Last week, the WWF WaterLIFE project team took a field trip to the River Cray in North West Kent to see, first-hand, some of the conservation work that has been happening over the past couple of years. Thankfully the sun decided to shine which, even at this time of year, is never guaranteed!
It always amazes me that, in the UK, you can stumble across spectacular wildlife in the middle of a densely populated urban area. I’d never have guessed that, as we walked past rows of houses, shops and roads, we would find the beautiful Foots Cray Meadows and the River Cray, which is one of our precious chalk streams, in the middle of it all.
But that’s what we found! As we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river the ‘on-the-ground’ conservation efforts that have been carried out as a result of a joint river enhancement and habitat creation project between us and Coca-Cola were obvious. The work is being delivered by the Cray Catchment Improvement Group and, as we walked upstream, we met some of the conservation volunteers, fully kitted out in wellies and waders.
Mark Gallant from the North West Kent Countryside Partnership (the group facilitating the work) took us through some of the interventions they had been working on over the past months. Gravel beds have been built up, large logs strategically placed along the river to divert the flow and separate channels had been made at the sides of the river. All of these measures are helping to achieve the same thing – to ultimately improve the health of the River Cray which means a greater diversity of fish and improved water quality.
All the while we were chatting, eight or so volunteers were knee-high in the river, busily knocking blocks of wood with mallets (I thought about trying it myself but then reassessed when I looked at the size of the mallet!) Mark told us how he had had to manage a group of 400 corporate volunteers the week before and was expecting dozens of young volunteers at the weekend, all doing their national citizenship programme.
It is comforting to know that so many people care about their environment and are willing to give up their time to help improve it. Without them, the work we’re trying to do to restore our rivers to good ecological health wouldn’t work.
What does this have to do with me though, you might ask. Walking along the bank of the Cray you couldn’t fail to notice the number of people walking their dogs, small and excitable children running up and down and families enjoying a picnic. If we don’t maintain, protect and improve our rivers and lakes, then these communities and families won’t be able to enjoy them.
The work on the River Cray only touches on what is happening across England and Wales to keep our rivers flowing, a key priority for us here. We’ve got a long and exciting journey ahead!
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