The River Ock is a tributary of the Thames in Oxfordshire. It’s catchment (map below) is typical English countryside with heavy clay used mainly for modern industrial farming superimposed on a landscape of small villages and country towns, ancient woodlands and rivers, streams, ponds, meadows and marshes whose history can be traced back for 5000 years.
Freshwater wildlife in the Ock and Thames is under severe pressure from our modern ways: pollution, drainage and climate change mean that plants and animals are still disappearing from this landscape. The problems facing freshwaters in this area are a microcosm of larger threats to the water environment – and show how hard it is to combine our economic lives with the protection of the natural world.
The River Ock Catchment Project is led by the Freshwater Habitats Trust working alongside organisations and communities across the area. As well as the Ock itself the area also includes the Thames valley around Oxford with its famous riverside meadows. The work is part of the Defra-supported Catchment-based Approach and has been funded to date mainly by the Environment Agency, which the project works closely with.
The River Ock Catchment Project is working to protect and restore freshwater and wetland habitats, and to manage the catchment to reduce flooding and diffuse pollution. We are doing this particularly by tackling water pollution, adding new clean water habitats to the landscape and linking practical work on the ground to detailed computer-modelled designs to maximize the chances that our work delivers tangible results, something which is not guaranteed with catchment-scale work. As well as trying to improve rivers – as set out in the rules of the Water Framework Directive – we are also placing special emphasis on the conservation of freshwater wildlife more generally. We’re doing this by putting as much emphasis on small waterbodies, like ponds, small lakes, ditches and headwater streams as on bigger lakes and river. Small waters are largely excluded from the Water Framework Directive but, because they support the widest variety of freshwater plants and animals, including many endangered species, are critical to the protection of freshwater life generally. A water environment improvement plan (‘catchment plan’) for the project can be downloaded here.
The project works in partnership with a wide range of local people and organisations including those concerned with farming, flooding, wildlife forestry and fishing.
We are also using the Ock catchment as one of the test-beds for our national Clean Water for Wildlife project.
You can see our presentation showing the first results from the Clean Water testing in the Ock catchment here.