structure and blur the divide between the natural bank and our berms.
We would like to thank Sprays Farm for the permission to undertake this important restoration work and Calne Without Parish Council for funding the project. A huge thank you also goes out to the volunteers who came out to help and make this work possible!
Engaging landowners in the Cotswolds AONB Building on previous work to survey waterbodies within the Cotswolds AONB, BART received funding from Cotswolds AONB to further engage with landowners and work with them to implement two model projects to improve riparian habitats and management in the headwaters of the Little Avon. These two projects can then be used as example sites of best practice going forward to highlight to local landowners and authorities what can be done to improve these waterways and potentially initiate a longer-term project along the Little Avon. Through this work with landowners, BART hope to create a shared vision of river improvements on along this river and work to implement this vision where possible.
BART have already worked with several landowners, having surveyed and produced reports suggesting several restoration and nature-based solution opportunities on their properties. These opportunities include scrapes and bunds to both provide wildlife habitat and retain water during high rainfall events, complex woody debris structures to enhance river flow patterns and functioning, tree and hedge planting and riparian fencing from livestock. These measures would deliver significant improvements to water quality, water retention to reduce flooding and habitat provisioning throughout the catchments of the AONB. They will also enhance the enjoyment and connection to these spaces for the local communities who highly value the ecological and environmental health of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. BART will seek funding to implement these proposals where possible and work to achieve the aims of the project by restoring and enhancing habitats, improving water quality and promoting long-term improvements to land management in this protected landscape.
A scrape during and after construction. These features retain water during high rainfall.
Spreading the message: save water to help rivers
With funding from the The Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), BART has been engaging partners, local communities and landowners in the Chew and Congresbury Yeo catchments to educate about possible future water shortage, what this means for our rivers and what can be done to improve water resilience. BART's Engagement and Education Officer led several community events and BART's Farm Advisor has been advising famers and landowners in the area.
To gather expertise and align messaging, BART engaged with key stakeholders including Bristol Water, Bath & North East Somerset Council, Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, Natural England and the Environment Agency. Productive discussion between the stakeholders informed the project's events and opened conversation about this crucial issue.
Three well-attended talks were given in the region, sparking lengthy discussion amongst attendees. BART's stall, with water-saving messaging, attracted many visitors at local fetes and festivals. An impressive 825 people visited BART's stall at the Festival of Nature, where sustainable water use was a key part of the stall experience. Members of the Chew Valley Forum were also fascinated to hear about the predictions for future water supply and councillors are now thinking about what action can be taken to improve resilience.
BART's Farm Advisor worked around the Chew, Congresbury Yeo and Windford Brook catchment advising on land management and guidance on rainwater harvesting and drought management. With our increasingly variable weather patterns, we have been working with farmers to explore alternative and innovative solutions to water management on farm. Examples of some of the things BART have been advising on include wetland creation, harvesting rainwater from barn roofs and various land management options including the introduction of cover crops and herbal leys. BART will be hosting an event at Lye Cross Farm towards the end of the year to further explore this work and the funding opportunities available to farmers at this time. Please contact Philippa on email@example.com for more information.
Natural Flood Management on the Bristol Frome
The Bristol Frome was one of 25 local areas to secure funding via the Flood Resilience & Innovation Fund. The total programme will receive £6 million to deliver across six workstreams. BART have been awarded a role as a delivery partner on the Natural Flood Management (NFM) workstream to design and deliver a range of NFM projects across the catchment.
BART have been busy implementing a Natural Flood Management scheme along the Patchway Brook and the Stoke Brook, both tributaries of the Bristol Frome river. BART have been delivering this work working with the Three Brooks Conservation Group to create leaky dams on the Patchway Brook and a wetland area adjacent to Stoke Brook. The work took place in the Three Brooks Nature Reserve to help improve water quality, flow diversity and important habitats for fish and invertebrates.
Both brooks have been significantly modified and straightened over time. The over widened channel was once shallow and devoid of natural features, providing poor habitat diversity for aquatic life. BART designed a habitat improvement scheme; using coppiced material to build leaky dams in the river.
Woody debris (trees and their branches) are crucial and natural components of our river systems. Trees fall naturally into the water from the riverbanks, which then lodge into the channel or are carried downstream by the flow until it settles. Fish and invertebrates find refuge in the woody material, which also capture silt and sediment. This sediment would otherwise smother gravels and vegetation or would flow downstream.
Leaky dams and large woody debris were installed in strategic locations along along a small tributary of Stoke Brook to help slow the flow of surface water during peak rainfall events and increase connectivity of watercourses with their floodplains. Consequently, this creates wetland and wet woodland habitats where rivers have previously been disconnected due to human management of rivers. The leaky dams were constructed in a way that allows some water to ‘leak’ through the structure so that the watercourse does not become completely impounded. Coppiced material was stacked in the most natural way possible to blend in with the natural environment. The dams were secured in place using chestnut posts which were secured to the riverbed.
Along Patchway Brook, we worked with a local contractor to introduce a number of large trees into the watercourse in strategic, low-lying locations along the brook. By imitating natural tree fall across and into the channel, the woody material will hold back water during high flows, allowing the brook to fill its channel capacity and in places, reconnect the adjacent floodplain. The overspill of water into the surrounding woodland area will enable increased water storage capacity and encourage sediment deposition, reducing the sediment flowing downstream.
BART are working across the Bristol Avon catchment to restore our rivers and improve habitats for riparian wildlife. To find more about this project or others across the catchment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Resilient Frome for funding this project. We now look forward to continuing working with partners to build a wider programme of catchment restoration that includes further restoration, wetland creation, and Natural Flood Management measures during 2023-2027 via the Resilient Frome partnership programme, one of 25 projects supported by Defra’s Flood & Coastal Resilience Innovation Fund.
Working to restore Stoke Brook at Forty Acres Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, alongside a team of local volunteers have been out restoring river habitat along Stoke Brook, a tributary of the Bristol Frome, which flows through Forty Acres in Stoke Gifford.
The watercourse underwent extensive alterations in the past, having been artificially straightened to accelerate the flow of water. Over time, the stream has significantly degraded, losing crucial habitats for fish and aquatic organisms.
The straightened and heavily modified channel was shallow and devoid of habitat diversity, which reduced refuge for coarse and minor fish species and invertebrates. In certain areas, the stream was excessively shaded, hindering sunlight from reaching the watercourse. This affected the colonisation of macrophytes (aquatic plants), thereby restricting habitat diversity and the niches essential for fish.
The main goals of the restoration project aimed to enhance conditions for macrophyte and macroinvertebrate (such as aquatic insects) communities and to establish habitats for both larger and smaller fish species, including the European eel and bullhead. These improvements are vital to the health of the brook, as it is currently failing under current Water Framework Directive assessments.
During Autumn 2023, 16 brushwood berms were installed to a 300 metre stretch of the Stoke Brook through Forty Acres Nature Reserve in Stoke Gifford. Constructed within the river, brushwood berms are wooden structures designed to promote natural processes, enhancing flow dynamics, and creating habitat diversity for the wildlife inhabiting the river.
To build the structures, large amounts of brushwood (small branches) were harvested from adjacent woodland, carried and floated down by volunteers then carefully positioned into the river behind a larger tree limb used as a flow deflector. Over time, this introduces flow variations that reshape the riverbed, scouring gravels and forming habitats like riffle pools. Once positioned, the brushwood was secured in place using cross braces (tree limbs) and were wired down to chestnut stakes that were hand driven into the riverbed. The process was physically challenging, a bit damp and chilly during early winter, but the dedication by the volunteers was truly inspiring!
BART was joined by several corporate groups undertaking volunteer days with BART, a number of local volunteers and members of the local Three Brooks Conservation group. The teams were briefed on how to undertake the work safely and using the correct techniques.
The watercourse is known to be extremely flashy, meaning water levels can rise very quickly after a rainfall event. The berms were designed to over-top and could be underwater for months at a time. As water swiftly courses through and over them, these structures will trap sediment, gradually accumulating to create a lower-level extension of the riverbank. As the brushwood berms capture silt and become self-sustaining, vegetation will establish on them and create a more diverse river cross-section, creating deeper pools where flow is quickest and scouring silt from the riverbed which provides valuable habitat for fish.
It will take a few more years before the berms become self-sustaining and the restoration site settles into its new equilibrium. Given the increased occurrence of severe and frequent weather patterns affecting our watercourses, the restoration efforts aim to enhance resilience against the pressures affecting local rivers and streams, along with the life dependent on them.
A big thank you to South Gloucestershire Council for funding and supporting the restoration works throughout the council’s land.
South Bristol Rivers
Thanks to funding from the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership and the Bristol Climate and Ecological Emergency Community Grant Fund, BART have been able to identify an exciting and extensive set of environmental opportunities across three South Bristol river catchments. The goal of these surveys was to identify habitat restoration and improvement opportunities with a focus on natural flood management, nature-based solutions while also highlighting simple but effective actions for local community groups to improve habitat and encourage community access to blue-green spaces.
BART staff undertook walkover surveys over the course of four days during November and December 2022 during which they identified various restoration opportunities along the Pidgeonhouse stream, Malago and Colliters Brook. In total, 25 km of these catchments were surveyed from their sources among the Dundry slopes down to their confluence with the Bristol Avon.
Broader surveying of surrounding fields and ridgelines were done to help develop a catchment wide approach to restoration. These catchments have historically been heavily modified and continue to be negatively impacted by various pressures. However, our surveys have identified an array of habitat restoration and creation opportunities which will greatly improve the environmental and ecological health of these rivers. These include up to 41 hectares of tree planting, up to 10 hectares of wetland creation and 5.5km of river restoration possibilities.
Alongside these surveys, an additional three days was spent visiting sites throughout the catchments with local conservation groups. These visits enabled BART to identify and recommend opportunities for quick and simple interventions these groups could undertake to produce positive results for their local rivers. Actions include tree planting, installation of complex woody debris to streams, community litter picks and improved signage to enable easier access. For each local group, BART has produced a recommendations document outlining these opportunities which accompany a broader scale summary report helping tie-in these smaller scale actions to the larger restoration of these catchments.
In total an amazing 87 opportunities have been identified throughout the Pidgeonhouse, Malago and Colliters Brook. This highlights the huge possibilities present in this region which can greatly improve these rivers for wildlife and for local communities. BART will now look to engage local landowners and stakeholders to explore implementation of these opportunities and work to produce an ambitious prioritisation plan for the enhancement of these catchments.
Connecting communities to their rivers
Within the South Bristol area, the Malago, Pigeonhouse stream and Colliters Brook catchments are home to around 83,000 people and provide the largest areas of blue-green space in this region. They are therefore incredibly important to the wellbeing of many local people in a very urban area.
Funded by the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, BART are delivering several community outreach events to improve connection to Blue spaces in the region. These will comprise four education sessions with schools including river dipping and mapping workshops, family river events and various volunteering opportunities including removing invasive species and litter. During the half term holiday, BART ran one of these events - a popular 'River Fun Session' in Manor Woods Valley attended by local families. Children met minibeasts from the river, collected items for a riverside 'senses scavenger hunt', and created a river collage from natural materials.
Working with volunteers from local community groups, BART will deliver a complex woody debris project over a 100m stretch of the Malago. This involves constructing a series of carefully positioned complex wood structures within the rivers themselves which will help improve river flow conditions, enhance habitat provisioning, and filter out suspended sediment from the water column. Doing this will not only help the river environment but help upskill members of local community groups so that they can continue to improve green spaces across South Bristol by undertaking their own nature conservation activities.
It is important that after work such as this is undertaken, there remains an ongoing commitment to protecting, caring for and enhancing these habitats within the local community. This is essential so that these spaces remain healthy and have lasting ongoing benefits for nature and the local community. Therefore, BART are aiming to establish a volunteer network of Riverfly monitors across the Malago, Pigeonhouse and Colliters Brook catchments. Up to 12 South Bristol residents will be trained to regularly monitor the ecological ‘health’ of a section of their local river by identifying the invertebrates present in the streams, with ongoing support given by BART. The data from these surveys will not only alert BART of any pollution incidents in these waterways but provide a baseline against which to compare any ecological changes from future restoration or enhancement actions.
We would like to thank the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership and the Bristol Climate and Ecological Emergency Community Grant Fund for funding this work. We would also like the thank the Kingfishers Conservation Group, the Friends of the Western Slopes, Manor Woods Valley Group, Dundry Slopes and Hartcliffe Wildlife Conservation Group, and the Crox Bottom Friends Group for their support with site visits and commitment to protecting and enhancing their local environment.
Investigating barrier removal on the Cam and Wellow Natural England, through their Limestone Links Partnership, provided funding for BART to undertake surveys to gather up-to-date data on barriers to fish and eel movement across several watercourses. All are failing to meet ‘good ecological status’ in the Cam and Wellow river catchments situated around Midsomer Norton. This would be supported by eDNA fish monitoring to determine the current population and diversity of fish currently found within these catchments to provide a baseline against which we can compare future population changes.
From this work, BART have produced a strategy which identifies priority locations for restoration and barrier removal where it would most benefit species and where landowners are most onboard. The passibility of 23 barriers across the Midford, Cam, Snails and Wellow Brooks has been assessed with several priority barriers having undergone pre-feasibility assessments to evaluate their impact on fish and in-stream habitats.
Implementing the measures identified through this work would enable migratory fish to reach areas of the upper catchment and tributaries of the river currently unavailable to them, opening many miles of potential spawning habitat. eDNA surveying identified three UK BAP Priority Species in the catchments: Brown trout (Salmo trutta), European eel (Anguilla Anguilla), and European river lampray (Lampetra fluviatilis/lampetra planeri). As migratory species, they require connected, free-flowing rivers to fulfil their lifecycle with plenty of available spawning habitat. Through this work we identified areas within the rivers where barriers are restricting the migration of these fish species and disrupting sediment pathways which impacts spawning habitats.
Surveying Siston Brook Working alongside South Gloucestershire Council, BART staff have undertaken catchment walkover surveys of the Siston brook and its tributaries to identity issues which are negatively impacting the ecology and natural functioning of these watercourses. All locations of potential point source and diffuse pollution were identified alongside any barriers to fish movement and degraded river habitat.
Additionally, opportunities for natural flood management measures and nature-based solutions were identified and mapped throughout. From these surveys, BART produced detailed reports in which the various river health issues are quantified and solutions to them are proposed. Threats to river health in this watercourse include various wastewater pipes entering the watercourse, weirs, land management and litter accumulation. In order to better visualise these findings and suggestions, BART will produce a StoryMap to clearly and concisely present our findings and recommendations and help enhance engagement with these.
This is a part of South Gloucestershire Council’s Common Connection project which aims to improve the connectivity and accessibility of priority habitats and green infrastructure along the South Gloucestershire and Bristol border. The resultant habitat improvements will enhance ecosystem services, contribute to the mitigation of climate change and benefit local community wellbeing. These surveys on the Siston Brook are essential to understanding the scale and range of issues impacting this watercourse and for guiding the planning and implementation of appropriate solutions. BART will provide a series of recommended next steps for restoring these watercourses so that nature and local communities can benefit from a healthy Siston Brook.
There has never been more opportunity to get involved with the work BART do to help our rivers. Our citizen science and monitoring programmes are currently expanding and we are actively recruiting volunteers who are willing to make a regular commitment. See below for details about each programme, and if you are interested in any of these, or any other volunteering opportunities, please email: email@example.com
Become a BART Beacon BART Beacons are our eyes and ears on the ground, responding to issues or letting us know if they spot opportunities for improvement on their local river. Our Beacons are individuals or groups who can be a local contact for the public seeking guidance on how to best respond to a problem with their local river.
Over the years our Beacons have helped us build cases for river restoration, brought communities together to look after their natural spaces and responded quickly to major issues such as pollutions or habitat clearance.
BART can guide Beacons on the best action to take if they spot an issue or are contacted by a concerned member of the public. This could involve gathering photos to share with BART or reporting an incident to the Environment Agency or local authority. By becoming a Beacon you will help BART to keep an eye on the whole catchment and save our charity time and resource by responding to queries we would otherwise need to respond to.
How to become a BART Beacon Sign up to become a BART Beacon by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and email address and the river or stream you would like to become a Beacon for. BART will provide you with guidance on the role and how best to carry it out.
Become a Wessex Water Guardian Why should you consider becoming a Wessex Water Guardian? It's simple. Those of you who frequently visit the same stretch of river are often in the best position to notice even subtle changes in the environment. Whether it's alterations in water colour, unusual odours, changes in aquatic life, or any other observable signs of pollution, your vigilance can make a significant impact on the health of our rivers.
The main difference between being a BART Beacon and a Water Guardian is that Water Guardians make a commitment to regularly report back their observations.
Your Role as a Wessex Water Guardian If you believe that you're the right fit to contribute observational data about pollution and wildlife, we invite you to join the Wessex Water Guardians. This project is designed for individuals who can commit to uploading their observations every month over the course of a year. Here's what's involved:
1. Express Your Interest: Simply let us know that you'd like to participate by emailing email@example.com
2. Brief Online Training: We'll provide you with easy-to-follow online training to get you started on your monitoring journey.
3. Start Monitoring: Armed with the knowledge from our training, you'll be ready to observe, report, and make a positive impact on our rivers. You will also be able to communicate and share findings with like-minded monitors on our new online platform.
Your participation is invaluable in helping us protect our rivers. By becoming a Wessex Water Guardian, you can actively contribute to the health and well-being of these natural treasures. Your observations will help us detect and address pollution issues promptly. It could be the start of your journey towards greater involvement and monitoring with BART.
Become a River Detective BART have been piloting the River Detective programme in the Chew, Bristol Frome, Cam Brook and Wellow Brook. We have a few spaces to fill in these catchments and are expanding into other areas.
River Detectives collect water quality data at their assigned site monthly. This includes nutrient sampling, dissolved solids, temperature and general observations. Volunteers are trained to take these samples and upload their results each month.
Training workshops coming up:
South Bristol River Detectives Workshop
Weds 15th November2pm - 4pm
Learn how to sample water quality, choose your site and collect your kit.
Little Avon and North Bristol Rhynes River Detectives Workshop
November, details TBC
Learn how to sample water quality, choose your site and collect your kit.
River Detectives will also be expanding into the Land Yeo, Congresbry Yeo, River Trym, Hazel Brook, River Marden, Somerset Frome and the main Avon. We are also filling spaces on the Bristol Frome, Cam Brook, and Wellow Brook. If you would like to be a River Detective in any of these rivers, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
BART River Services
Do you aspire to protect your river, create a wetland, or interested in opportunities to enhance your land for the benefit of wildlife? Perhaps BART River Services can help?
Do you need support with farm advice, Natural Flood Management, Nature Based Solutions, river restoration, wetland creation, environmental monitoring or ecological surveys? Perhaps BART River Services Ltd can help? Our specialist team offers an array of skills to deliver projects to your requirements. We work with a diverse range of customers to meet their objectives including local authorities, farmers, land agents and estate managers as well as environmental consultants, engineers and developers.
BART River Services is wholly owned by Bristol Avon Rivers Trust and is designed solely to help provide income to the Trust to enable it to deliver its objectives. It is managed so that all profits are passed to the Trust.
Please give us a call if you think we might be able to help you – we are always happy to have an informal discuss by phone or email about the services we can provide.