Thursday, 13 December 2018

Following a delightful Thames tributary that’s teeming with wildlife

Following a delightful Thames tributary that’s teeming with wildlife

THE Berry Brook is an enchanting and little-known stream, a tributary of the Thames that flows from Lower Caversham to meet our world-famous river at Hallsmead Ait (a river island or eyot) just short of Shiplake College.

From its humble beginnings, it flows eastwards behind the back gardens of Henley Road, the Redgrave-Pinsent rowing lakes (part of vast gravel pits) past “Botany Bay”, under a little old bridge beside the Flowing Spring pub and onwards across the gravel-filled floodplain to eventually join the river proper.

For a small stream it is largely unpolluted and so is home to much piscine and avian life.

The three-spined stickleback, miller’s thumb or bullhead, chub and the voracious pike can all be found here, as can the kingfisher and heron.

In the summer months many migrant birds can be found living along the banks.

One of my favourites is the whitethroat. I find it astonishing that tiny birds like these can travel all the way from Africa to sing, mate and breed.

Of course, our summer daylight hours are much longer so there is more food to be found to feed their broods.

Trying to find the brook’s source, I have to remind myself that there is no surefire way of determining where any stream truly begins but I’m sure that I’m close to it so I start as far back as I can in a wood
co-owned by my friend Allan Tyrrell.

Allan has known this small patch of woodland since childhood and has an obvious affinity with it.

Tydee Wood is a wonderful place. Although partially surrounded by a recent housing development, it retains an ancient feeling, full of old ash and hazel.

Some of the larger trees have been struck by lightning, been blown over or succumbed to old age but each in its own way provides food and shelter for a myriad of life. Roe deer bounce around in the undergrowth close by, too quick for my camera but lovely to witness nonetheless.

Leaving the wood and heading towards Henley, we stop off at the Flowing Spring and are greeted warmly.

The spring from which the pub takes its name is a little marvel. It trickles down into the brook from the north-west and is home to the freshwater shrimp (Gammarus pulex), an indicator of pure and natural water.

Round Wood lies uphill along a bridleway and standing up there looking back to the spring, the gurgling of water can be heard from small apertures below the trees as it disappears into the chalk to re-emerge below.

The brook meanders, passing Spanhill to join the main flow at Shiplake.

Stepping down to the river from the church, the sheer beauty of the surroundings here iswonderful and in a way I’m not surprised that Lord Alfred Tennyson was married here.

The Pre-Raphaelite artist J W Waterhouse was inspired by Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott and I am tempted to think, when I look upon his painting in the Tate Gallery, that the artist sat beside our river with full imagination.

I quote from Tennyson:

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver

Thro’ the wave that runs for ever

By the island in the river

It is all too easy to think of the Thames as a whole but it is all the little tributaries that really lend the river its great charm. The Berry Brook is just one.

Vincent Ruane

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