River Meon sees incredible turnaround in a decade

THE River Meon is facing a brighter future thanks to a community-wide effort to return it to good health.

Ten years there was widespread concern at its decline, sparking the formation of the Meon Valley Partnership (MVP).

Now, to coincide with World Rivers Day on September 22, the MVP is marking key achievements since its formation a decade ago.

The Meon is an internationally-important chalk stream and one of only 200 of its kind in the world.

Decades of pollution, modification and invasive species had taken its toll on the river and reduced its biodiversity.

Over the last decade the MVP has:

o Re-introduced Water Voles – an important species of river habitat that recorded as locally extinct in 2003, but has now been returned to 30 locations along the river. Over six years, a total of 2,833 water voles were released along the river;

o Helped otters to return – There are now thought to be three breeding females.

o Restored natural features – by creating places for fish and insects to hide from predators, as well as improving river banks with native plants.

o Monitored wildlife – Invertebrates provide the essential component to river ecology and numbers act as indicators to the health of the river. The river is now surveyed monthly by 27 volunteers at 23 locations.

o Encouraged people to care for the river – There have been 15 community talks and eight school activity days where local children could help with releasing water voles.

Elaina Whittaker-Slark, South Downs National Park Lead Ranger for the Western Downs, said: “The Meon is a very rare and important habitat indeed. The chalk geology and sunny climate produce the perfect conditions for an abundance of aquatic invertebrates, as well as a large variety of plants.

“Ten years ago the river was not in the best condition, but the Partnership has made some significant strides to improve the health of the river.

“We still need more hard data on water quality and biodiversity, but there are incredibly encouraging signs such as the return of otters. We also recently saw water voles in the river in the centre of East Meon village and this just shows how well the ecosystem is now functioning.

“There are still challenges ahead, for instance the impact of climate change, but we should also be celebrating the very real turnaround over the past decade.”

Members of the MVP are the Environment Agency, Wild Trout Trust , Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Natural England, Portsmouth Water (Downs & Harbours Clean Water Partnership), South Downs National Park Authority, Winchester City Council, Portsmouth Services Fly Fishing Association, East Hants Catchment Partnership (EHCP) and Wessex Chalk Streams Rivers Trust.

The Partnership has some tips for the public to how to look after the river:

• Report pollution incidents

If you see dead fish in the water, poaching, possible pollution or anything suspicious in the river please report it to the Environment Agency hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

• Use water wisely

It’s a precious resource! The water you use in your home and garden may not be taken directly from the river, but it’s taken from the same source that feeds the river – the groundwater held in the chalk aquifer. When water levels in the river are low, the water temperatures can increase to levels that are lethal for wildlife, and pollutants will not be diluted.

• Help keep the river water clean and healthy

Most of us know that you should not throw rubbish into the river, but did you know that compost heaps and septic tanks can pollute the river? Septic tanks can be a major source of pollution if they are not properly maintained, so watch out for smelly tanks and signs of pollution, pools of water, sludge, foam or grey fungus.

• Keep it clean but NOT tidy!

It is tempting to want the river to look tidy, like a garden, by trimming the plants on the banks and removing twigs and wood that fall in the river. These messy bits of tangled vegetation, leaves and woody debris are a fundamental part of the food web of the river and they provide vital cover where fish can hide from the egrets and herons.

The Partnership has launched a survey to engage more closely with the communities of the valley. The results of the survey will be used to inform the work of the MVP. Visit www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/MVP_RiverMeon to take part.