In her own words, Molly Noble from South Wilts Grammar School, gives us the low down on what it was like joining the Water Team for a week.

Over the past week I have spent my time with the Water Team at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, working both in the office and out in the rivers! The trust seemed an obvious place for me to spend my work experience week as I have always been interested in the environment and loved spending time outdoors as a child. I think this is why it seems crazy to me that after thousands of years of human abuse, the only way rivers can return to a safe and natural ecosystem is through our intervention. The chalk streams in this country are unique habitats that help support many different species and food chains and are in need of help to make sure that all these plants and animals can survive. 85% of the worlds chalk streams are found in England, of which only 25% are described as in good condition. The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust work hard to improve this statistic within the Wiltshire area by removing invasive non-native species and implementing river restoration projects to improve the river channel and the habitat it provides.

British Chalk Stream © Linda PitkinA British Chalk Stream © Linda Pitkin

Humans have affected rivers in many ways, including the introduction of non-native species, increasing levels of pollution and the modification of the river channel which affects the flow. Within the short period of time I have spent with the Water Team I have seen how each of these problems are tackled.

Early in the week I joined the team and many volunteers to complete the weekly ‘balsam bash’ – an outing to help tackle the problem of the invasive non-native species of Himalayan balsam and orange balsam. These plants were first introduced to the UK in 1800’s by the Victorians for use in decorative gardens, however soon they began to colonise the banks of many chalk streams and rivers. Balsam is an annual plant, meaning it is very fast growing during the summer months, covering the banks, and during the winter it dies, leaving the banks bare and vulnerable to erosion. It also has very short roots which do not help strengthen the banks. A balsam bash involves gearing up in waders and life jackets and drinking plenty of tea before heading onto the banks and into the channel of a river to pull out the plants!

Himalayan BalsamHimalayan Balsam, easily identified by its pink flower.

I have also discovered the riverfly project during my time at the trust. This project is used by many organisations across the country to monitor the pollution levels of rivers and streams. There are many different types of riverflies found in British rivers. By completing regular surveys of riverfly populations the levels of pollution in a river can be monitored and actions can be taken if improvement is necessary. If a river has high levels of pollution then some species will not be present, however, if pollution levels are very low then there will be a much greater diversity of riverflies. Rivers suffer greatly from pollution; just 17% of England's rivers are judged to be in good health. This is due to sewage, plastics, chemicals used in farming and oils which can all end up in the rivers after human use. This is resulting in many plants and animals no longer being able to live in their natural habitat - causing them to become under threat. The monitoring carried out by volunteers greatly helps the Wildlife Trust to improve the river habitat and prevent the pollution of our rivers.

A stonefly, an indicator of low levels of pollution.

Towards the end of the week I went out with the team to the Swill Brook in northern Wiltshire to perform a water vole survey and design the plan for a river restoration project that is taking place there this year. The channel was filled with vegetation which needed to be cleared to create a flow, as there currently was none! The plan involved many different strategies to improve the river, including cutting down trees to improve light levels reaching the river (skylighting), and creating willow beds made from the trees removed to encourage flow variance and to change the channel shape from a straight line to a meandering river that creates different habitats and also encourages erosion and deposition around bends to exaggerate the channel shape. I found all these different methods to help shape the river into a very special habitat for the animals and plants living there amazing, and it definitely opened my eyes to the hard work needed to keep the environment as natural and beautiful as possible.

If you are interested in volunteering with us or coming to do work experience then please get in touch:

Email: Water Team

Phone: 01380 736066

Twitter: @wiltsrivers