Totally Thames Water-Blitz

14th September 2015

On Monday 14th September Freshwater Habitats Trust is joining volunteers across eight counties in southern England to assess water pollution in ponds, ditches, streams, canals and lakes in the catchment of the River Thames. The aim is to raise awareness of the extent of water pollution, and find the remaining areas of cleaner water which are so important for freshwater wildlife.

The day is being spear-headed by Wild Oxfordshire and aims to make measurements at 1,000 water water bodies across the Thames Basin in a single day. The area covered stretches from Gloucestershire in the west and east to London, and from Luton in the north to Haselmere in the south, taking in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex on the way.

The day is highlighting the work of the many organisations and individual volunteers helping to reduce pollution and protect wildlife that depends on clean water, from the Environment Agency and Thames Water, to individual wildlife lovers.

Jeremy Biggs, director of Freshwater Habitats Trust, said “We are pleased to be joining in with the ‘Totally Thames’ Water-blitz; the programme matches closely our own Heritage Lottery funded ‘Clean Water for Wildlife Survey‘ and will help people find out more about the extent of water pollution and, crucially, what they can do to make a difference themselves”.

The event is part of the Totally Thames Festival, an exciting season of arts, cultural and river events. Historically the festival has focussed on the 67 km stretch of the Thames running through London, but the water survey will cover the whole 16,000 sq. km of the catchment including the full 354 km of the river itself, its tributaries and the thousands of ponds and lakes dotted across the catchment. As well as being a refuge for the plants and animals that depend on freshwaters, the Thames is a vital in providing about two-thirds of London’s drinking water.

Volunteers will be measuring two critical pollutants: phosphates and nitrates. At natural levels both are vital for life but now most freshwaters have a substantial excess of these two chemicals, over-fertilising ponds, lakes and streams and encouraging the growth of tough and weedy species at the expense of the normal variety of animal and plantlife that should be found in freshwater. Think rivers on a diet of burgers and junk food: one or two now and then won’t hurt you, but a regular diet will, in the long term, kill you just as much as gulping down a dose of poison. Phosphates and nitrates wash into water from farmland, roads and built up areas, and are discharged in treated sewage effluents. These days they are even present in rain. As well as making it impossible for many plants and animals to survive, they also make drinking water treatment more difficult and expensive.

The test kits have been supplied by the River Thame Conservation Trust, with whom Freshwater Habitats Trust works closely. EarthWatch, the Oxford-based science charity, are handling the data and will map results on their global water-hub making the data available to everyone involved.

The information collected in the water-blitz will help to identify and focus attention on the water bodies where we can protect existing clean water habitats, and identify where cleaning-up is likely to be easiest and most beneficial for freshwater wildlife.

Shortly after the survey Wild Oxfordshire, Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Environment Agency will work with the catchment partnerships to provide feedback on all the results, with information on what can be done practically to protect and improve freshwaters.

How to Get Involved

If you would like to take part in this event, please visit Wild Oxfordshire’s Events page to find contact details and maps of sampling locations, or contact Hilary via email or phone 01865 407 034.