Bury Brook Walk Over with the Environment Agency

Myself and two members from the Environment Agency (Catchment Co-ordinator and Geomorphologist)  went on a walk over of Bury Brook at the end of October this year. The aim was to identify/confirm reasons for WFD failures and also to identify what actions could be taken (long term, short term and by EA or others) to try and improve the health of the river. The following are  my observations and thoughts:

  1. Flow: Flow rates were generally slow. The river has been over widened for drainage purposes and  relies on surface water run off to feed it. As it is on clay bedrock it is probably a flashy river and we visited after a period of low rainfall which might account for a lower flow rate but some river stretches were extremely slow indeed, leading to…..
  2. Sediment: in many places the river had a deep layer of silty sediment. This is  probably caused by run off from fields and slow flow.We did see sites where the slope of the fields, lack of natural barriers (hedgerows etc) and limited /no buffer strips would be likely to lead to high run off rates. Deep layers of sediment do not make good habitats for invertebrates or fish and act as a source of stored nutrients which adversely affect river water quality and associated wildlife.

    Compaction in buffer strip

    3. High phosphate levels:  were indicated by large amount of nettle growth upstream and various algal growths downstream including filamentous algae. The most likely cause of these high levels upstream is run off; downstream there are two sewage treatment works which might also be contributing phosphates into the river.


Algae and sediment

      4. Some good signs : where the river has had “light touch ” management it is showing signs of reverting back to a more natural state. In places the bed was gravelly with varying width and flows and it was even beginning to re-meander within its deep channels with the occasional berms or islands  developing. On the golf course quite far downstream the EA had done some restoration work and created artificial berms.

So what could we do? 

  • Investigate phosphate levels upstream in high flow conditions
  • Consider what actions could be taken to reduce field run off
  • Selective bank clearance where it is heavily overgrown to create more varied habitats
  • Further sediment removal to create artificial berms/pools

Catchment Partnerships

The Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment is defined as a ‘Management Catchment’ and is one of 100 that can be found in England and Wales.

A hydrological catchment is usually defined as an area of land in which the surface water flows into one point, usually the sea. A management catchment is not necessarily the same as a hydrological catchment, a management catchment may contain several hydrological catchments particularly near the coast but a hydrological catchment may also be split into several management catchments.

The Great Ouse catchment runs from its spring in Brackley, Buckinghamshire through Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk until flowing into The Wash near King Lynn. This hydrological catchment consists of three management catchments, the Upper Ouse and Bedford Ouse which runs from the source to Earith. At Earith the Great Ouse River can flow around Ely taking in the Cam, Lark, Little Ouse, Wissey rivers and their tributaries. This section of the Great Ouse is the Cam and Ely Ouse management catchment. Any water that doesn’t flow through Ely enters the Old Bedford and Middle Level management catchment via the New Bedford River and the River Delph. The rest of this catchment is made up from the Middle Level drains system. For the Water Care Partnership

The Great Ouse catchment, along with the rivers in north west Norfolk, are managed by the Environment Agency by the Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire Area, a map of the area can be seen below. This area is part of the wider Anglian River Basin District which covers 27,890 square km.

Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire Area - Management Catchments. Source - The Environment Agency

Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire Area – Management Catchments. Source – The Environment Agency


Under the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) there is a catchment partnership in place for these four management catchments. As you can see from the map above, the management catchments can cover quite a large area with a lot of different things happening in those areas. For this reason, the Environment Agency have split some management catchments into smaller ‘operational catchments’. These operational catchments help communities and organisations to work at a more local level, really making sure that local people have a say in their local water environment.

The Upper Ouse and Bedford Ouse catchment has several organisations operating at an operational catchment scale. These organisations include Marston Vale Trust, Milton Keynes Parks Trust, Greensand Trust, Ouse Valley AONB and Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity are acting as the secretariat for the management catchment.

The catchment partnership for the Cam and Ely Ouse is hosted by Anglian Water and The Rivers Trust. The CamEO partnership covers the whole management catchment with help from local organisations and groups at a local level to understand the issues. More information on the CamEO partnership can be found at http://www.cameopartnership.org/.

Finally the North West Norfolk management catchment is hosted by Norfolk Rivers Trust. They also cover the North Norfolk management catchment which is outside of this Environment Agency area – showing the need to build strong partnerships. For more information on Norfolk Rivers Trust, please visit norfolkriverstrust.org/.

For more information on your local catchment partnership, please visit http://www.catchmentbasedapproach.org/.