With all the wet weather and flooding in Essex it is important that the rivers are managed properly Germaine Greer wrote this piece for the Telegraph around a year ago and highlights part of the reason for the upturn in local flooding across the county. It is reblogged here from the original page which can be found here:- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/riversandcanals/9885094/Germaine-Greer-its-time-to-take-care-of-Essexs-rivers.html
There is a part of north-west Essex which, though it is high-lying, can be extraordinarily soggy. Rain cannot soak through its London clay to the underlying chalk, and so within its low hills four rivers rise. The Stort rises in the Langley Hills and runs west to join the Lea at Hoddesdon, the Chelmer rises near Debden Green and flows east to join the Blackwater, the Cam rises a few miles away and, after describing a curve like a monkey’s tail, settles down to flow north, and the Roding rises near Molehill Green and flows south. To travel the lanes in this part of Essex is to splash through an infinity of runlets and rivulets, all nosing their way to one or other of these four rivers; every tiny watercourse knows where it’s going and can go nowhere else, because river catchments cannot overlap, but it is probably a safe bet that most of the householders in the area neither know nor care which catchment they are living in. Even the most detailed of maps identify only major watercourses; the most important tributaries are likely to remain nameless.
This lack of concern is reflected in the treatment of the watercourses themselves. All four have been mercilessly mucked about with, diverted, straightened, canalised and turned into “navigations” according to the whim of the moment. Because rivers follow a logical course, roads are often made to follow it with them, with the result that the stream is shouldered aside and made to run in a cut alongside the road. The construction of the road disrupts the hydrology of the area drained by the stream, and the run-off from the road pollutes it, though probably not as much as the run-off from cultivated land.From birth, our rivers are struggling: none more so than the Roding. As you might expect of any live thing that is continually either bullied or ignored, the Roding responds by behaving badly. Most years it will flood somewhere along its 50-mile length. Though it had probably been flooding parts of its rolling valley more or less annually since time immemorial, it was not until 1926 that this behaviour became problematic because the valley of the lower Roding had become suburban. Earth banks were thrown up and stretches of the river in Woodford and Wanstead were walled in and canalised but the flooding continued. Last year three prolonged flood alerts were issued for the Roding, in mid-April, in late June and in late November.The Essex Wildlife Trust has developed a plan for a River Roding Living Landscape; the last sentence of its mission statement reads: “Roding River Valley has virtually disappeared from public consciousness.” As long as that is the case, nothing will be done to improve the health of the river. One way of restoring the Roding, and a great many other rivers, brooks and creeks to public consciousness, would be to label them. Though I have driven over scores of bridges in north-west Essex, I have yet to see a single sign to tell me which stream I am crossing. It is hard for people to care about something if they don’t know it when they are looking at it.
The Roding was not always forgotten. It takes its name from the Hrodingas, the Anglo-Saxons who settled the upper river in the sixth century; they, the river and no fewer than eight villages shared the name. The area is still called the Rodings but you may drive up and down the lanes for a whole day and never be sure that any water you are seeing is the river or any part of it. Some of the churches have become separated from their villages as houses have been built nearer the through routes. If you turn down the dead-end lanes that lead to the now isolated churches you may catch sight of the slender river lazily sliding between its banks, and you may not. There are occasional footpaths but they seem to start nowhere in particular and end unpredictably. The entity responsible for managing the river corridor, including eight metres either side of it, is the Environment Agency but, as the vegetation is nothing but brambles, nettles, willow-herb and old pollards, there’s no sign of their doing anything much. The river must have looked very different when Hroda led his longboats upstream from its confluence with the Thames and decided to settle his people among its headwaters.
A river is a system. It regulates and is regulated by its catchment, that is, the area that it drains. It would make sense, therefore, if water management was organised catchment by catchment, but it isn’t. The Environment Agency divides Britain into 11 “river basins”; these are then divided into “catchments”, many of which actually contain a number of catchments. The Environment Agency has included the Roding in the Thames River Basin District, as one of three rivers in the “Roding, Beam and Ingrebourne Catchment”. At another level local authorities or bodies set up by local authorities manage stretches of a single river. In too many cases the river is the boundary between administrations, or abandoned to the mercies of the people who hold the surrounding land. There is no agency set up to manage any entire river catchment as a coherent individual entity.
Even in the wettest year, the Roding will be no more than a rivulet when it slips invisibly under the new A120 by Canfield End. By Chipping Ongar it is a proper river, even before its waters are joined by those of Cripsey Brook – the only one of its tributaries that the map-makers think worthy of a name. Canoeists rate the Roding navigable from Shonks Mill, only a few miles upstream from Passingford where the M25 roars over it. The river meanders back and forth between Epping Lane and the Ongar Road, before nudging up against Abridge, which it has flooded on innumerable occasions. It is here that the river came into collision with the new M11 and the M11 won. The river’s meanders were straightened and it was cut off from its floodplain by walls, so that pylons could be safely sunk and the huge road built overhead. Around Wanstead the Roding is largely canalised, which has the effect of causing the water entering the walled section to flow through so fast that it becomes virtually sterile, while the surplus water is forced backwards to flood low-lying land as far back as Epping. The Roding continues to flow unseen and unsuspected beneath the M11 until the junction with the North Circular, where it turns east, to be obliterated by another six-lane highway.All it takes to poison a river running under a motorway is a single overturned lorry. In 1979 a trailer accident between the M25 and Passingford Bridge caused slurry to spill into the river; in 2003 a septic tank was fly-tipped into the river at Fyfield. It is the more remarkable, then, that the Roding is considered a clean river and supports a considerable variety of fish. Current management proposes to allow sections of the river to flood onto uninhabited land, reserving more expensive flood management measures, barriers, pumps and so forth for areas of greater and more costly potential damage. This is described as allowing the river to flow “more naturally”; flowing naturally means that in a dry season the volume of water in the Roding can dwindle to a sluggish trickle. After many years of excessive abstraction from Essex rivers, the Environment Agency has been applying catchment abstraction management strategies in a bid to protect riverine ecosystems, with some degree of success.
The last phase of the Roding is the most ignominious. It loses a huge amount of surface water to irrigation, and more from its underground aquifers to supply London; it receives in exchange the discharge from 300 permitted agencies, culminating in the outflow from the Thames Water sewage treatment works. By that time it has lost not only its character and its water but its name as well, and become merely Barking Creek.Catchment ecosystems are essentially self-regulating, which is why it is rash to interfere with them. When it comes to a conflict between power boaters, developers, anglers, ecologists, canoeists, dam builders, water skiers, houseboat owners, the Highways Agency, farmers, kayakers, market gardeners, rowers, irrigators, swimmers, hydroelectricity generators, and industry, the river should have the casting vote. All too often it comes last. Rivers run across boundaries, through parishes, districts, shires and regions; every drop of rain that falls falls within a catchment, and everyone who lives anywhere lives under the aegis of a river. That river should be managed like the dynamic, organic creature that it is, from its first rising to its final destination
(Photos – some of my own, others gathered from other sources)