2022 – April Arrives

Most years, well before now, we’ve managed to emulate Moley from Wind in the Willows and poke our noses outside to begin encouraging spring flows. However, there has been a lot going on with other stuff, actually getting to the river is more difficult than it used to be, and the dreaded Covid has knocked out a chunk of March. Nevertheless, it’s time to send New Year greetings to each other and hope we can enjoy some successes and fun together in the months ahead.

As you may have seen, the springs have only just begun to show near the tennis courts in Chalfont St Peter but they are there. At the top of the valley, there is water in Mobwell Pond though not running out as yet, and flow properly begins at Missenden Abbey. From there, the river is running very well all the way to the “leaky section” just before Chalfont St Peter. Forecasting is always difficult and current data is rather confusing. Groundwater levels are still a little bit higher than average following the unusually high levels that peaked last April/May. However, the recharge rainfall totals to date are, at best, 85% of average and only 60% of either of the last two years. I would suggest that might indicate we will get some flow in all reaches but gaps may appear in early summer; hopefully not through Chalfont St Giles which has now enjoyed two years unbroken flow. (As ever, we are deeply indebted to Dave Anderson for the monthly data upon which the statistics on our website and my ramblings are based).

That “leaky section remains the real problem. Of the many investigations into flows (and flooding) in the Misbourne valley, one of the earliest was by the consultants Halcrow in the 1970’s. The problems of over abstraction affecting the river that it confirmed were substantially addressed by reductions in the 1990’s and subsequent smaller improvements. But the conclusion of the report that the only way to secure regular flow between the Chalfonts was by lining the bed seemingly remains true. Of course, at that time, “lining” meant concrete – an unacceptable idea from cost, environmental, and aesthetic viewpoints. MRA volunteers can, and probably will, continue to maximise flow by keeping the channel as clear as possible, encouraging the water to flow rather than pond and sink into the ground. But it is hard going and, as we found after the pandemic, it doesn’t take long for explosions of weeds like water cress, general debris and twigs to change the stream to a bog. So, for now, volunteers and regular work parties still required – see below.

But, what if there was an alternative? Well there is!! .. and it was approved in principle by the Environment Agency when the Chiltern Society made an application for Lottery Funds in 2012. Bentomat or similar is a simple sandwich of textile enclosing a layer of a natural clay material. The technique is to excavate half a metre below the channel then simply unroll and lay the material (no jointing or expertise required) and backfill with the excavated material. The beauty of the idea is that there is no need to make the bed watertight – merely to make it much less permeable. Of course, there would be many challenges to overcome but isn’t it worth exploring? Can you or your organisation help us do some preliminary work on this notion and make something happen?

So, to business. The first organised work party of the year will be this coming Thursday 7th April from 09.30. We hope to be working near where the flow stops somewhere between Cherry Acre and Water Hall but details to be confirmed ………. and depending on numbers.
If you can join us, please let me know as soon as you can and I’ll send final information – probably not till Wednesday evening. For those who can’t make Thursday I can certainly provide tools and kit for a follow up on Saturday.

If you would like to join us for a very informal drink and chat about MRA, the Misbourne generally or just craic, do come long to our “not a meeting” at The Greyhound, Chalfont St Peter from 7.15 pm on Wednesday 13th.

Did you know we now have a WhatsApp Group? If you would like to join just send me your mobile number and you will be welcome. Use it to see if someone else might like to join you for a little river tending exercise in the village, to see pics of what we and the river are doing, updates on work parties and generally keep in touch. It is working well.

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