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

We all need Ecosystem Services…

Since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 there has been increasing emphasise on the importance of conserving and enhancing our ecosystem services. But what is meant by this term and how does it affect you and your community?

Whether you realise it or not, you and every single person on Earth benefits directly and indirectly from the environment and the ecosystem services it provides.

Downstream View of Old Bedford River

Downstream View of the Old Bedford River. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystems are a combination of all living (plants, animals, organisms) and non-living components (water, air, soil) in the environment around us. In turn ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. These include security, health, basic material for a good life and good social relations. The services provided by the environment fall into four categories: Provisioning, Supporting, Regulating and Cultural.

How do they affect me?

The most likely to pop to mind are provisioning ecosystem services. The environment and ecosystems supply the food and fresh water we consume and use in industry. It also provides the wood, fibre and fuel we rely on to keep us warm, build our infrastructure and drive our vehicles. Without the provision of these you would not have the clothes you wear, the paper you write on and if you travel by car, your journey to work would be very different without these ecosystem services.

wildlife habitat and food production side by side

Wildlife habitat and food production, demonstrating ecosystem services side by side. Source: RSPB

Supporting ecosystem services occur around us continuously. They provide benefits to humans indirectly and therefore aren’t necessarily the first that you would think of when considering ecosystem services. Soil formation, nutrients cycling and primary production are all examples. Think of the trees and flowers in your garden. Without the continual formation of soil you would not have the growth and rich diversity of colour that you experience. As a gardener or someone who enjoys the outdoors you would not receive the enjoyment from the plants that you do.

For farmers nutrients are hugely important in the success of crops and growth of livestock, contributing to soil fertility and good quality agricultural land. Through the process and knowledge of nutrients cycling farmers can manage their crops to provide the optimum nutrients supply and enable optimum growth. In terms of primary production the process of photosynthesis is a significant aspect maintaining the clean oxygenated air we and all living organisms breathe and require to survive.

Regulating ecosystem services include the regulation of climate, flooding and disease. We also heavily rely on the water purification services that the environment provides. When referring to flood defence we tend to think of man-made defences, not the natural defences provided by our environment.


WWT Welney. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

The habitats native to the Ouse Washes and Old Bedford and Middle Level Catchment are great examples of natural flood defences. The wetland habitat acts as a giant sponge, absorbing and holding water, slowing the speed at which runoff is received by the rivers. Upland bogs and moors, woodlands and species-rich grassland also work in similar ways. In fact these natural ecosystem services are now the inspiration for new flood defence schemes as considered by The Wildlife Trusts.


Ely Ouse. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Lastly cultural ecosystem services include aesthetical, spiritual, educational and recreational aspects. Every time you take the dog for a walk, take the kids for a bike ride or go on a boat ride you are benefitting from the ecosystem services of our environment.


As well as enjoyment, and education for locals these services encourage people from further afar, bringing tourism and other benefits to the local economy.

Even those people who are located in urban areas benefit from the aesthetic value of ecosystems. It is as simple as looking out of your office window and admiring a tree, we all benefit from ecosystem services on a daily basis.

Nature Reserve

Local Nature Reserve on the River Witham, Lincolnshire. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

You are given the option of two walks; both are equal in terms of distance and health benefits. One walk would take you down a busy high street. The other would be along the river bank taking in the local environment and wildlife. Which would you choose?

Whether you recognise it or not ecosystem services are significantly important for everyday life, we rely on them and they affect all of us in multiple ways. There is a lot of pressure applied to the preservation of the services that nature’s ecosystems provide. The Water Care Partnership within Cambridgeshire ACRE aims to raise awareness of their importance and contribute to their conservation.

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/.