Ock Arable Project

Through the Ock Arable Project, we are engaging with farmers across the Ock catchment in partnership with Environment Agency to help tackle pollution and improve the water environment.

The Ock catchment is one of England’s 20 best freshwater biodiversity hotspots. However, its freshwater wildlife is under threat from pressures such as pollution, drainage and climate change, and many of its freshwater habitats have become degraded.

Farmland contributes both diffuse and point-source pollution to the water environment. Water pollution is a widespread issue that has detrimental impacts on freshwater biodiversity. Freshwater Habitats Trust and Environment Agency are working together with local farmers from across the Ock catchment to help address these issues.

The project involves site visits to farms where walk-over surveys are conducted by Environment Agency and Freshwater Habitats Trust staff to:

  • Identify sources of diffuse and point-source pollution
  • Assess site suitability for creation of wetland habitat/clean water ponds
  • Identify areas that may be suitable for installation of Natural Flood Management measures
  • Measure nitrate and phosphate levels of waterbodies on site, using clean water kits, to assess nutrient pollution on farmland.

Project Officer Ellie Mayhew measuring available phosphate (left) and nitrate (right) levels in the Ock catchment using our colour-changing clean water kits.

Following each visit, a confidential report is produced for the landowner. The report contains recommendations for improving diffuse and point-source pollution, and suggests potential practical projects, such as river channel habitat management, clean-water pond creation and Natural Flood Management implementation.

Through these practical projects, the project aims to help address Water Framework Directive failures such as habitat quality and diffuse pollution (the latter affecting 7 of the 8 sub-catchments in the Ock). Understanding water quality issues in this catchment is particularly important, as the reason that most waterbodies in the Ock catchment do not achieve WFD ‘Good’ status is due to high phosphate levels.

Follow-up visits are then conducted to discuss advice about changing farming practices and to develop detailed plans for practical projects with the landowner, to help prepare a pipeline of practical projects that are ready to implement when funding is available.

The project builds on the River Ock Agricultural Advice Project which started in 2017/18, and has successfully engaged with farmers managing c. 30% of the Ock catchment to date. 

eDNA Surveys in the Ock Catchment

In August 2020, Project Officer Ellie Mayhew undertook 7 environmental DNA surveys to collect baseline data on fish populations in the River Ock and six of its tributaries. The WFD status of fish assemblages is not known in most Ock waterbodies.

Environmental DNA (or eDNA) is nuclear or mitochondrial DNA that has been released by an organism into its surrounding environment. Sources include faeces, skin, hair, gametes and corpses. Advancements in DNA technology now mean that fish species can be identified from just a single water sample, by analysing eDNA.

Project Officer Ellie Mayhew holding an eDNA filter.

The survey report will be available for you to read here once we have received the eDNA results.  

The Ock Arable Project is funded by Environment Agency through their Water Environment Improvement Fund.