Below is some information and advice for farmers and householders about management which will benefit winterbourne streams and their wildlife.
If you are a riparian owner, the way you manage your stretch of winterbourne can be very important for the wildlife that inhabits it. Careful management of the banks and in-channel weed can provide excellent habitat for characteristic species like water vole and brown trout.
What are my responsibilities?
- You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse, and for clearing debris.
- You should pass on flow without obstruction, pollution, or diversion affecting others.
- You must not obstruct the passage of fish.
- You must accept flood flows through your land.
By slightly changing their management of bankside vegetation and in-channel weed, landowners can produce excellent habitat for winterbourne wildlife. Characteristic species like water vole rely on the cover of bankside vegetation to avoid predators, and aquatic species use in-channel vegetation such as water-crowfoot to shelter, breed and feed in.
- Avoid planting non-native garden species along the banks, as they don't provide good habitat for our native wildlife
- Strips of natural vegetation along the banks provide good wildlife habitat, and also help to reduce nutrient and pesticide run-off. A 2m fringe is ideal.
- Taller vegetation is important for water voles - cut bankside vegetation only during autumn and winter, and only cut one bank in a year. Work with your neighbours to ensure that you won't remove all of the useful habitat in one go.
- Retain at least 40% of in-river vegetation at any one time, to provide shelter for aquatic insects and fish.
- Ideally, remove only a third of the vegetation in any one year. Focus on the main flow within the stream, allowing vegetation to grow at the channel edges.
- Leave cut vegetation on banks for only 1 or 2 days - this allows any aquatic creatures to escape back to the stream, without causing nutrient enrichment as the vegetation rots.
- Don't place a compost heap near to the stream either.
- Cut and pull Himalayan Balsam. This invasive species out-competes native grasses and other bankside plants, and then leaves banks prone to erosion when it dies back in autumn and winter.
Reduce risk of flooding
There have been flooding events in the winterborne valleys in the past. A wet autumn and winter in 2000 led to flooding throughout the County, and historic floods have also occurred. Careful land management may help to reduce flood risk in the future and also benefit our native wildlife.
- Compaction of soil by livestock or machinery use can lead to rapid runoff, which can contribute to flooding downstream.
- Runoff from domestic properties can also contribute - invest in a water butt which will allow you to continue looking after your garden in times of drought.
- Avoid dredging, which is environmentally damaging and does not help to alleviate flooding in winterbournes. However, minor de-silting works, particularly around bridges, may help to reduce flood risk - speak to the Environment Agency for consent.
- Keep the channel clear of debris, including litter, and avoid constructing artificial barriers in the stream.
- When cutting weed concentrate on areas of main flow in the channel so that flow can continue unimpeded without damaging valuable wildlife habitat.
- All areas of natural vegetation, particularly wetlands and woodlands, act as a natural sponge. They absorb rainwater much better than other areas, releasing it slowly into river channels and so alleviating flooding in times of high rainfall. Retain these areas wherever possible.
Farming near the winterbournes
The ecological value of winterbourne rivers relies on good management by farmers and gardeners whose land surrounds these rare habitats. Soil erosion and nutrient run-off is a risk to most water courses, and on free draining chalk soils, pesticides and nutrients can easily leach into ground water. These problems can be reduced by incorporating good practice management into every day farming and gardening activities.
- Plough along the contours of fields where possible
- Beetle banks and in-field grass areas can reduce run-off down slopes
- Leave a rough weather-resilient seedbed until ready to drill
- Regular soils analysis to monitor nutrient requirements can save you money
- Applying fertilisers at the optimum time for your crop reduces leaching
- Take care when applying fertilisers to avoid spreading into watercourses
Creating new habitats
The Winterbournes Project has provided funding to farmers for small schemes to enhance the habitat alongside the River Winterborne. At North Farm, Winterborne Kingston, two scrapes were dug near the river to provide wet areas into the spring for wading birds. The scrapes provide excellent feeding habitat for Lapwings - a dramatically declining farmland bird - which breeds on the farm.
Agri-environment schemes can provide funding for habitat management in the project area, and the Pastures New project can provide grassland managers with advice, grant funding and practical assistance.
Even small-scale habitats created in a garden can be valuable to winterbourne wildlife:
- Construct a pond to provide an in-land refuge for frogs and toads, newts, water voles and aquatic insects. Ponds should be created away from the natural flood-line, and allowed to develop naturally. Great crested newts, a nationally declining species, have been recorded in ponds along the North Winterborne.
- Allowing areas of your garden to grow long will provide ideal foraging and refuge sites for a range of species found along Winterbournes. Allowing trees to grow along the bank, or coppicing existing trees to prevent them from becoming too large, can help to stabilise banks, and provides fishing perches for kingfishers.
- Piles of logs or stones attract numerous insects and provide a hibernation site for amphibians. Make sure they aren't too close to the stream or they may get inundated during high flows.
Download a copy of our management leaflet here 685.71 Kb .