Winter Public Meeting in Braughing

Despite it being a dark and damp evening in January it was absolutely marvellous to see 40+ hardy souls assemble at Braughing’s Community Centre for our first public meeting of 2020.

Our public meetings are a chance to share what we have been up to since our last gathering, to learn more about our chalk streams, answer questions and to discuss plans for the future. This was our first under the banner of Friends of the Rib & Quin so it was more than appropriate that we were gathered in Braughing and we are indebted to Pauline and Andy Avery who booked and hired the hall for us.

The minutes of the meeting are posted in our Documents section but here’s a few of the key points;

  • FORQ has a committee of five now in place and has opened a community bank account.
  • We have an email circulation list now numbering well in excess of 70 and have growing numbers of followers and members on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook groups.
  • Our aims and objectives are to
    • Raise AWARENESS of the rarity and importance of our local chalk streams
    • BENCHMARK and survey the rivers and the wildlife they support
    • CAMPAIGN for solutions to the abstraction and pollution that reduces flows and blights water quality
  • We are fundraising to support the these objectives
  • We will have stalls at Standon May Day, Buntingford VE 75 Celebrations and Braughing Wheelbarrow Race and are keen to participate in others.
  • We have a T-shirt shop on our website, profits from which go to FORQ funds.
  • We are active on social media and encourage all supporters to spread the word. We have a developing website which already has a number of links and resources but will continue to grow as our work and knowledge does.

In parallel to our group’s formation has been a developing initiative by Buntingford Town Council to investigate how river flows through the town could be increased and how improvements could be made to the river. At the meeting Brian Lemay from Council was able to bring us the latest news that Buntingford Town Council had approved a contribution towards the next phase of planning that will require specialist consultancy. It is hoped that this will be matched through other sources. Watch this space for future news on this. You can also view the initial plan prepared by HMWT here.

Brian was also able to announce that Buntingford Civic Society would be making a donation of £900 to Friends of the Rib & Quin, for which we are extremely grateful and takes us a good way towards our financial target to be ready for our spring and summer events.

Having been updated with our local news our guest speaker John Pritchard shared with everyone the story of the Ver Valley from Roman times through to the Society’s inception in the 1970’s drought years as well as their work both improving the river environment with local landowners and campaigning to restore water to the River Ver, which dried in large stretches last summer. In an effort to bring attention to this the Ver Valley Society called for a Protest in the Park on World Rivers Day in St. Albans Park last September. Despite the short notice, the public response was significant, with over 300 gathering in the shadow of gathering storms to stand in the dry river bed.

It was a powerful talk. The story of the gradual diminishment of our chalk streams is a long and sad one. But it was equally inspirational, ultimately demonstrating that a growing number care about what is happening to Hertfordshire’s rivers and that together we can make a difference, both with practical effort and in adding our voices to the campaign.

Recording FORQ wildlife

A very big part of Friends of the Rib & Quin is the desire to identify, record and benchmark the full spectrum of wildlife that populates the Rib and Quin valleys, both in and out of our rivers. We are deeply committed to expanding our team of volunteer riverfly monitors and our citizen science page highlights a number of projects that incorporate elements of the larger objective, all of which are excellent and contribute to the body of knowledge on our wildlife in general both locally and across the UK and often with specific groups of species.

Over the last couple of months we have been researching smart phone apps, largely through the efforts of our technical officer Derrick Guy to expand the tools available. We were looking for an app that was well designed, informative, available to all and also had the potential to record sightings in a way that would help build a picture of ‘our’ wildlife.

Many of the key elements we were looking for were available in the iNaturalist app. It has full species coverage, the ability to upload pictures and sounds of sightings and automatic location identification processing in the background, making it extremely easy to use. It also has the ability to make identification suggestions and for others to verify sightings on the website.

The ease in which we were able to set up a specific project for the Rib and Quin Valleys was also extremely attractive and as can be seen from the graphic below, automatic population of existing local sightings already shows a number of observations on the project map.

The smattering of existing recordings centred around Barwick reveals that I first discovered iNaturalist in 2009. I am not the only observer on this map though and I very much look forward to others surpassing my current list of observations.

iNaturalist can be downloaded from the Apple app store and Google Play and I encourage all to download and register. Start off perhaps with observations you are confident of – plants like the common nettle or dock for instance and then expand your observations as your confidence grows. For the more obscure parts of the animal kingdom where specific species identification is difficult, groups or classes of animals can be selected and if possible can be refined later by others on the project site.

If you would like to get your ID skills up to scratch first, iNaturalist have a separate app which specifically addresses this. Called Seek, it has many elements of the main app, but without the ability to submit records, which may make it deal to use with/by children and students.

So, if you have a smartphone and are itching to do something practical for the nature of our river valleys, turn your walks into a wildlife survey for us. Who knows, we may end up with a monthly observer table of top sightings appearing on the website. Whatever the number of observations you make though, each is a contribution to building a picture of our local environment and contribute to a knowledge bank that will support our work going forward.

FILM – The River Ash – A Living Landscape

Derrick shared this excellent film by the River Ash Catchment Partnership and Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust on our Facebook page and it is definitely worth posting again here.

The film is from 2015 and features catchment project work on the River Ash between Widford and Amwell and is presented by HMWT’s previous Living Rivers Officer Charlie Bell. It features the Buxton’s Easneye Estate and their approach to farming the valley, tree work similar to that envisaged in Buntingford and some riverfly monitoring. It also gives us possibilities to think about as we look to identify improvement projects for the Rib and Quin.

EA Water Situation Report – Herts & Nth London – December 2019

The latest report on rainfall, river flow and groundwater levels is available to view and download here.

The Hertfordshire and North London Area received 159% of the long term average rainfall for December. Soil moisture deficits remained close to zero resulting in significant effective rainfall throughout all of the catchments. River flows and groundwater levels at all of our indicator sites increased through December with many in the normal or higher range. Numerous flood warnings and flood alerts were issued in December due to the high rainfall recorded in the middle of the month.

The Hertfordshire and North London Area (the Area) received 100 mm of rainfall in December, 159% of the long term average (LTA). The majority of the months’ rain fell during the middle of the month, from the 12th – 21st. Above normal rainfall fell in the two Chalk catchments while notably high rainfall fell in the clay catchments.

The largest daily rainfall total of the month (24mm) fell at Havering (Roding) on the 19th. 145% of LTA rainfall has been recorded in the Area so far for the winter period (Oct – Dec).

During December all of our (river flow) indicator sites saw increases in flow with monthly mean flows significantly greater than November. Sustained rainfall and rising groundwater levels particularly benefitted our Chalk rivers with all of them having recorded normal flows. In particular, a tenfold increase in mean flow was measured in the River Ash in December (0.516 m³/s) compared to November (0.051 m³/s).

Five indicator sites ended the month with normal groundwater levels including all four sites in the Mid Chilterns Chalk. Groundwater levels also rebounded in the Upper Lee Chalk but showed less recovery due to dryer soil conditions that persisted later into the winter than the Mid Chilterns Chalk. Two sites remained notably low in the Upper Lee Chalk (Hixham Hall and Therfield Rectory).

The source of the River Bulbourne moved upstream to Northchurch and flows in general throughout the reach improved. Similarly the River Ver was recorded flowing just south of Redbourn. The Rivers Ash, Beane, Rib and Stort all flowed for the entirety of their length in December.

Braughing Life

A new publication for the residents of Braughing and it’s local villages has just launched its first issue. Braughing Life will be delivered free of charge to all residents of the parish, thanks to the parish council and can also be read on line here.

The first issue contains an article from Pauline Ayres our Communications secretary and is perfectly timed to hit the streets as our first public meeting of 2020 visits Braughing at the Community Centre on 16th January.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

On the weekend of 25th – 27th January the RSPB will be holding it’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch for 2020. This is one the ‘daddies’ of citizen science projects and has been running since 1979 for children and 2001 for adults. In 2011 over 600,000 took part, only 37% of which were RSPB members.

Nowadays, participation couldn’t be easier. Find a spot with a good view of your garden and make a note of the birds you see in the garden for one hour. The count for each species should be the largest number of birds you see at one time – so if you see five blue tits on your feeder at the start of your hour and then four together at the end, then the score is five.

When the hour of observation is completed, totals can be entered online on the RSPB’s website here.

Friends of the Rib & Quin would also be interested to hear about your results for Garden Birdwatch’s conducted in either the Quin or Rib valleys. Post your results as a comment below and we can get a picture of birds visiting our gardens across the weekend.

Water company drought plan guideline consultation update

In September 2019 the Environment Agency invited comment on the Water company drought plan guideline. Friends of the Rib & Quin, along with a number of wildlife bodies, organisations and individuals submitted a response (13 water companies, 13 individuals, 12 environmental groups and charities and 9 from public/national bodies responded). The consultation period closed in October and the consultations response summary of the main findings and actions to be taken has now been published. You can view and download the document here.