We're engaging with farmers across the Ock catchment, in partnership with Environment Agency, to help tackle diffuse pollution from agriculture, reduce flood risk and improve farmland freshwater habitats.

Field with pond in it and trees behind.

Working with farmers in the Ock catchment

The Ock catchment is part of the Oxfordshire Important Freshwater Landscape, one of the richest places in England and Wales for freshwater biodiversity. 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. In addition, the catchment’s towns and villages – including Abingdon and Letcombe Regis – suffer from flooding

Farmland contributes both diffuse and point-source pollution to the water environment and land use can exacerbate flood risk, for example bare soil in the winter or very efficient agricultural drainage in the headwaters. Water pollution is a widespread issue that has detrimental impacts on freshwater biodiversity. Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Environment Agency are working together with local farmers from across the Ock catchment to help address these issues.

Our approach

The project has enabled Freshwater Habitats Trust staff to visit farms to:

  • Identify sources of diffuse and point-source pollution
  • Record nitrate and phosphate levels using clean water kits, recording nutrient pollution on farmland
  • Assess suitability for creating or restoring wetland habitat and clean water ponds on farms
  • Determine potential locations for installation of Natural Flood Management measures
Woman's hand holding two test tubes of liquid, one dark pink, one light pink, next to a waterbody.

Following each visit, we produce a confidential report for the landowner. This details proposals for reducing diffuse and point-source pollution, potential freshwater habitat enhancement such as floodplain wetland mosaics, river channel habitat management, clean-water ponds and backwater creation. We also detail opportunities for Natural Flood Management.

We then seek landowner consent to develop these measures into detailed designs, secure relevant statutory consents, appoint contractors to undertake the work and supervision construction. This has all been funded through the Environment Agency’s WEIF funding stream, which aims to address Water Framework Directive failures, such as habitat quality and diffuse pollution. It is particularly important to understand water quality issues in this catchment is particularly important, as most waterbodies in the Ock catchment do not achieve WFD ‘Good’ status due to high phosphate levels.

- Wet woodland rewetting at Cothill Fen

Measures currently being delivered include:

1 Backwater creation and restoration

We’re creating a new backwater on the Ock and restoring a backwater on the Childrey Brook.

2 Floodplain Wetland Mosaic creation and pond restoration

We’re restoring ponds and creating a Floodplain Wetland Mosaic habitat at Charney Bassett. We’re also creating clean-water ponds along the Letcombe Brook corridor

3 Natural Flood Management

We’re using Natural Flood Management techniques to reduce flood risk in Lye Valley Nature Reserve. And we’re adding measures near Farringdon to reduce flood risk and trap sediment.

4 Rewetting dry peat

This will stimulate denitrification and reduce the nitrate load entering Cothill Fen and Raleigh Park. It will also buffer these rare wetland habitats against climate change and reduce flood risk.