Latest News

Riverfly census on the Whitewater

Salmon & Trout Conservation has undertaken a three-year Riverfly Census on the Whitewater.  Their analysis S&TC Whitewater Conclusions final has revealed that the river is in ecological crisis.  The River Whitewater is a chalkstream, one of only about 200 in the world.  The most significant water quality pressures are sediment, nutrient and chemical pressure.

The River Whitewater is currently failing to meet Good Ecological Status as required under the Water Framework Directive.  The main pressures and reason for failure are physical habitat and barriers to fish passage.  This means fish populations are prevented from moving freely through the river.  Such barriers include mills, weirs and culverts.  Physical barriers also impede sediment movement.  They change flow, which can promote build up of fine silts.  Such accumulation alters the natural river form which can impact the ecological status.  Our survey shows evidence of this, with persistent sediment stress being indicated by the invertebrate community.

Land use surrounding the Whitewater shifts from predominantly arable to grassland along the river.  Arable farming, especially when it is undertaken right up to the river’s edge, can contribute high quantities of excess fine sediment to a watercourse.  Crop harvesting and ploughing leaves soil bare and vulnerable to washing off during rain events.  Water friendly farming techniques such as cover crops, buffer strips and zero tillage (where feasible) would benefit the upper reaches of the Whitewater by reducing the sediment load.

Many chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides used in arable agriculture, bind soil and are delivered to watercourses via sediment run-off.   Chemical stress was indicated at nearly all sites.  A seasonal chemical impact was exhibited by the invertebrate community.  All failures of the proposed Water Framework Directive Species At Risk (SPEAR) standard for chemicals occurred in autumn.

Burrowing from signal crayfish can increase bank erosion and introduce greater sediment loads into the river.  Therefore, it is important not to overlook this as a contributing factor to sediment stress in the Whitewater.  Invasive North American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) were detected at all of the sites monitored in the Whitewater survey.   These crayfish are capable of exerting change in ecological condition to the river both directly, through disease, predation, competition or displacement, and indirectly by disrupting food chain dynamics and altering physical and chemical habitat characteristics.

In 1981 mass mortality of the native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) was observed and following this, the species completely disappeared from the Whitewater and Loddon rivers.  Crayfish plague, of which signals are carriers, is suspected as the cause but this is unconfirmed.   Signal crayfish are found most frequently at Hook Mill.  Juvenile signal crayfish recruitment was particularly high at Poland Mill in spring 2019.  A lack of leeches and molluscs found at these sites infers an ecosystem impact from signal crayfish predation.

Taking appropriate measures to reduce the signal crayfish population may benefit the Whitewater’s ecology.  Activities such as trapping will not eradicate populations of signal crayfish, but in some cases can increase the total number of individual macroinvertebrates.

Nutrient stress was less pronounced than sediment stress in the Whitewater at our surveyed sites, but was still indicated as moderate on many occasions.  Excess phosphate entering the Whitewater is likely to be from a combination of sources, including runoff from arable agriculture and wastewater discharges.

The Odiham sewerage drainage area is served by the North Warnborough Sewage Pumping Station.  This pumping station is reported to fail most years for a variety of reasons, including blockages, misconnections and groundwater ingress.  Failure often results in the discharge of raw sewage directly into the Whitewater.  Although our methodology evaluates longer term invertebrate community responses and not the biological impact of specific gross pollution incidents such as this, the failings of this system may have increased consequences for water quality in the future.

Applications for new housing developments in Odiham and North Warnborough have recently been made, but if developments were to go ahead, the sewerage demand in the area would increase.  For any future development, it is essential that the sewerage infrastructure is sufficient to protect the environment.  Thames Water stated that capacity to accommodate significant growth was not available in the North Warnborough area and that upgrades to the network should be anticipated.

Further investigations are being made to find out whether any improvements have been made at the North Warnborough SPS, as part of the most recent Asset Management Plan cycle.

During the survey two caseless caddis species relatively rare to the Whitewater system (according to historical Environment Agency records) were found.  These were Metalype fragilis, found at Poland Mill and Polycentropus irroratus, found at Holdshott Farm.

Bunkers Hill solar farm response

The Whitewater Valley Preservation Society has responded to the public consultation by the developer of Bunker’s Hill solar farm.  We submitted our response to JBM Solar by their extended deadline of Friday, 23rd October 2020.  To request a full copy of our response, please email us.

The Whitewater Valley Preservation Society was established in 1980 and seeks to protect the River Whitewater and its valley landscape.

The Bunker’s Hill proposed development is located on a greenfield site, on the western valley sides of the Whitewater Valley, on gently undulating land.

Landscape character and type

The developers website makes no reference to landscape character.

However, Hart’s Landscape Character Assessment (1997) identifies the Whitewater Valley landscape character area as within the Open Arable Farmland landscape type.

More recently, Hampshire’s Integrated Landscape character assessment (2010) classifies the site as falling within Lower Mosaic Open landscape type.

Both the above assessments will be relevant to assessing the effects of the proposed development on the landscape resource.

Rights of way

There are a number of public rights of way which pass through the site.

In particular, the Brenda Parker Way long distance route runs between Andover and Aldershot.  This route connects Tylney Park with the river valley and West Green Conservation Area in the east.

Other footpaths provide circular routes from centres of population into and across the Whitewater Valley landscape.

The use and value of these routes increased dramatically this year and has remained high with many residents now working from home.

Landscape and visual impact assessment

Local communities value the valley as a recreational resource.  So it will be important that the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) provides a comprehensive set of representative viewpoints.  These include assessment of effects from other key features, such as heritage and nature conservation assets, particularly where they contribute to sense of place and special qualities of the landscape more widely.

The proposed development includes a number of features, which can give rise to landscape and visual effects, in addition to the photovoltaic arrays.  Ancillary development, such as fencing and CCTV posts, can also have an urbanising influence on the landscape.

Deer fencing in an area heavily populated by deer and in a council named after the deer (Hart) is of particular concern.

The current proposed layout does not detail the position of inverters (other than the central inverter), CCTV poles, storage container(s), access arrangements, delivery station or the location of the construction compound.

We would expect the LVIA to consider the effects of all aspects of the proposed development.  This includes during construction, operation and in relation to the potential for solar glare.

Local plan

Local Plan Policy NBE2 – Landscape is relevant to the proposed application.  It states that ‘development must respect and wherever possible enhance the special characteristics, value and visual amenity of the District’s landscapes.  This should be done with reference to the Hart District Landscape Character Assessment, visual amenity and scenic quality of the landscape and other identified criteria.’

There is increased recognition of the value of landscapes in terms of Local Plan Policy, local communities (as reflected in the Hook Neighbourhood Plan) and National Planning Policy (Para 170).  Given this, we request that the LVIA includes a detailed assessment of landscape value of the Whitewater Valley, which will be affected by the proposed development.

Mitigation

In terms of mitigation of the proposed development, we would expect to see how the proposed design and layout of the development has evolved to minimise landscape and visual effects.  Where there are residual effects, these should be mitigated through appropriate landscaping both on and off site.

Injured Cygnet in Whitewater meadows

We have received a report of an injured young cygnet, apparently swimming alone on a stretch of the River Whitewater within the Whitewater Meadows ‘Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace’ (SANG) area.  It seems to be swimming awkwardly and has lost some feathers/down.  Neither the Cob nor the Pen adults were seen nearby.
This may have been attacked by another older swan.  Unfortunately, it’s that time of year when young get sent off into the wider world by the parents and older birds start vying for territories.  We understand that Hart Countryside Operations see this every year at Fleet Pond. Likewise it may have been attacked by a fox or flown into powerlines.
What to do if you see this or any other injured swan or cygnet?
If the bird can be located please contact the Swan lifeline emergency helpline is telephone: 01753 859397.
Please see also the Swan lifeline website: www.swanlifeline.org.uk

Public consultation on Bunkers Hill solar farm extended

We are delighted to report that the public consultation for Bunker’s Hill Solar Farm has been extended until Friday, 23rd October at 5pm.

The Chairman of the Whitewater Valley Preservation Society has received the following message from JBM Solar, the developer for the Bunker’s Hill Solar Farm:

“Due to public feedback during our current consultation period on the Bunker’s Hill Solar Farm, we have decided to extend the consultation by another 4 weeks until the 23 October.  We will also be distributing another flyer to those residents within 1.5km of the site with a question and answer leaflet responding to points raised to date and setting out the new public consultation period.”

Please do use this opportunity to respond with your views on the Bunker’s Hill Solar Farm proposal via the developer’s website .

Chalkstream Parliamentary Group

A new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Chalkstreams has been formed to consider the challenges facing chalkstreams specifically.

England is home to over 75% of the world’s chalkstreams, which make an unique contribution to global ecology.

As the River Whitewater is a chalkstream, we encourage you to tell your MP how important chalkstreams are and why they need their own bespoke range of protections.

Please write to your MP and ask them to join the APPG.  You can find and contact your MP here.

Bunkers Hill solar farm

JBM Solar is proposing a photovoltaic solar farm on land at Bunker’s Hill Farm.  This is one of two current proposals for large solar farms in the Whitewater Valley, North-East Hampshire.

The proposal would cover approximately 200 acres of agricultural land.  The site runs alongside the River Whitewater, with solar panels for the next 35 years +.  We encourage you to look at the developer’s website to see the location of this proposal.

As a Society we are planning a proactive approach to this application to reflect our role as the voice of the valley.  We will communicate our plans to you as soon as possible.  In the short term, the developers are looking for responses, via the developer’s website by the now extended date of Friday, 23rd October at 5pm.

Whilst we will respond, as a Society, we would also urge you to email them, as an individual.  Please encourage those who you believe have an interest in the valley, as residents, business owners, walkers, anglers or cyclists etc. to do so themselves.  

Greywell Fen phase 2

Update from the Greywell Hill Estate

Alaska Ecological Contracting finished their part in the restoration of the Fen, leaving a large area of bare mud and a considerable amount of felled alder and poplar. Since when most of the mud has turned green and a lot of wetland birds have enjoyed their summer here.

In the meantime, Estate forester, Tom Elpelt, had to sort very random quality alder and has moved most of the alder either to Down Farm for chipping or into a considerable pile for sale to a wholesale firewood merchant. There was a bit of a delay as Down Farm had run out of room for any more timber.

The Estate has now started on the next phase of the restoration which is to restore the fencing so that cattle can be grazed on the Fen under the management of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. In order to get the fencing in, the Estate is coppicing the overstood hazel running along the side of the bridle path (route 703) and will cut back some of the growth encroaching onto the footpath (fp6) adjacent to the Mill Head. The hazel is on very strong stools and will grow again.

There is a cleared piece of ground at the top of the Mill Head and this is to be included in the grazed area, so the fenceline will cross the footpath in two places. There will be two kissing gates in the fence line and these to a standard that can be accessed in a wheelchair.

The first priority is to get cattle grazing as soon as possible, so we are pressing on with getting the Fen fenced. This means that the poplar will probably not be shifted until ground conditions permit in 2021. The current thinking is that it will be chipped on site and moved in bulk trailers to Down Farm. This has two advantages, firstly that chipping is very noisy and the site is a good distance from the nearest house. Secondly, grain trailers will carry more timber in chipped form than a conventional timber trailer and crane and so there will be less tractor movements and wear on the track.

The prime tool in all the work is the Estate’s 8 tonne excavator, driven by Joe Elpelt, which is equipped with tree shears (like a large pair of scissors), post thumper and a cone splitter to break the poplar down to a size that a chipper can handle.

Bidden Road solar farm

Clearstone Energy is proposing to develop a 50 MegaWatt photovoltaic solar farm, adjacent to the headwaters of the River Whitewater in North-East Hampshire.  The total site area is 143 hectares.

The site runs to the south east of Bidden Road and surrounds Chosley Farm.  It extends south to meet Alton Road.  It is positioned between North Warnborough to the north east; Odiham to the east; RAF Odiham to the south east; South Warnborough to the south; and Greywell to the west.  The site is within the Hart Downs landscape character area.  There are two public rights of way across it, and the Greywell Fen site of special scientific interest (SSSI) is located to the immediate north west of the site.

The applicant claims there is currently no intention to place panels on the land north west of the Bidden Road, not least as it forms the immediate valley side, facing broadly north.

This has been the subject of a pre-application (20/00180/PREAPP) consultation and an Environmental Impact Assessment screening opinion (20/01658/EIA).  Hart District Council responded to the pre-application consultation on 1st May with considerations for the full application.  The Whitewater Valley Preservation Society submitted comments on both the EIA screening opinion and pre-application raising the countryside and landscape impact of the proposal.

Greywell Fen restoration

Works at Greywell Fen

If you have walked up to Greywell Mill recently, you may have wondered what is happening on the area between the Broadwater and The Moors Nature Reserve (the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s land). The simple answer is fen restoration.

The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  It was designated for its fen habitat and associated flora including marsh helleborine, marsh valerian and marsh fern.  Once, grazing and coppicing would keep it open.  However, in recent years it has become overgrown and dominated by alder, thus reducing its biodiversity.  The work will enable the fen to return to “favourable condition”.  As Spring progresses, we hope to see it come alive with wildflowers.

Defra accepted the whole Greywell Hill Estate land into its Higher Tier Stewardship Scheme at the start of 2020.  This is a bureaucratic environmental land management scheme for farms and forestry.  It includes incentives to carry out major works, which would not otherwise be considered by landowners.  Natural England’s officer is keen that the Fen is restored.  Especially as the Wildlife Trust has undertaken similar work on the adjacent land several years ago.   Alaska Ecological Contracting, the same contractors as used by the Trust, are carrying out the works and the Trust’s local warden is overseeing it.

The contractor is felling all the alder and poplar.  These will be moved off site when ground conditions allow.  The end use of the timber will probably be for biomass production and it will be processed locally if possible, to minimise the haulage.  Wetlands are extremely efficient at carbon sequestration.  We believe that the work should have a positive impact on water levels in the River Whitewater and help to prevent the drying out of fen habitat which would otherwise be a cause for concern.

The contractors will clear the site completely.  The site will revert to grass and reeds and will be lightly grazed to control the return of alders.  The Wildlife Trust will help to manage the site.

Published with the kind permission of James Malmesbury