Saturday, 14 May 2011

River Kennet paddling hit by the weather... and bankers

In part a continuation of my post on 21.03.10, two 'events' are looking likely to have a serious impact on the health and paddling potential of the riverine Kennet in the coming months.

The first 'event' is the weather, and the reported fact that "April was a very remarkable month in hydrometeorological terms: provisionally it was the warmest April in the 352-year Central England Temperature series, estimated (river) outflows from Britain were the lowest on record for the last week of April, and the end-of-month soil moisture deficits were the highest (for England & Wales) in a 50-year series." [1]

An employee of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has further stated that “Historical rainfall figures indicate a tendency for dry spring periods to be followed by above average summer rainfall, but with evaporation rates increasing even average summer rainfall would imply very low late summer river flows – and an associated major contraction in the river network.” [2]

The non-canalised sections of the lower reach of the River Kennet are already beginning to show signs that increased levels of consideration need to be made when planning to paddle off the beaten track of the Navigation, both in terms of environmental conditions and resultant requirements for alternative access.

A couple of strolls around the vicinity of the Old Mill at Aldermaston yesterday evening and this afternoon illustrated some of the issues for paddlers.

The portage around the small but un-runnable weir fed by the canalised flow above the main property - and which avoids the main channel by means of a side stream (supported by the confluence with the River Enborne) - is still entirely viable.  Potential concern about the current thin reed line may be tempered by consideration of what will happen after the fishing season opens (see image from Oct. '09 in link above).

However, whilst the weir pool is deep enough...

...just downstream the water levels are looking rather low.  Whilst this might be beneficial in terms of getting under the low hanging tree branch at the River Enborne confluence, the water level might present issues of potential contact with the river bed. Consideration should always be given to areas of clean gravel bed with fast flowing water where Barbel may have recently spawned (normally between May and July): "The young Barbel hatch within a week , but unlike other coarse fish the young remain in the gravel for several weeks, surviving first off their large yolk sack, and then actively hunting tiny invertebrates in the spaces amongst the gravel." [3]

In seeking to portage this low level section it would be possible to follow the side stream after the River Enborne confluence by the public footpath to the point where it reaches the lower edge of the Old Mill at Aldermaston fishery, and the confluence with the main channel below the sluiced weir.

Alternatively, you might haul your boats a little further along the public footpath, carefully cross the B430 Basingstoke Road, and put in to the river below the road bridge just off the public footpath... 

...except for the fact you would now be on Wasing Estate land that continues to warn against accessing the river from its property.  More about this estate and its owner in a coming post.

The second 'event' that will have a significantly negative impact on the whole of the River Kennet is the Environment Agency's renewal of Thames Water's Axford abstraction licence until March 2013.  Reported online in Newbury Today, the current position would appear to be that the EA is being held over a legal barrel until it saves up/coughs up £10m. 

Taken to its logical, absurd and disgusting conclusion, this situation is likely to be repeated until either the aquifer is unable to  respond to the abstraction requirement (by which time the upper River Kennet will have ceased to exist) or Thames Water persuades its owners in Australia, Macquarie Group Limited, that its admirable efforts in leading the Upper Kennet Restoration Project should be considered as more than a token gesture.

[1] Source:
[2] Source: ibid.
[3] Source: