What next for our rivers?

Chapter Ten of Life Along the River by Kathryn Shreeve

Local historian and writer Kathryn Shreeve has been with Friends of the Rib & Quin from the very beginning. She has published several books on the area through the ages and in ‘Life Along the River’ tells the story of our river valleys through history, serialised into chapters on our website.

In the final chapter, Kathryn looks to the future of our rivers.

What next for our rivers?

As has now been seen from the previous chapters, life along the rivers here over the millennia has been rich and varied, often cruel, frequently fun, but generally green and pleasant.  The river itself has threaded its way past Roman baths, men tilling fields, horses grazing, flooded hamlets, crashed aircraft, medieval deer parks, rattling steam trains, snoozing fishermen and thousands of other small dramas played out along its banks.  And no doubt it will continue to do so long after we are gone.  However, it will not be the river it once was unless action is taken to protect and restore it.  The question therefore has to be: what has gone wrong and how can we fix it?  

If the Victorians were having trouble answering the question of lack of water in the rivers, how much more difficult is it for us to solve the problem?  Yes, they were right to question the removal of trees and hedges, but we now have the added problem of abstraction.   This is not just by the water companies to supply us all with the water coming out of our taps, but by other businesses as well at an alarming rate.  As has already been seen in previous chapters, older people in our communities all say that the rivers used to be deeper ‘in the old days’.

Not only were they deeper, they were also a lot cleaner.  There are now a total of four sewage works on the Rib and one on the Quin, all of which undoubtedly work well under normal circumstances.  However, flooding continues to be an issue here and that is when trouble can occur.  Also, agricultural run-off can increase the problems, as well as our own rubbish which can always be found littering the tributaries and streams.  All of this has taken its toll on the wildlife that lives in and around the valley, and also on the quality of our own lives as we share this valley with them.  

Braughing Ford, 2nd October 2022

Nothing we do will be easy or a ‘quick fix’, but at least FORQ has made an excellent start, and even though this is being seen as a very long-term enterprise, there is much we can all do right now to help.  

  • Please think hard about the amount of water your household is using and try to reduce it.
  • Please pick up any litter you see.  Even if it’s not close to the river now, it could soon be in it!
  • Please help FORQ to lobby on behalf of all of us for stricter enforcement of the laws to improve the quality of our beautiful rivers Rib and Quin.

Wyddial Bridge, Buntingford, June 2020
photo: Mark Wilkinson

1 See FORQ website for more on the geology of the area
2 Natural History article – see ‘Sources’
3 High/Nokes, memory of Lillian Allen

Blowers, Emma: Around Cold Christmas – 4th edition, 2020
Gover, Mawer & Stenton: The Place-Names of Hertfordshire, 1938
High, Val. and Nokes, Mary, ed.: No Washing Machines Then: Braughing People Remember, 2004
Partridge, Clive: Skeleton Green: a Late Iron Age and Romano-British Site, 1981
Perowne, Christopher: A History of the Parish of Standon, 1967
Plumb, Philip W., compiled by: The Archive Photographs Series: Buntingford, 1995
Rowe, Anne: Medieval Parks of Hertfordshire, 2009
Short, David, ed.: An Historical Atlas of Hertfordshire, 2011
Tott, Victor: A Braughing Countryman’s Diary, 2010
The Braughing of Victor Tott, 2010
The Way It Was: A Collection of Memories of Country Life in and around Standon and Puckeridge over the last 100 years, 1999
Hertfordshire Mercury, 26.6.1880: article entitled: “Hertfordshire Natural History and Field Club”

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