Teme Valley Musings, May 2022

by Stephanie Mocroft

I’m always on the look-out for information about the Teme valley so was interested to read a recent report about a project called “Riverscapes”. It is a partnership between four different trusts, which are The Rivers Trust, The National Trust, The Woodland Trust and The Beaver Trust. Its aim is to promote healthy rivers through a Government incentive to fund “nature for climate” projects. Part of the planning will be to mitigate the flood risk in six river-catchment areas which, apart from the Teme, are the Wye and Usk, East Anglia’s River Bure, Cumbria’s Eden and Derwent and the Tawe and Torridge and Tamar and Fowey Rivers in Cornwall.

The Trusts aim to put five million trees along riverbanks where there is currently no vegetation. One initiative is to assist farmers to apply for grants to turn 10-20 metrestrips of farmland into woodland in places where their land runs alongside rivers. These can benefit farms by reducing chemical run-off from fields and lessening soil erosion from fertile land. As trees slow the rate at which rain-water enters rivers,they can also lower the risk of farmland flooding.

The ecological benefits that the partners hope to see are better quality river-water, new habitats for wildlife and uninterrupted landscape corridors. The Teme is naturally lined by alder,particularly in its upper reaches, and by white willow further downstream. Such trees give dappled shade which lowers water temperatures by up to 4 degrees Celsius.This cooling effect can be vital to the breeding success of some fish, such as salmon and trout. Tree-roots act as a barrier to the build-up of silt on the riverbed, which in turn allows areas of gravel to settle. This provides an important substrate on which some aquatic creatures, such as lampreys, can lay their eggs. Tree branches, once fallen into water, act as shelter and a food source for underwater nymphs and larvae and on these tiny creatures myriad other species depend.

Once fish stocks are healthy other animals, such as birds and mammals, can thrive. Kingfishers and otters spring to mind, but what about the pearl mussel? Did you know that these creatures colonise new areas by cadging a lift on the gills of salmon? No, neither did I, but they are alive and well here in the Teme. Another Teme speciality is the black and green club-tailed dragonfly. It requires plenty of insects to fuel its wings and what better place than a shady riverbank full of midges and moths? It has to share them with the Daubenton’s bat, though, a type of bat so well-adapted to a watery habitat that it even eats a few small fish.

Many types of bird capitalise on a river’s bounties. One such is the dipper who needs not only food from the water but also the shelter and nest material provided by trees. Dippers dart about in riffles of shallow water and dive below the surface for insects and small fish. We’re lucky that these attractive birds are also resident on the Teme. Let’s hope that each of these special characters gets a boost from the new “Riverscapes” scheme.