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Dry weather takes its toll on condition of our rivers
OXFORDSHIRE’S rivers have a long way to go to reach European standards, officials have said.
The Environment Agency revealed that of the 84 rivers in the West Thames area, 66 are failing to achieve a good ecological status.
The number of rivers rated poor rose from 30 per cent in 2011 to 34 per cent in 2012 and jumped 10 per cent from 24 per cent in 2009.
Simple factors such as the weather are being blamed for the problem – but concerned experts are now taking steps to protect local wildlife that relies on rivers.
A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: “Rivers in the Oxfordshire area are under pressure from various sources.
“The Environment Agency is working with local organisations and the general public in trying to understand what these pressures are.
“Only then can we draw up a plan which will help to bring these rivers up to the European standards that have been set. This last winter and the drought of 2012 put our river systems under serious pressure.”
The West Thames area’s rivers were measured against the Water Framework Directive’s 2009 classifications, and the directive is European law.
All rivers must reach good ecological status by 2027 to comply. The four classifications are: bad, poor, moderate and good.
Both the ecological and chemical status of rivers are assessed, including fish, insects, aquatic plants, nutrients and dissolved oxygen.
Dr Jeremy Biggs, of Oxford Brookes University’s Fresh Water Habitats Trust, said he was “not surprised” by the findings but warned the figures did not offer a full picture.
He said: “It’s because of the dry weather we had last year. The rivers are in a worse state, but the problem is that the Environment Agency does not look at the important parts.
“For example, they will not have looked at ponds, which have a great variety of species, and there are about 4,000 or 5,000 ponds in Oxfordshire.”
Some of the rivers in Oxfordshire classed as “poor” are the Thames (Leach to Evenlode), Cholsey Brook and tributaries, Oxon Ray upstream to Cherwell (including Otmoor), and Langford Brook near Bicester.
Matt Jackson, head of conservation strategy at the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), said: “It’s clear that in Oxfordshire there is still a long way to go before they are anywhere near the condition that they should be in.
“Tributaries of the Upper Thames are the backbone of Oxfordshire’s wildlife, with so many key species dependent on the health of our rivers.”
Chris Parker, head of land management at the charity, Earth Trust, said: “The key to reversing this decline is the restoration and creation of habitats within and alongside our watercourses which will provide opportunities for wildlife to thrive.”
The charity, working in partnership with the Environment Agency, will soon begin work on a £1m wetland creation project on a stretch of the River Thames near Wallingford, which aims to address this issue.
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