Tue, 11 Dec 2018
CONSERVATIONISTS have been horrified by an illegal dredging operation that has decimated wildlife in the River Lambourn.
A mechanical digger appears to have been used to scoop out the gravel bed of the waterway in East Garston.
That section of the waterway is a winterbourne, which means it is dry in summer and floods in winter.
The gravel bed provides a ‘just add water’ instant habitat when the springs come.
Action for the River Kennet (ARK) spokeswoman Charlotte Hitchmough said: “We just can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing.
“The gravel beds have lots of plants, so invertebrates sink into it and emerge when the springs come, instantly providing a living habitat.
“Worse, all the silt will now wash downstream and clog up the gravel beds elsewhere, where fish eggs would have been.”
ARK has said the damage could wipe out an entire year’s worth of plants and livestock.
Ms Hitchmough said: “ARK’s position is that the damage is significant and needs to be rectified quickly before the springs break and the river fills with water again.
“If the water returns before the river is repaired, the damage will be worse and a whole section of the river downstream will be impacted too.”
Environment Agency spokeswoman Paula Goodeve, said: “We’re investigating [and] our enquiries will determine if offences have been committed and what remedial actions are required.”
One of England’s finest chalk streams, the River Lambourn is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, recognised as an internationally important home for fish and plants.
As such, it enjoys the highest level of environmental protection.
In 2013, the River Lambourn was stricken by a devastating chlorpyrifos spill.
As little as a few teaspoons of the weedkiller are thought to have entered the watercourse from a water treatment works in Marlborough, Wiltshire, leading to a 15km stretch of water down to Hungerford being affected.
The incident wiped out insect life – a major source of food for fish and other wildlife – in around a third of the river. It has since recovered.
In 2015, developers wanted to dump semi-treated effluent into the pristine chalk stream at Weston.
A campaign to prevent that went national, with a petition attracting around 3,000 signatures and the crisis was eventually averted.