Sunday, 03 July 2022

What has happened to our natural springs, so important to wildlife?

What has happened to our natural springs, so important to wildlife?

I OFTEN dream of waking up in a sunlit glade with a gurgling brook as it trickles downhill.

A place to relax, feel at home, soak up the sun’s rays and immerse myself in a warm sanctuary.

Places like this do exist thanks to the springs that pop up here and there. At Shiplake Copse, near Binfield Heath, a slender watercouse runs through a natural gulley as if from nowhere.

It trickles through tree roots to reveal the transient footprints of badgers, foxes and blackbirds that have taken their fill and eventually drops down the hillside to re-emerge by the Flowing Spring pub at Playhatch. This past weekend there was much rain. Where does it all go? The answer is that as well as giving the ground a thorough soaking, the water ends up in rivers like the Thames.

Once upon a time, chalk streams were a feature of the Chiltern landscape. With consistent depth and flow in the summer, they were a joy to see with clear water attracting abundant wildlife.

Now they are drying up. But why and how? I intend to visit Mill End, off the Marlow road from Henley, and walk north to Hambleden and then Turville. I want to check on the health of the Hamble Brook.

The aptly named Watery Lane (now closed to motorised traffic) goes south from near Turville to the Thames. Springs are indicated on my Ordnance Survery map close by Arizona Farm. The narrow, gentle flow skirts Pheasants Hill and goes through Hambleden village to meet the great river and the huge weir, mill and lock.

I want to investigate the course of this stream and try to understand why it has reportedly vanished and with it all the biodiversity. It was a beauty. Unlike the Thames, Hamble Brook is fed by an aquifer — water is soaked up underground and then rises as a spring from the underlying chalk. The very lengthy filtering process produces near pure water.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, it seems that water companies have been extracting enormous amounts of water from our natural aquifers and in so doing halting the flow of chalk streams like our local brook. This is very worrying.

It is very dark and raining heavily as I go to have a brief reccy at a small section of the Thames at Buckside in Caversham. Years ago in early summer, you were guaranteed an encounter with a hissing swan protecting its huge nest.

Today the water is barely visible through the overgrown bushes and I’m sad to see abandoned tyres and the remains of garden waste.

At the waterside behind the Griffin pub a pair of odd-looking waterfowl think that I’m going to feed them. I’ve nothing to offer so I’ll remember to carry a treat on my next visit.

Later, when the rain has eased, I visit a local wood. Beech leaves flutter down and touch the earth with a soft caress. It is silent except for the water dripping from the trees. It’s not a sunny glade but has a charm of its own.

Vincent Ruane

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