Using Catchment Dashboards to check the speed of river improvements…

There is no shortage of data and information on the state of our water environment.  What we felt was missing was a simple, regular and local update with a focus on current actions.  Something easy to read and useful to colleagues, partners and the wider public to show what is happening out there in the catchment.  After working through some ideas, the Catchment Dashboards were born.

We have produced the first edition for a number of our catchments including Combined Essex and I am keen to get feedback so we can make tweaks to the format and content.  Our aim is that the same information is shared with all audiences to ensure transparency and consistency.  This also means we get the best return for the resources taken to create the Catchment Dashboards and we can spend more time making improvements to our rivers rather than talking about it.

We have included a snapshot of current Water Framework Directive status across the catchment, a reminder of the most significant issues / challenges and some of the projects and other activities that have been carried out by ourselves and partners to improve WFD status.  We want to include projects and activities from as many organisations and groups as possible and we are working on the best way to collect this information.

Click on the image below to open the pdf Combined Essex Catchment Dashboard.

Click here to open the pdf Catchment Dashboard

There are a number of rough edges we need to smooth such as reducing the amount of text on the map on the last page and possibly changing the order of some of the sections, but this is very much work in progress.

If you have any feedback please comment on this post or contact me via the form on the About me page.

Thank you as always for your time and support.


Tell us what you think – Consultation on draft River Basin & Flood Risk plans

We are seeking views on proposals for improving the water environment and protecting communities from flood risk.  This follows on from our previous Challenges & Choices consultation that produced a broad range of views.

We would like your feedback to the draft updated  river basin management plan and draft flood risk management plan. Once agreed, these plans will shape decisions, direct investment and action and deliver significant benefits to society and the environment.

To add some more colour and perspective to these plans I hope to produce some short videos in the coming weeks and months looking across Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.  Our focus is not on these plans being the finished article that can be put on a shelf and admired.  They should be blueprints for making real progress in improving our environment and reducing flood risk.

The updated draft river basin management plan sets out long term objectives for the quality of the water environment. It identifies the ecological condition of rivers, lakes and coastal waters and the pressures on them. The plan provide evidence that will help those with an interest in the water environment to agree where improvements can be made.

The updated draft flood risk management plan for the Anglian river basin district describes the risk of flooding from rivers, the sea, surface water, groundwater and reservoirs. It sets out how the Environment Agency, local councils and water companies will work together, with communities, to manage flood risk.

The formal closing date for the draft flood risk management plan consultation is 31 January 2015, while the draft updated river basin management plan consultations will run for six months, ending on 10 April 2015.

The Environment Agency is also carrying out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of each plan. The SEA identifies the significant effects that would be associated with implementing the draft plans.  We also invite your views on how we propose to approach this task.

We welcome your comments online or in writing.  If you would like to discuss the consultation or have any questions or concerns I would be pleased to hear from you via my About Me page.


Beyond Boundaries – Sprucing up Thurrock’s green corridor…

The Mardyke is an unassuming but vital part of the Thurrock landscape.  The name Mardyke (or Mar Dyke) itself apparently means “boundary ditch” and the course of this river still defines the extent of various local council Wards in Thurrock.

The Mardyke valley is so much more than that, however.  It is a precious a green corridor, giving a breathing space between urban areas.  The river channel and flood plain are criss-crossed by our rail and road arteries and thousands of people pass through the landscape each day without giving it a second glance.

Wouldn’t it be great to change that and put the lower Mardyke Valley on the map as a destination for people to enjoy and experience wildlife?  To give local communities better access to and understanding of their environment?  This is what the South Essex Catchment Partnership is all about; improving the environment for wildlife and local communities.

There are some stretches of the Mardyke, such as at Davy Down (shown below), that are a quiet haven for people and wildlife.  It is a great place to relax, walk and get close to nature and we can make it even better.  Although everything may look healthy from above the water, we still need to tackle pollution from roads and urban areas that is having a real impact on water quality.  Reduced water quality can have a real impact on ecology.  We are planning projects with Anglian Water and other partners to look at misconnections, road run-off and sewage treatment.


The Mardyke at Davy Down, Stifford

The lower Mardyke Valley from Ship Lane, Aveley through to Purfleet (shown below) is an open, sometimes barren landscape with significant horse grazing.  There is so much potential here to balance the needs of graziers, nature and the local community.

Looking Downstream from Ship Lane Aveley

Looking Downstream from Ship Lane Aveley

We can plant trees to offer more shade to the river, for example.  This will keep the water cooler for fish and reduce the build-up of weed that can increase flood risk and degrade habitat quality.  We can create wetlands and change the shape of the river channel to reduce flood risk and improve habitat.  This has worked elsewhere and can be done here too.

Just as importantly, it would be great to increase and encourage public access to the Mardyke Valley so local people can enjoy and interact with their environment.  A clearly signed, safe access from the Thames at the RSPB  Rainham Marshes reserve through to Aveley, Stifford and South Ockendon could be a great resource.

We have already had one workshop event and more are planned in the coming months when we have our first Catchment Plan to share.  We would love to see even more people get involved, and the South Essex Catchment Partnership will take forward ideas and projects that bring together some of the elements I have gone through here and many other things people feel passionately about.

I feel the future is bright for the Mardyke and for the local communities along its valley.  Next time you drive along the M25 into or out of Essex think about the landscape beneath your wheels and maybe even break up your journey to explore a little.


Giving nature a hand – using woody debris to restore Essex rivers…

Our local geomorphologist and all-round river channel guru Trev Bond has been working with our Essex Ops team to give nature a hand along the River Crouch at Wickford.  The idea is to use carefully selected and installed parts of trees (woody debris) to replicate branches from trees falling into the river, influencing the flow of water and rebuilding natural features.  Unlike loose branches, these pieces of debris are firmly secured so they cannot come adrift and cause flooding problems elsewhere.  Flow velocity increases, silt is removed, gravels are exposed and habitat is created.

In this video Trev talks through what we are doing, how we do it and why…

For those who cannot view the video, here are some photos…

Some woody debris salvaged from within the Memorial Park.

Some woody debris salvaged from within the Memorial Park.

Digging a trench to secure the woody debris.

Digging a trench to secure the woody debris.

Woody debris securely installed in the bank of the river.

Woody debris securely installed in the bank of the river.

We want to return to the same spot in the future to document the effect of the features we have created.  We have had great feedback from local residents using the Memorial Park, not only of the work itself but also because we have opened up access to the River Crouch.  We hope to work with Basildon Council to undertake further improvements in the future.


Rain, restoration & renewal – an inspiring visit to Mayes Brook…

I really value the opportunity to learn more about projects that improve our rivers for the benefit of wildlife and the local community.  It is even better when I get to visit the site and speak to those involved.  I can really get a feel for how things have been achieved and the positive impact that has been made.  I am also keen to bring ideas back to Essex and make improvements here too.  That is how I ended up at Mayesbrook Park between Barking and Dagenham on a wet May day…


It was a wet morning in Dagenham!

Mayes Brook, like many of our urban rivers, had become rather unloved.  Increasingly polluted from road run-off, misconnections and sewer overflows. It was hidden away in a concrete channel, behind tall fencing and isolated from the park and the community.  Out of sight, out of mind.  The park itself had become increasingly known for anti-social behaviour rather than being a space for people to enjoy.  Something had to change.

The Mayesbrook Park project is a great partnership between London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, the Environment Agency, the Mayor of London, Thames Rivers Restoration Trust, RSA, Natural England, London Wildlife Trust, and the SITA Trust.  The aim was to bring the brook back into the park and make it a valued feature, as well as reducing flood risk by creating an expanded flood plain and boosting ecology by creating new habitat.  By achieving these aims, hopefully the use of the park should increase and anti-social behaviour reduce.  Click on the image below to open a pdf leaflet summarising the project to date.

Click the image to open the pdf leaflet on Mayesbrook Park

Click the image to open the pdf leaflet on Mayesbrook Park

The benefit of seeing the park and Mayes Brook on a rainy day was that we could really see the scheme in action.  One area (shown below), that really impressed me, was where the old channel had been replaced by a wonderful, meandering and gently banked landscape.  Fantastic for flood storage, ecology and safe access.  This is something we could replicate at several location across Essex and changes the character of a park from a large, flat green field to something really alive.  Brilliant!

The narrow concrete lined channel has been replaced by a meandering, gently sloping channel and flood plain.

The narrow concrete lined channel has been replaced by a meandering, gently sloping channel and flood plain.


Another view of the more natural area created from the concrete lined channel.

Another view of the more natural area created from the concrete lined channel.

It was also great to see simple sustainable drainage (SuDS) techniques being used for the surface and roof drainage from the impressive new sports centre nearby.  Water was held in a series of fenced, grassy pond areas to reduce the rate of run-off and reduce pollutants heading to Mayes Brook.  These were working really well on the day of my visit.

One of the "SuDS ponds" to attenuate and treat roof water from the SportHouse building.

One of the “SuDS ponds” to attenuate and treat roof water from the SportHouse building.

Another view of one of the "SuDS ponds" in action.

Another view of one of the “SuDS ponds” in action.

In other parts of the park where space was restricted the fencing was removed from Mayes Brook, the concrete channel liner taken away and one of the banks reprofiled to increase capacity and habitat.  This was a huge improvement in itself and at least brought the brook out from its isolated hiding place.


Where space was an issue, removing concrete channel and some regrading was done.

The other distinct part of the project was the nature reserve at the upstream end of the park.  This stretch of Mayes Brook had been reprofiled and improved, but was fenced off to allow wildlife to have a quiet haven.  Although public access is important, this provided a good compromise and allowed different species to flourish.

The fenced nature reserve area at the upstream end of the park.

The fenced nature reserve area at the upstream end of the park.

All this work to get Mayes Brook to be a part of the park and local community has been really successful.  By raising awareness of the importance of our rivers and streams we start to care more about pollution and misconnected drainage that would otherwise not seem as much of a problem.  The momentum we can build with these projects is staggering.

The most exciting thing about my visit to Mayesbrook Park was that I could straight away think of locations in Essex where we could adopt at least one of the techniques or approaches above.  Anywhere a brook or river flows through a park or other open space, we could do something positive.  The scale of improvement will depend on what the stretch of water needs, local support, partners, funding and willing volunteers.


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Love Your River – now I have the jumper to prove it!

Matt Butcher:

Matt says: This work looks fantastic and I would love to use it to help engage people with Essex rivers. Great stuff!

Originally posted on Communicating Landscape Futures:

The PhD Visioning Catchment Futures is now on its final case study, three years after I started the PhD in January 2011 I have finished two case studies (#1 Augmented Reality & #2 Stiffkey catchment planning). The work to date has been presented across four different conferences over three years (3 in the UK (GISRUK2012. GISRUK2013, RRC2014 and 1 in Zurich DLA2014), the VesAR #AR work has won a prize for scientific excellence. I’ve been using twitter as @happy_mapper with the hashtag #loveyourriver. I’ve talked to a lot of people too, since January 2012 I have run around 25 sessions with the public in four river catchments (Gaywood, Stiffkey, Wensum, Yare) to collect information about how people engage with technology. After the last conference I was asked for a summary of the case studies and if I was interested in applying these techniques to other projects. The answer was yes by the way.


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The Essex Rivers Hub keeps things rolling…

It seems a long while ago now that I worked on the concept of the Essex Rivers Hub web site with my colleague Regan and the guys at Essex Wildlife Trust.  When I thought of that name for the site it was one of those rare “Eureka!” moments, but at the time none of us knew just how much potential there was with this new venture.

Since the launch it has developed into a great resource to enable people to find out more about rivers near them, learn about the issues being faced and ideas for how to solve them.  It is evolving all the time, but I am proud to have been a part of those early stages.  Regan will shortly be leaving us for pastures new, but her contribution to improving Essex rivers will be long appreciated.

The Essex Rivers Hub site is a great place to explore...

The Essex Rivers Hub site is a great place to explore…

The Essex Rivers Hub  has also been adopted as the brand for the Combined Essex Catchment Partnership.  This can only be a good thing, as “Combined Essex” (the official name of the catchment) does not really mean a lot to most people.  We need to take every opportunity to keep things simple, break down barriers and get people involved.  Having a clear identity is a great start.

I attended a recent session with a small group of Essex Rivers Hub partners where we shaped the format of the catchment plan and discussed when it will be produced.  We  also looked at how we engage with more people to raise awareness and get them involved on the ground.

One output from this session (to be agreed by the wider partnership) is that we will use the Essex Rivers Hub site as the core of our plan.  This is interactive, flexible and easily updated.  It should mean the plan does not sit gathering dust as it is already out there for others to see and get involved with.

As for engagement, the plan is for three workshops this autumn around Essex to look at the issues and opportunities for our rivers.  We want to raise the profile of the Essex Rivers Hub (web site and partnership), encourage people to think of where their goals align or overlap and to translate the talking into action.

As with all new partnerships, the Essex Rivers Hub will take a little time to build momentum but I really feel we are heading in the right direction to make lasting improvements to Essex rivers.  Exciting times!