As the recently appointed chairman of the board of the Arun & Rother Rivers’ Trust I am writing to set out my aspirations for the coming year.
I took over from Sebastian Anstruther the inspiring founder of the Arun & Rivers Trust (ARRT). He is the father figure so it is good to have him still as a trustee. We have a safe pair of hands to reach for when that mud is coming too far up our boots.
We also now have a dedicated Project Management team looking at work on both rivers and the wider catchment. Under the direction of Gillian Branson a highly professional team are building up a war chest of new and exciting plans for the future.
Our principle rivers have many issues; the overriding one is that the water quality is well below the standard required by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). There is pollution from farms and other sources and also a huge problem of silting mainly from vegetable and potato fields. The WFD may cease to be our master after Britain leaves the European Union but the UK will continue to have stringent standards to aspire to and achieve even then.
In addition to the nature conservation benefits that ARRT’s activities bring to the river, human users are always in our minds. Water companies require supplies for drinking water; farmers need irrigation via their abstraction licenses and anglers require enough water for their sport.
Over 70% of our drinking water comes from groundwater sources and not directly from the rivers, but of course treated water from the sewage works sited on both rivers flows into the main streams. So our relationship with Southern Water on the Arun and Rother and with Portsmouth Water in the Western Streams is crucial. It’s a partnership we believe is vital and I know they value too.
The diversity of our rivers’ ecosystem is monitored by our dedicated Riverfly volunteers, ably marshalled by Roger Poole. Riverfly and fishing health are indicators of the state of the river and much help is received from the various clubs on the river. They spot incidents of pollution very quickly so we are able to react before irreversible damage is done. More volunteers are needed to increase the level of coverage. Furthermore, ARRT is also looking to move into the arena of water quality monitoring which will require even more manpower.
The Rother Valley Farmers Group (RVFP) was formed by ARRT. Funded largely by Southern Water but run and administered by ARRT the RVFG is moving towards limiting farm pollution that might find its way into the watercourses. In addition the RVFG is closely involved in a trading enterprise started by ARRT in conjunction with Chichester University which rewards farmers for services they provide in maintaining and improving the ecosystems of the Rother catchment.
Arun Vision is the name encompassing initiatives which will maintain the farmland adjacent to the Lower Arun when the Environment Agency gives up control of the drainage of the floodplain and its related maintenance programmes. Though not directly handled by ARRT we play an important part in the Arun Vision process. We also expect many projects to emerge that ARRT will be well placed to undertake when the research is over and the work begins.
ARRT continues to host the local Catchment partnership. This brings together all interested parties in the maintenance and improvement of our rivers, streams, lakes and ponds as well as making plans and policies for nature conservation, flooding, drought, pollution, tourism, business and more.
We are moving into a new era of funding that should allow us to employ more full and part time staff as well as a Director to really drive us forward. Being volunteer Trustees is wonderful, but as the work becomes more professional, so must the workforce.
In an era of reduced public funding the work of ARRT is increasingly important for ecological stability. We have strong links with the South Downs National Park and with the County and District councils and all of which have an interest in the rivers thriving rather than degenerating ARRT has the energy and the expertise to help them achieve this but we will need more resources. For these we look not only to the public and statutory bodies to help us but also members of the public who have a desire to see their rivers in the best of health. They can and do make an invaluable contribution through donations, legacies and of course voluntary help with our many important projects.