A quick visit to the river at lunchtime revealed a surprisingly murky flow exiting the Old Mill in Wantage but on checking further upstream I found it was only due to 7 mallards upending and dabbling about in the bottom silt – nothing to worry about there!
The usually clear waters of Letcombe Brook are perfect for spotting wild brown trout and we are lucky enough to have a good population of these beautiful fish even right in the middle of Wantage. Other wildlife to look out for on the brook is the kingfisher, although usually only a brief glimpse, that streak of turquoise flashing past is always a joy to see! Good places to look out for them in Wantage are in Willow Walk and Smiths Wharf. One can sometimes be seen in Grove at Mary Green but the most reliable place is probably the BBOWT reserve at Letcombe Regis where one often flies across the open lake area. One local resident got a rather closer look after one flew into a window and momentarily stunned itself (pic above).
Where the brook is open to sunlight, it is full of both marginal and aquatic vegetation at this time of year. Watercress hugs the silty margins providing great cover for invertebrates and young fish alike. The blue flower spikes of water mint provide pollen for bees and butterflies and the spear-like bladed of the yellow flag and branched burr reed provide perches for both banded and beautiful demoiselle, stunning members of the damselfly family.
As Autumn approaches much of this weed will die back, a helpful example of the river self-regulating its width and flow regime. Weed growth in the summer narrows the river channel helping to speed up the flow and keep silt moving to maintain the clean gravel beds typical of a healthy chalk stream. This water weed naturally reduces as winter approaches and it’s not usually necessary to carry out much in the way of weed removal.
Autumn and Winter work parties will focus on reducing tree canopy cover and scrub in heavily over-shaded sections of the brook. Heavy shade results in bare banks that are prone to erosion and the additional silt entering the river can increase flood risk. It’s amazing how quickly the banks have recovered with the colourful growth of water forget-me-not, mint and brooklime in areas that the volunteer team cleared last winter.
Why not come out and join us to continue this work over this Autumn and Winter – both you and the Letcombe Brook will benefit from working in the “green gym”!