A Manifesto for Chalk Streams.

Stream in Summer


Over the years I have been involved in some single cause environmental campaigns, and observed others. Success, where it has come, has mostly been won when there has been one combined consistent and coherent voice. Most have also had a clearly stated set of goals around which support could coalesce and a campaign strategy be built.

Currently there are one or two prominent individuals and many interest groups acting as advocates for chalk streams. There is even a conference with the water companies and regulator proposed for the autumn. However, if they are to survive, I believe the chalk streams of England now need such a unified voice, and a clear manifesto that sets minimum acceptable standards for chalk stream health.

The following is offered as a discussion document and suggestions in the hope that someone will come forward to take it further. Perhaps one of the existing groups can set up a Zoom conference and invite all the others to appoint a representative to join in. 



The chalk streams of England are one of the rarest habitats in the world, arguably more threatened than the rainforests. There are only about 200 in the whole world with the vast majority being in the South and East of England. The few that aren’t, are in Northern France. In recent years the very existence of these streams in England has been threatened, with most suffering some kind of environmental damage; and in some cases, extinction level harm.

Water in chalks streams is some of the freshest and cleanest to be found due to the filtering effect provided by the chalk. This has resulted in it being exploited by the water companies to the point where streams have dried up completely. 

The privately-owned water companies make profit from supplying water.  There has been a drought in the South East of England for the last three years, however, they have refused to impose measures like introducing a hosepipe ban.  Politically this could be disastrous for them. It would highlight their failures to develop and maintain a sustainable and resilient water supply; and failures on the part of government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat to effectively regulate the industry.

Water companies also routinely release untreated sewage into rivers causing pollution and further environmental degradation.

Some pension funds have shareholdings in the water companies and effectively elect directors. They therefore bear some of the responsibilities for these actions.  Despite apparently being contrary to their sustainable development and ethical commitments, some of these funds appear to support the water companies on the basis of maximum dividend at any price.

There are questions relating to whether the current government is about to lower environmental standards, and regulation of bodies like water companies and investment funds.

There is some media coverage of the current chalk stream crisis. Nationally this often involves a prominent individual and, locally, interest groups and associations. There is regular social media activity; often using the hashtag #chalkstreamsincrisis. Last year there was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons and, in June this year, the Public Accounts Committee questioned Defra, Ofwat and the Environment Agency over their management of the water companies and water supply.

Companies and regulators are used to handling data and measuring performance against defined standards. Having a manifesto that gives standards means that they can be held to account properly and not against their own cosily derived criteria. The manifesto standards would mean that in any discussion the water companies will know what is expected of them, making it more difficult to offer some sop rather than taking proper action. Politicians and those creating environmental policies will also know what is expected and, with sufficient public support, demanded of them. When campaigners are asked what they want, the answer will be there in detail.

Despite legislation and twenty years of talking, the chalk streams of England are once again beginning to dry. NOW, more than ever before, a manifesto for their future is required.

The Campaign for Chalk Streams

I propose that an organisation with this name is established as both a charity and a limited company. Initially membership would be open to all organisations with an interest in preserving and restoring chalk streams. This will hopefully provide a degree of base funding. Individual supporter membership could follow, but structured so as not to harm existing groups.

This would require groups that perhaps do not at first appear to be natural allies to come together.  For example, the angling community and the aquatic re-wilders may not agree on how a stream is managed – but their arguments are pointless if in the meantime the chalk streams have disappeared. Another example would be the farmer interested in maintaining local levels of ground water and the ecologist advocating wide river bank margins to reduce agricultural run-off. These arguments are surely a luxury for another day.

I have established this kind of umbrella organisation before and it offers a number of advantages. It can do the hard campaigning that local groups may not feel able to do. It can confront water companies or government, initiate legal action or challenge the media; whilst the local groups can maintain their existing relationships with these organisations. Once a campaign to secure a minimum standard of future for the chalk streams has been successful, the organisation can be dissolved leaving the local groups with their relationships intact to continue with their monitoring and care of the chalk streams.

The organisation should:

Ideally have a full-time director and support staff.  There should be a ‘high profile’ Chair-person or President to help maintain the profile of the organisation and cause.

Campaign for a minimum level of Environmental Protection for all chalk streams and Enhanced Protection for key rivers.

Campaign for effective regulation by a strong regulator that can impose penalties that make compliance more advantageous than facing the punishment – i.e. it no longer being cheaper and easier to pay fines rather than comply with legal obligations.

Campaign for dividends paid by water companies to be capped to a diminishing percentage of the previous year’s dividend, following each pollution, or excessive reduction of water flow, incident.

Campaign for an effective regeneration, by the relevant water company, of sections of chalk stream that in the last ten years have dried out at any point due to over abstraction of water. To include creating a profile of all species associated with that particular section of chalk stream: based on historical records, surveys of contiguous ecosystems and any relocated specimens; and the creation of a genetic library for each so that any restocking comes from an appropriate population. To include plant, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and bacteria; not just fish.

Create a minimum standard for the health of each chalk stream:
Create a minimum standard for river flow.
Create a minimum standard for river water quality.

Create a biodiversity standard – all species not just key indicator species.
These demands and standards should clearly be expressed in a ‘Manifesto for Chalk Streams’.

Maintain press and media awareness of, and interest in, these issues.

Become the one-stop-shop of choice for those requiring quality information relating to the welfare of chalk streams.

Inform and affect policy through lobbying politicians, local and national government.

Promote public awareness of the importance of chalk streams as internationally rare and threatened ecosystems.

Promote public involvement in the management and maintenance of chalk streams through involvement in existing local support groups and participation in consultation processes.

Promote citizen science and encourage school science departments and universities to set up monitoring programmes as part of their field studies.

Promote, and fund, academic research.

Raise awareness of the threat to chalk streams within the wider environmental movement both nationally and internationally.

Promote agricultural practices that protect streams from animal waste or chemical run-off.

Promote measures to prevent road and urban run-off into chalk streams including infrastructure re-engineering where required.

Promote individual responsibility for personal water consumption.

A Manifesto for Chalk Streams.

  1. The water flow in any chalk stream should not drop below the 25-year average for the period 1976 – 2000, for that day of the year. Where it drops below 75% of that average for more than five days, water abstraction from the source aquifer shall immediately be reduced by not less than 20% of the previous seven-day average. For each subsequent consecutive five-day period of reduced water flow, the abstraction shall be reduced by a further 20% until such time as the water flow is restored. If the period of reduced flow lasts for ten days, drought measures shall immediately be implemented. 
  2. If on 30 April each year the level of groundwater in any aquifer feeding a chalk stream is less than 80% of 25-year average for the period 1976 – 2000, the permitted abstraction from that aquifer shall be reduced by not less than 20% of the date average for the previous five years. If it is less than 60%, the permitted abstraction shall be reduced by not less than 50% of the date average for the previous five years, and drought measures shall immediately be implemented. If on any other date in the year, the level of groundwater in the aquifer falls below 50% of the 1976 – 2000 average for that day of the year, the permitted abstraction shall be reduced by not less than 50% of the date average for the previous five years, and drought measures shall immediately be implemented. 
  3. Where water flow in a stream reduces to a point where the full biodiversity can no longer be maintained, or it ceases to flow completely, all water abstraction shall cease until the water flow returns to 50% of the norm, at which point the two clauses above will again apply. Following such an event the water company shall be responsible for restoring, from genetically matched populations, all species to population levels shown in the biodiversity standard. 
  4. Where a chalk stream has no designated environmental protection, in all planning and other matters it will considered to have the same status as a SSSI. 
  5. There shall be a presumption that there will be no development within five metres of the bank of a chalk stream. Where there is a development on land running to the bank of a chalk stream, there shall be a two-metre-wide margin from the edge of the bank left for natural wild growth. 
  6. Where there is provision for rain or other waste-water run-off in to a chalk stream, the property owner or relevant highway authority, shall reduce this by 50% by 2025, and completely by 2030. Blue-green measures to attenuate flow and adequately filter the water shall be an acceptable alternative. 
  7. All sewage, industrial waste, and waste-water processing plants shall have the capacity to handle up to, and including, one in 50 years level incidences. All treated water discharged from these plants into a chalk stream should be chemically balanced, to match that from the source aquifer of the stream, and be free of micro-plastics. 
  8. In the event of a pollution incident; failure to stop it, take measures to mitigate the effects (e.g. oxygenation), and advise all interested authorities; at the earliest opportunity, shall be considered aggravating factors resulting in more severe punishment. If there are more than five incidents by the same polluter in the same stream, in any 12-month period, the directors (including non-executive) or owners of that business may be held personally liable and fined or imprisoned. 
  9. During a pollution incident; the polluter shall start clean-up operations at the earliest opportunity, including whilst the event is still happening.  The response should incorporate teams hand picking items such as wipes. 
  10. Where reasonably practicable, any man-made obstacles such as dams, weirs or flood control measures shall be removed from chalk streams to promote fish migration and greater biodiversity in the upper reaches. Where this is not possible, fish ladders, eel passes and other bypasses shall be installed for the same purpose. 
  11. No new fish farms, or expansion of existing ones, will be permitted in chalk streams. No fish that are genetically different to the local population shall be farmed in any chalk stream. Statutory provision shall be made requiring the owners of any such fish farm to arrange for routine monthly health and disease screening of the fish stocks, with mandatory reporting of results. 
  12. The owners of any fish farm shall routinely monitor dissolved oxygen levels, urea levels and river bed contamination for one mile downstream from the farm. They shall be required to clean the river bed of excess amounts of waste food or fish waste product; and should urea levels exceed a predetermined level, immediately reduce stock levels. 
  13. It is acknowledged that chalk streams are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. There are about 200 true chalk streams to be found anywhere in the world and most of them are in England.  They support their own niche ecosystem and deserve the highest levels of environmental protection.

In Conclusion

Sir Charles Walker MP, speaking last year in the House of Commons, stated:

“I find it extraordinary, given our own poor environmental record, that colleagues in this House lecture Indonesia and Brazil so freely on their responsibility to the rain forests. Of course, those two countries have a huge responsibility to the rain forests, but if we cannot save the chalk streams that are literally in our own backyard, what are we doing lecturing other countries on their environmental responsibilities? Saving the world does not start with the rest of the world. Saving the world starts right here, right now, doing our bit locally with our chalk streams—think locally, act globally.” Hansard Vol.663 col 1168 22 July 2019.

Forty years ago, I would have relished the challenge of such a campaign. Today is no longer my time; but I’m sure that amongst the various groups set up to protect particular chalk streams, there are the women and men whose time is today and tomorrow.  I invite them to step forward, gird their loins and not ask or discuss, but demand that the chalk streams of England are saved, and saved now – not for us but for the world and the future.

Should you wish to discuss this further with me, volunteer to co-ordinate responses or host a video meeting, my email is peter@byfootandbike.com These links are to some blogs about chalk streams that I have posted: 


2 Pastoral

The Great North Wood – One wood but many parts.


The lockdown for Corona Virus has not been as restrictive in the UK as in some other countries.  Until today, the ‘rules’ have allowed individual to venture out once a day, for a period of no more than about an hour, for exercise. I have chosen to use this as an opportunity to explore the remnants of the old Great North Wood near where I live in Norwood; the name itself being a contraction of North Wood.

The map below, produced by John Rocque in the early 1740s, show the wooded area remaining at that time – the red dot indicates where I am currently living.

John Rocque map of Great North Wood

The name ‘North Wood’, was given to differentiate it from the huge ‘South Wood’ that covered much of Sussex, Surrey and Kent.  The term ‘weald’, used to describe much of the geography of those counties, comes from the Old English word for forest.

I remember being told as a child, that an oak tree takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to live and 300 years to die. Indeed, there are some oaks more than 1000 years old. I like to think that in my journeying I will pass by at least one tree that was alive when Rocque made his map. 200 metres from where I live is the oak below and I gain great pleasure watching it day-by-day through the seasons.

Westow Street Oak

At the time of Rocque, areas of the Great North Wood had been managed by coppicing for several centuries; both to provide raw materials and to supply charcoal kilns. The picture below, of charcoal burning is from John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions ’, of 1664.  Not only is this one of the finest treatises on forestry ever written, it was prescient in its warnings regarding the threat of deforestation. Living in Deptford, he would have been very familiar with the Great North Wood.

Charcoal Burning John Evelyn’s Sylva 1664

In reality the widespread deforestation of Britain had already taken place.  10,000 years ago, following a bit of a chilly spell, the country was densely wooded. Sometimes this is referred to as the ‘wildwood’ or ‘wyldewood’  to differentiate it from more recent ‘managed’ woodlands.  The wildwood, in terms of the bigger picture over time, did not last for long. 

By the end of the Bronze Age 3000 years ago, settlements had proliferated and become quite extensive with, almost urban, groupings of round houses like the one below which is located at Flag Fen Archaeological Park. The foundations of modern agriculture were in place with cleared pasture and systems of cultivated land. Copper was being mined in industrial amounts; and the free movements of people and goods throughout much of Europe was well established.  Where felled trees have survived, such as those at Seahenge; the number of different axe heads used, show that these people were well practiced, and proficient, at felling trees.

Bronze Age Roundhouse

When the Romans arrived in Britain in 43AD, the demand for wood increased dramatically to support the needs of a growing infrastructure and industry. It was also the main fuel.  As with other parts of the empire, forests and woodlands were being decimated.

When the Romans left Britain in about 400 AD, the Great North Wood may have already contracted to a size closer that mapped by John Rocque. Unfortunately, due to Corona virus shutdowns I cannot obtain permission to include a modern reworking of a map from that period showing this.


The Anglo Saxons are known to have cleared large portions of forest. The survival of the Great North Wood may be down to the geology of the Norwood Ridge on which much of it is located. This is formed of London Clay which, although ideal for deep rooted trees, made it a poor prospect for either cultivation or settlement.

From the Domesday Book (1086) we learn that much of the land on which the wood is located had come into the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Some hunting rights may have remained with local lords; whilst local people retained some right to graze and manage the woodland. It also shows that by then wood-pasture and woodland covered only about 15% of England. By the time of the Black Death in 1349, half of that remaining woodland had also been felled.

Black Death

The Port of Weymouth, in my home county of Dorsetshire, celebrates the part it played in the arrival of plague, by displaying the above plaque on the quayside. The Black Death and resulting reduction in the population brought respite to the woodlands, for perhaps a century, before growing demands of industry once again created a need for fuel.

Gypsy Hill Plague Pits

This small parcel of land in Gypsy Hill which would once have one been in the Great North Wood, has avoided development due to being the site of plague pits where victims of the black death were buried.

Launch of HMS St Albans

During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; colder winters, and an increase in ship building which required good quality oak, increased the pressure on woodlands. New agricultural techniques, developed in the Eighteenth Century, meant that land that once had only been suitable for woodland, could now be farmed.

As more land was enclosed and woodland became less economically important, parcels of land were sold off for housing.

London and Croydon Railway

The coming of the railways meant that coal could easily be brought into the area, possibly saving what was left of the old Great North Wood. The railway cutting in the illustration above, like much of the line of the original London to Croydon Railway, is wooded and plays an important part in linking remnants of the wood. There are even some mini nature reserves in places along the route.

Dulwich Rail Cutting

Today there are more than 30 areas of woodland or associated green space, left within the boundary of the medieval wood.  Many of these are now secure and some are managed by the London Wildlife Trust. Much of this is due to the work of the ‘Friends of the Great North Wood’, a group formed in 1992. My favourite tree in the remains of the Great North Wood is one of the humblest. I wrote about it here.

In 2017 the London Wildlife Trust launched the Great North Wood project with the aim of reviving and re imagining the Great North Wood. The Heritage Lottery Fund stumped up nearly £700,000 towards the cost of this.

View from Tower St Peters Brockley

Much of the wood cover in the area is provided by mature broad-leave trees in gardens, other privately owned spaces and roadside planting.

Tarleton Gardens Banner

Sadly, all across the old Great North Wood, trees are being lost to development, or local authority administrative convenience.

Save Me Tree

I don’t know whether there is any truth in the reports that 5G phone signals are corrupted by wet leaves on trees.  Following upgrades to the mast below, you can see where in the last few days several mature broadleaf trees have been felled and replaced by some that are little more than sapling.

5g Mast

There are small areas of ground dotted about that have never been enclosed or had ownership registered.  If an individual fences such land and maintains control of it for 12 years, they can register ownership with the Land Registry.  I guess I should check whether there is an owner registered for the patch of land below and, if not, pull the fence down or take control of it by planting and maintaining a couple of fruit trees. It could then be incorporated into the management of nearby Stambourne Wood.  

Enclosed Land

If one of the organisations involved in the future of the Great North Wood had the time, I suspect a number of these pockets of land could be located and secured, especially as the Land Registry has a target for comprehensive land registration by 2030.

Building Plot

One of the busier roads on the Norwood Ridge is fairly well lined by mature trees, although many are in private gardens. On one side of the road behind the trees there are a line of scrubby patches of ground that is effectively protecting the tree roots and providing a wildlife corridor.  This is slowly being taken for building. The plot above is for sale with planning permission for 8 houses.

The five pictures above have been taken in the last four days. Groups like the London Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Great North Wood are doing a great job in saving parts of the Great North Wood; most notably Hillcrest Wood which, as recently as two years ago, was due to be ravaged to provide space for housing development.

However, it is the constant loss of fragments like those above that, collectively, may compromise what little of the wood is left.  The decision to fell the tree in the picture below, and photographed today, can hardly be argued with . It was one of what originally was a row of more than 30 trees. As age has taken its toll, gaps in that line have started appearing.  What is not happening, is any replanting for the benefit of future generations. Losing trees from an estate may be seen  by some as good economic sense and a way of reducing costs.

Tree Bole

During the current Corona Virus lockdown, I have used my exercise allowance to visit several remnants of the wood although one or two that are run as nature reserves are currently closed.  Most of the parks in the area have always had some mature trees in them to reflect their woodland heritage. Over the last 25 years many have been quite heavily planted with trees and former green deserts are beginning to thrive as semi woodlands.  

Elder Hole Coppice

I have been interested to observe in recent summers that, on the hottest days, space in the shade of a tree has become more desirable than that in full sun. I have used these parks as connecting routes between the woodlands to minimise the amount of pavement walking. 

I was going to reproduce a map here showing the location of these green spaces, but again could not obtain permission to do so.   Therefore, I’m putting up one picture for each of the wooded areas I’ve walked in during the lockdown. Clicking on the images will link you to further relevant information.

Belair Park

Belair Park Oak

Beaulieu Heights

Beulah Heights

Biggin Wood

Biggin Wood

Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park Woodland

Dulwich Park

Dulwich Park

Dulwich Wood

Dulwich Wood

Gipsy Hill Plague Pits – aka Long Meadow

Gipsy Hill Plague Pits

Grangewood Park

Grangewood Park

Hillcrest Wood

Hillcrest Wood

Horniman Museum Gardens

Horniman Museum Gardens

Norwood Grove

Norwood Grove

Norwood Park

Norwood Park

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill

South Norwood Grounds

South Norwood Grounds

Spa Wood

Spa Wood

Stambourne Wood

Stambourne Wood

Streatham Common

Streatham Common

Sydenham Hill Wood

Sydenham Hill Wood

Sydenham Wells Park

Sydenham Wells Park Pond

Upper Norwood Recreation Ground

Upper Norwood Recreation Ground

Westow Park

Westow Park

The Corona Virus lockdown has encouraged me to explore more of what is on my doorstep. As of today the restrictions on time spent outdoors has been relaxed, so I should be able to wander a little further to the more outlying part of the Great North Wood.


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Tail Piece

A Tale of Two (or is it Three) Cities.

City of London Skyline

In the past I have written about London, usually meaning the metropolis of Greater London. Occasionally however, I am referring to the ‘City of London’ or ‘Square Mile’ as it is sometimes known. I thought it may be useful to do a quick explanation of the difference between the two, before I publish a blog about the approaches each is taking to reducing the effects of freight transport on the environment. Clicking on the images will link you to further relevant information.


I should take a moment to explain the hiatus there has been in my blogging.  In most part, this was due to a sudden major decline in my eyesight about two years ago and finding it virtually impossible to read a book or to use a computer screen.  It probably also contributed to a rather painful bicycle accident which I have written about. Thanks to the fantastic team at the Moorfields eye clinic, after several visits I may not have 20/20 vision, but what I do have is not far short of that, although there are some on-going problems to be addressed when life returns to normal. It’s like being able to see properly for the first time again, an experience I had as a young child receiving my first prescription glasses. A family member reminded me of how euphoric I had been at that time.

Nasa Satelite Image of London UK

Greater London, or London, is the larger area and for those who like statistics, comprises 607 square miles made up of 32 Boroughs and the ‘City of London’.  It has approximately 8 ½ million people living within its boundaries.  London-wide administrative matters are dealt with by the Greater London Assembly currently under the stewardship of Mayor Sadiq Khan. Both are based in City Hall which is the building, shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet, in the picture below.

City Hall and Shard London UK

Also known as the ‘Square Mile’, the ‘City of London’ is based on the area settled by the Romans a couple of millennia ago on the northern bank of the River Thames. 

Roman Londinium

Being Romans, the settlement included an amphitheatre in which gladiators would strut their stuff for the entertainment of the masses. 

Roman Amphitheatre London

The remains of the amphitheatre were discovered beneath the yard of Guildhall during the course of an archaeological dig in 1988.

Guildhall London

These are now incorporated into the Guildhall Art Gallery and, in normal times, are open to the public (admission free!!!).

Cheesegrater and Walkie Talkie

The City of London is the main financial district and includes many landmark buildings such a as Tower 42, the ‘Cheese-grater’, and ‘Walkie-talkie’; as well as older ones such as the Bank of England and Royal Exchange below.

Bank of England

A further satellite financial district has developed at Canary Wharf, below, which transformed from redundant docks to a mass of high-rise towers.

Canary Wharf and RN College

The City of London has its own Lord Mayor, now known as ‘Lord Mayor of the City of London’ to avoid confusion with the ‘Mayor of London’. The Lord Mayor is head of the City of London and heads up the City of London Corporation which governs it. Elected annually, the current lord mayor isWilliam Russell.   A click on the image below will bring up a short video of his Lord Mayor’s Parade.  

Lord Mayor videolink

He is assisted by Sheriff’s who are also responsible for the running of the Old Bailey which holds trials of national significance.  The City of  London also has its own police force. Being an ancient post, appearances by the Lord Mayor are often accompanied by pomp, pageantry and regalia.

Pikemen and Musketeers

The City of London is the oldest continual municipal democracy in the world.  It was recorded in 1032 and possibly predates that. Located close to the Bank of England, the Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor. This 1837 engraving of it is by John Woods and based on a picture byHablot Knight Browne which itself drew on a study by the architect and draughtsman Robert Garland.

Mansion House london

The Lord Mayor of the City of London acts as a worldwide ambassador for financial district and the Financial Services industry.  Whilst this is not part of government, the importance of the role is recognised twice a year when, at prestigious dinners, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at one, and the Foreign Secretary at the other, make keynote speeches that usually contain policy announcements and are studied and followed world-wide. 

City of London Dragon

Dotted around the perimeter of the City of London are boundary markers, such as this one on the embankment; whilst bollard around the city also carry its red and white heraldic colours.

The House of Fools

London also has another city; the City of Westminster.  The City of Westminster is now just one of the London boroughs, but retains the titular name. It has no more status or responsibility than the other boroughs.  Within its boundaries, the City of Westminster has the Palace of Westminster home to the Houses of Parliament – the mother of parliaments; not to mention Buckingham Palace and Saint James Palace, home to the court of Saint James. 

Buckingham Palace

Westminster Abbey is where not only royal weddings and funerals take place, but artists poets and Kings are buried. It is of course, the final resting places of the Unknown Warrior. 

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior WestminsterAbbey

 A little way from the Abbey is the catholic Westminster Cathedral.

Westminster Cathedral at night

In the future I hope to do a number of blogs regarding environmental and transport issues within London, and contrast the approaches of the metropolis and the City of London. Along the way I’ll probably refer to ’Westminster’ as well, but usually as shorthand for the government, parliament and administration of the UK.  I hope that you will find this blog useful and it will help avoid confusion in the future.

London UK Skyline at Dusk

When You Get To Know One Tree; You Learn to Love the Forest.

Malus in Bloom

London National Park City.

In many respects it should be no surprise that London is the world’s first National Park City.  One of the criteria for this is to be: “A large urban area that is managed and semi-protected through both formal and informal means to enhance the natural capital of its living landscape.” 

With about eight and a half million trees that provide cover for about a fifth of the area it is, sometimes, also referred to as an urban forest. The Mayor of London even has an online map which shows where many of them are should one want to find a particular type of tree.

Like many of my blog posts, if clicked-on many of the pictures are links to further information.

View from Tower St Peters Brockley2

These views from the tower of St Peter’s Church, Brockley, show this tree cover.

View from Tower St Peters Brockley

The Great North Wood

Some of the trees in the pictures above are, or are descended from, remnants of what is now referred to as the Great North Wood.  At one time the area that arches through South London would have been totally wooded. By the time of the Norman Conquest large parts had been cleared, and by the 20th Century it had been reduced to pockets of woodland and a few coppices.


In 1992 the Friends of the Great North Wood was formed to promote interest in, and sympathetic cohesive management of the woods across the various landowners involved.  In 2017 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £700,000 to the London Wildlife Trust  to help restore and preserve what remains of the woodland. Locally, each year sees more tree whips and trees being planted, transforming green deserts into richer more varied habitats.

Yesterday I was walking in Sydenham Hill Wood, which is managed by the trust, when for a few minutes the sun came out and brightened up an otherwise dull December afternoon.

Sydenham Hill Woods

My Favourite Tree

One of the parks I regularly cycle through has many fine trees in it including a remnant of the Great North Wood. My favourite tree in the whole park is a rather age wearied old crab apple or, as it is known to arboriculturists, Malus sylvestris. The introductory picture at the start of this post, is of that very tree in bloom.

Crab Apple tree sign

But of all the trees in the wood, why is this Malus my favourite?  Like all crab apples, it has a ‘crabby’ rather dishevelled appearance that reminds me of what my hair, when I had it, used to look like. Most of all though is that despite its far from prepossessing appearance, when one takes time to look more closely, many great facets of it become clear.

Naked Malus in Winter

In folk tradition, crab apples are associated with fertility and linked with love and marriage. One much quoted myth is that if you throw pips of the crab apple into a fire while saying the name of your sweetheart, the pips will explode if it is true love. Use of this imagery can be seen in the etchings below.

Daniel Hopfer

These are by Daniel Hopfer 1470 – 1536, who was an armourer by trade. Sometimes also listed as a German Old Masters artist, he was one of the first artists in Europe to use this technique for print making. The oldest surviving etchings by a European are those by Albrecht Dürer produced in 1515; whilst one surviving etching by Hopfer can be dated to 1523.

The association with fertility may also reflect that the pollen of the crab apple is particularly viable. Even today, you will find examples kept as a cross pollinator in commercial orchards growing varieties of modern apple that are not self-fertile. This role is enhanced by its long flowering season which, even if not required as a cross-pollinator, will attract bees and pollinating insects to the orchard prior to the commercial fruit trees coming into blossom.

Malus Fruit 1

Illustrations of the Adam and Eve story often included a crab apple to represent the ‘tree of life’ or ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’. Until some of the Popes took exception to it, December 24th was also known in parts of Europe as ‘Adam and Eve Day’. As the Christmas tree tradition developed this was reflected by the use of apples as a decoration which developed in to the more familiar bauble. It is likely that this was also an appropriation of a pagan winter solstice tradition.

The fruit of the crab apple is small, hard and tart yet is in the DNA of every modern apple. These are mostly descended from the Asian wild apple Malus sieversii but about 20% of the genetic material will have come from the European Crab Apple Malus sylvestris.

Malus by Mattioli

Many of the wild crab apples identified as Malus Sylvestris, when tested turn out to be hybrids of the crab and cultivated species. This does however mean that the ‘pure’ specimens can be identifiedand the genetic material conserved against future need. ‘My’ malus in the park truly demonstrates the old saying; “the Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree”.  It is now a small clump of crab apples – one more and it would qualify as an orchard. Most of the fruit is taken by wildlife and the pips are presumably distributed more widely.

Die Bäume und Sträucher des Waldes

A Cradle of Life

The most incredible thing about this old crab apple is the sheer amount of life it supports. Some moth species like the Eyed Hawk Moth below favour crab apple trees as do some caterpillars

Eyed Hawk Moth

It is covered by an incredible diversity of lichens and mosses.  These are not parasites but rely on the environment of the tree for survival. In summer when they need to conserve moisture, the tree canopy provides shade. In winter when they need more light to photosynthesise, the tree sheds it leaves to let the light in.  The fact that there are smaller trees growing alongside means that the next generations of these well matched species can continue to thrive together rather than having to find new hosts.

Moss and Lichen on Malus

Whilst snuggling up to a tree results in strange looks from passing dog walkers and joggers, it gives the chance to use a magnifying lens to look closer at what’s happening on it.  This reveals that areas of it are like mini rain forests and full of life in the form of tiny creatures.  These are in their turn a source of food for small mammals and birds.  The moss and lichens have, over many decades, managed to populate almost every part of the tree from the base of the trunk to the tips of the smallest twigs.

This tree is a cradle of life that supports a range of species that is out of all proportion to its size and visual impact, and yet it is one tree in a mix of trees that together support and maintain an even wider breadth of life.

Moss and Lichen on Malus 2

What this does is demonstrate the paucity of the argument put forward by developers and other that, for every tree they cut down they will plant another, or even more. The new trees will not support for many years the kind of localised ecosystem that a mature specimen does.  In the intervening years, other reliant species may well have declined. In urban areas the benefits brought to local air quality is lost.

Crab apples can be purchased on a range of rootstock meaning that there will be one appropriate for any size of garden or patio – why not give your local wildlife a treat and find a corner for one in your garden.


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Moss and Lichen on Malus 3



The Destruction of our Chalk Streams Continues – But they could be Saved.

Beverley Brook at Wimbledon Common

Following my blog post last week about the ecocide of many of England’s chalk streams, I received some queries which I have decided to answer in the form of another post. As requested, this includes more links to further sources of information.

winter afternoon on River Chess

Can Chalk Streams really be compared to the Rain Forests?

I’ve been questioned over equating the plight of chalk streams in England with the destruction of the rain forests.  In terms of the percentage being damaged and destroyed, the chalk streams are far less likely to survive.  There is also an ethical context as voiced by Charles (now Sir Charles) Walker, Member of Parliament for Broxbourne, in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons

“It is important that I put the situation in context. As I said a moment ago, we have 85% of the world’s chalk streams and most of them are highly degraded. I find it extraordinary, given our own poor environmental record, that colleagues in this House lecture Indonesia and Brazil so freely on their responsibility to the rain forests. Of course, those two countries have a huge responsibility to the rain forests, but if we cannot save the chalk streams that are literally in our own backyard, what are we doing lecturing other countries on their environmental responsibilities? Saving the world does not start with the rest of the world. Saving the world starts right here, right now, doing our bit locally with our chalk streams—think locally, act globally.” Hansard Vol.663 col 1168 22 July 2019. 

Dry bed of River Misbourne

There are only 200 or so chalk streams in the world, with about 85% of them in England.  About a dozen of these have had major sections dry out completely whilst many others are so depleted that normal aquatic life cannot be supported. Although it was brought out two years ago, this report from the WWF provides a well-researched easy to read overview.

Water for wildlife

The following WWF reports are slightly dated but a good introduction to the subject of chalk streams and related issues. The reference section of each are good starting points for further study.

The State of England Chalk StreamsRivers on the EdgeRiverside Tales

Is it true that Loss of Chalk Streams can result in Extinctions?

I wrote in the last post:

Removing and “saving” a few headline aquatic species, whilst of value, does not address the full degree of devastation the drying-up of a chalk stream brings.  To describe it as ecocide does not seem extreme. It is a loss of a complete ecosystem from mammals such as water voles, through the invertebrates that support so much of river life, to the single cell organisms and bacteria that contribute to water quality.  Some of these will be adapted, perhaps uniquely, to the stream, or even the pool in which they are found.

I should have added, that in the ‘lesser’ species, unique populations have, in all probability, been lost.

The last puddle in the Misbourne

It would be ridiculous to suggest that it did not matter if African elephants were wiped out as there were always Asian elephants – yet this appears to be the approach being taken by the UK Environment Agency and water companies.  The random catching and distribution of fish from a chalk stream hit by over abstraction is equally as damaging.  These fish should be relocated within the same river system or kept in a contained environment for later release once the river has recovered.

Trout in River Itchen at Tichborne

A paper published last year in the ‘Journal of Fish Biology’  detailed recent research that has shown that the salmon found in our chalk streams are genetically distinct from those in other UK rivers. It costs money to read on-line but, for those with the interest, the PhD thesis of one of the papers authors is available here: “Population Level Variation of Atlantic Salmon in the Chalk Streams of Southern England and Neighbouring Regions”.

It has been recognised since the 19th Century that there are about 20 distinct populations of brown trout in this country.  If a full study of the DNA of the UK trout stock is completed, is considered likely that genetic populations unique to chalk or hardwater streams will be identified.  In recent times most concern about this has been around the affect that the escape of fertile trout, from fish farms and not naturally native to its location, would have. The report, “Genetic impacts of stocking on indigenous brown trout populations” by the Environment Agency, examines this.    

Fishing hut on River Itchen

How can the Chalk Streams be Restored to full Biodiversity?

The principle that those responsible for damaging the environment should pay for its restoration is long established. Sadly, the water companies all too often seem to evade this.  When a stream dries out repeatedly, an entire ecosystem is lost – it cannot restock itself when the water returns. 

Dry bed of River Chess July 2019

If a fish migrates up stream following the return of water, it finds no aquatic plants to provide shelter or food, or to vary the water flow. The bacteria in the stream bed that would have helped condition the stream will have gone. Whilst the stream was dry, any rain storms will have caused run-off to enter the dry watercourse. With no water flow to dilute and flush them away, the pollutants will have soaked in to the upper layers of the stream bed contaminating it.  Local insect populations dependent on the stream will have crashed – there will none flying above the water, and no lavae in it. There will be no young fish or fish of the smaller species. No invertebrates, no anything. That returning fish has nowhere to live, nowhere to breed, nothing to eat nor any heathy water to live in. The same applies to insects, amphibians and small mammals.


The bird that rely on insects for nourishment will be affected. Those that rely on these streams as a source of insects, to fatten up before migrating, will have had thin pickings this autumn.  With no larvae, in the spring the insects will not be present in sufficient quantity for some birds to reach breeding condition or to support a brood. I guess some spiders will be hit by this as well. Riding my bicycle around the chalk streams of Hertfordshire last summer it was noticeable how rarely I swallowed a fly. I reflected at the time. ‘… at least I’m not a poor old bat’.

Great Crested Grebe.jpg

So, if the water companies are to make good, as far as possible, the damage caused by over extraction and failure to seek a drought order; what should they do?

I argue that each water company should be ordered to build a series of fluvaria, each several hundred metres long. One for each section of dried up chalk river or stream in that company’s operational area, and each supplied with water from the source of that stream’s flow.  Samples of the closest surviving stream beds to the dried-up sections should be taken and used to seed new beds created in each fluvarium.

Healthy bed of River Wandle

The process for stocking with plants, fish and other creatures to start building a new ecosystem would be slightly different. Where relocated stock can clearly be identified, they can be moved to the fluvaria. Before catching and stocking from elsewhere in the same river, or river system, a trawl for data on the mix of species associated with the dried-up section will identify what that mix should be.  Fortunately, naturalists have studied these streams and kept notes over the centuries. Collectively, the angling community has a wealth of historic photos showing not only their catches, but also the wider river environment. With the right level of resource, a profile could be drawn up of what that river in good health should look like. In some species it may be possible to find features that identify from which population the pictured specimen came. As each fluvaria is stocked, all organisms going into it should be DNA tested to identify individual populations and traits within them.

Trout fishing Beddington Park

The fluvaria would then provide the base material to breed up and multiply stock to return to the associated river system. This requires each fluvaria, once established, to have an associated plant, fish, amphibian and insect etc nurseries.

Projects like this would need to last for at least a decade and would cost the water companies many millions of pounds – indeed I could see Affinity having to spend well over £50 million; much of it front loaded. This is not a bad thing as it would be a delayed spend of the money saved through not investing to meet their statutory duty in regards to maintaining a resilient and sustainable water supply. Just as those who damage the environment should pay to make good; they should also not be permitted to profit from it. When it is cheaper to pay fines rather than act responsibly, large corporations have tended to lower their standards.

Fishermans logbook

The study of historic data to establish a new standard for these water courses; may result in a higher baseline standard of water flow and maintenance than has been seen in recent times.  If it was shown that traditionally a trout fishery produced catches of fish averaging 2.5 lb each, with the occasional trophy fish of 4lb; then the amount of water in a stream and other environmental conditions to achieve this can be calculated. The DNA sampling would greatly increase the scientific knowledge and assist future conservation. The water companies would no doubt complain that for them to have funded this is unfair but, it is however, necessary for proper restoration and can count as restitution.

Consumers water bills need not be affected as this money has been saved once already and is only a fraction of what the cost will be if proper investment in future supply does not take place.

Surely some Chalk Streams have always Dried Out

Looking Across the Chilterns

Chalk streams typically start with a spring that rises from the slopes of hills that are formed predominantly of chalk.  Rain that falls on these hills percolates into the chalk where it is held and forms an aquifer that then supplies the chalk streams. These are typically wide and shallow and, due to the filtering effect of the chalk, their waters are alkaline and very clear.

Confluence River Colne and River Ver

The relationship between a chalk stream and the underground aquifer is such, that the health or state of one, reflects that of the other. Both rely on being recharged, predominantly from rainfall, and are susceptible to drought or over exploitation.

An aquifer filled with water will flow from springs, winterbournes (streams, or ‘bournes’, that only flow in winter), and into the chalk streams. As a year progresses into spring and summer, the groundwater level in the aquifer will lower and the winterbournes and most of the springs will dry up, leaving just the chalk streams with water in them.

I’ve produced the graphic below (based on one by the WWF) to illustrate this.

Aquifer diagram

The pictures below are of the South Dorset Winterborne which feeds into the Frome. The first shows it in winter with water flowing through it. The second is after it has dried up as the water level in the aquifer has dropped. 

South Winterborne in flowSouth Winterborne Dry

Historically these would disappear and reappear about the same time each year – perhaps flowing for a little longer after a wet winter, or a little late returning following a dry summer.  What this shows is that even with seasonal variation it would have been extremely rare for the aquifer not to have been fully recharged each winter. 

There are now winterbournes that do not reappear some winters, if at all – they have simply disappeared. Earlier in the year the one below, after three completely dry winters, was looking more like pasture than a bourne. This is due to the aquifers not having a chance to recover from excessive abstraction.

Ghost of a winterbourne

The current crisis is that it is not just the winterbournes, but major chalk streams that have dried up.  In my previous blog post I stated that this was due to over-abstraction of water, as illustrated in the third of the diagrams above, rather than the current drought in the South of England. 

The National Trust have a really good illustration and explanation on their website – just click on the  picture below.

Hughenden Stream in Hughenden Park

Whilst the drought has no doubt had an effect, the historic data on the state of the aquifers, water flows in streams and rainfall are all publicly available and allow long term trends to be monitored.

Brant Broughton Gauging Station

The River Levels UK website gives a snapshot of the current status of UK rivers on its homepage.

Riverlevels website home

Clicking on the ‘River Levels Map’ button brings up a map of river level monitoring stations.   Clicking on a particular monitoring station, shows current flow information for that river and, if you scroll past the advertisements on the page, trends over the previous week and year.  One needs to be aware that this only records the flow at that one point in the river’s length. So, for example, if the measuring station is below the waste water outlet from a sewage works, it will show that there is water flowing in the river; even if much of it above the outfall is totally dry. A number of chalk streams are dependent on this source of water.

UK River Levels

River Rib

National River Flow Archive

If you are interested in historic water levels in a river, these are available at the National River Flow Archive website, which also has rainfall figures.   The examples below show flows on the Chess at Rickmansworth for 2006, a year when parts of it dried up, and a wet year, 2014. Clicking the graphs will take you to the website.  A poke about will find the available data for any UK river.

Water Flows on River Chess

The site also publishes a monthly Hydrological Summary which besides rainfall and river flow, reports on groundwater levels and reservoir stocks.

Borehole at Oakhanger

Water abstraction data is less easy to find. An annual summary is available here   whilst further can downloaded from the Gov.UK website.

Gov logo

The risk is that over exploitation of a chalk aquifer will lead to the collapse of both geological and biological integrity.  Currently they are not recharging, or only partially so. In the House of Commons debate mentioned above, Charles Walker revealed:

“Affinity… reduced pumping at one pumping station on the River Beane by 90%, which was actually a very brave thing to do. Yet that part of the river has not started flowing again because the long-term damage to aquifers that have been used and abused for the past 30, 40 or 50 years is so extreme that it may take decades to recover.”

Totally dry River Beane

During the recent BBC TV series ‘The Americas with Simon Reeve’; he visited an area of California where underground aquifers have been totally exhausted and destroyed from supplying water for intensive agriculture and a rapidly growing population. As a result, the ground level has dropped by between three and ten metres. If the chalk structure within our aquifers was to dry, crumble and collapse; the resulting denser material will be severely restricted in its ability to hold water, with much running off rather than soaking in. 

Some water companies are protecting aquifers by artificially recharging them through pumping water from elsewhere into the boreholes. This is not without problem, and that which concerns me most is the bio-integrity of the aquifer itself.  The shallow layers of soil and plant growth above the chalk are an informal filter bed that rainfall passes through. If waste water from a sewage works is fed into a borehole; who knows what effect hormones, antibiotics etc. will have on any bacteria within the aquifer?  For some years now, Thames Water’s ‘North London Artificial Recharge Scheme’ has been doing this with the chalk aquifer beneath Enfield, Haringey and the Lee Valley. It is topped up with treated water to use as a back-up resource to boost supplies during droughts.

Sutton Bingham

Surely, it is more important that we have Water to Drink?

And this is why I say the water companies have failed in their duty to provide a resilient and sustainable water supply. To maximise profits, they will give assurance that they can supply water for any proposed development without making the necessary investment in supply infrastructure.

Over the last three years the situation could have been mitigated in part if the water companies had sought drought orders so that drinking water was not used to wash cars or water plants. This would, however, have highlighted the water companies, and the regulators’, failures in this area.

To be fair, some water companies are putting in infrastructure for large scale water transfers. Examples include Severn Trent’s Birmingham Resilience scheme; and Wessex Water building 24 new pumping stations and installing 200km of pipeline to create a supply grid.  Whilst these are great for regional supply, they don’t address the core issue that the wettest parts of this country are the least populated, whilst the driest have the densest population.

What we do not have in this country is any kind of National Grid for water and, given the problems of pushing water through pipes one is probably not that feasible. Water movement between areas though, still needs to addressed.

Hogsmill Sewage Works

Earlier this year I visited the Hogsmill Sewage Treatment Works. This was a really interesting afternoon and Thames Water even provided some rather nice (free) fish and chips. I had invited my partner to join me, but she wasn’t very impressed at the idea that fish and chips in the sewage works may merit being described as a ‘date’.

new water sources

One presentation focussed on finding new sources of water for the South East.  These included moving water from North to South of the UK using the canal network, and restoring the Thames and Severn Canal as part of a plan to move water from the River Severn to the River Thames.

Grand Union Canal near Watford..jpg

It seemed to come as a surprise to the water company representative when I pointed out that neither of these were new proposals. In the late 1990s, the civil engineering consultants W S Atkins proposed a scheme to transfer water using the Grand Union Canal – indeed I attended an exhibition about this proposal.  Some of the spillways, or bywashes, may have needed upgrading but most of the infrastructure is in place. Yes, some pumps would be required, but this is a relatively quick, easy and lower cost solution. The reason that canals and rivers tend to be favoured for large scale water transfer, is because it takes a lot of energy to push water through a pipe and, during that process, water tends to degrade.  A side benefit is that it puts more water into canals at times when the level is low.

Lack of water in Regents Canal

In 2001 I spent a long, but very pleasant day, walking much of the route of the Thames and Severn Canal as there was a lot of interest in restoring it.  The Cotswold Canals Trust has started the process but, as a voluntary  organisation funding a lot of the work through National Lottery grants, progress is naturally slow.  Given the relatively short distance I suspect Thames Water may still prefer to run a pipe, but restoring the canal offers numerous other benefits in the areas of biodiversity and outdoor activity.

Jubilee Bridge Thames and Severn Canal.

If these schemes had been taken on board 20 plus years ago when last proposed, they would now be operational and bringing more water into the South East.  With timely, planned investment, water companies can provide sufficient water in all parts of the country without destroying the environment. It is also up to consumers to use water more responsibly, and for waste water to be reused more effectively.

Stream in Summer.jpg

And finally

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Hogsmill River.jpg



You Don’t Miss the Water until your Well Runs Dry.

River Chess at Sarratt

At the moment there is widespread flooding in parts of the North of England and, quite rightly, the news channels are reporting this and featuring the poor people who are currently unable to live in their homes as a result.  Once the immediate relief efforts have subsided hopefully the media will focus on the abject failure of the water companies, the Environment Agency and Environment Ministers to manage the water catchments, water supply and waste water in this country – or to meet their regulatory obligations.

The North is flooding, but the South East has been experiencing a drought that is having a catastrophic effect on the natural environment, particularly on Chalk Streams, like the Chess above.

Old Sluice on River Kennet at Axford

So – what is special about chalk streams?

There’s an old saying: ‘you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry’.

For a lot of us in the UK, chalk streams are our water-wells. But they’re much more than that too. They’re part of our landscape and our natural environment – our history, culture, geography and economy as well as our ecology.” WWF-UK The State of England’s Chalk Streams 2015.

River Pool in Lewisham

Chalk streams are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. There are about 200 true chalk streams to be found anywhere in the world and most of them are in England.  The rest are in Northern France. In good health, these streams have the clearest and freshest of water; as clear as the purest crystal. Clean gravel beds appear between luxurious beds of emerald green water plants.

These are unique rivers – fragile and beautiful, they host an abundance of wildlife and are the foundation on which their own complete niche ecosystems are built.  These are the rivers of Ophelia.

Ophelia - Millais.jpg

Sadly, rather than being treated like crown jewels, many are threatened and some disappearing.  Arguably rarer than, and as equally threatened, as rain forests; they are home to genetically unique species as much at risk as orang utangs.

 In the last part of the 20th century and first two decade of the 21st Century, the chalk streams of England have had their existence threatened with some on the verge of disappearing completely.  In its 2009 report ‘Rivers on the Edge’, WWF described chalk streams as having: “…been characterised by wasteful exploitation of a diminishing resource. They are on the edge of survival.”

Despite this, only about 15% of English chalk stream (by length) have any real degree of statutory protection. Only four benefit from international protection.

Environmental Desecration

Today many of our chalk streams look like this:

Dried up bed of River Chess

But lest you think this is a one-off rare occurrence, I include the picture below of the River Chess in 2006 to illustrate that. sadly, this has happened several times this century. One of the causes of this problem on the Chess, is that historically the licences that had been issued for the extraction of water, amounted to about 135% of what the aquifer could actually support. 

River Chess Dried up at Waterside

What a photo like this doesn’t show, is the locals who were desperately trying to save stranded fish and other aquatic life as the water disappeared.

River Chess In flow at Waterside.jpg

Over the decades the amount of water being extracted from aquifers has increased to the point where they do not always return to their historic winter levels.  In dry summers, the water extracted at source from the aquifers is increased whilst more, perhaps for irrigation, is taken from the rivers themselves.   For some chalk streams like the Ver and others in the Chiltern hills, there has been chronic over abstraction for more than 50 years. The problem is now acute and potentially terminal as the health of aquifer itself is threatened (and I’m not referring here to HS2 going through Chiltern Hills aquifer and how that may affect the hydrology).

Irrigating onion crop

Chalk streams are in crisis. 

Despite flooding in the North of this country and some rain in the South, many chalk streams are still dried up completely, or in part with new perennial heads forming down stream from the original river source. Clicking on the picture below will give access to the Chalk Streams in Crisis report published in June 2019. It has the advantage of combining accuracy with being informative and easy to read.

Chalk Streams in Crisis

In mid September I was in Amersham and watched the River Misbourne die. As the last of the water began to disapear, local residents moved the remaining fish to a nearby lake. In the end, all that was left were concentrations of waterfleas becoming ever more agitated as the water heated and eventually disapeared. 

Video river Misbourne

Yes, there were tears in my eyes; I’m not sure if it was due to frustration, anger or despair. 

Dry River Misbourne

Part of the anger I felt was because this was not an isolated incident, but one of several rivers destroyed by over abstraction of water from the aquifer.

Emma Howard Boyd Mimram tweet

Environment Agency Mimram Tweet

Nigel Parker River Mimram tweetFergal Sharkey Mimram Tweet

One of the benefits of social media is that it is possible to get a wider view of the current situation; as the above and following demonstrate.

Pang Valley Flood TweetFergal Sharkey Dried up rivers

As can be seen, local Environment Agency (EA) staff put some effort into doing what they can to mitigate as far as possible the effect of a loss of a chalk stream.  The reality is though that this is usually too little too late.  They cannot compensate for the total failure of the EA at a strategic and policy level.  Indeed, these exercises appear in some cases to be little more than a photo opportunity aimed at portraying the EA as proactive and responsible.  What they actually do is illustrate the sheer magnitude of the failure of the EA to properly manage and regulate any aspect of the fresh water environment in the UK.

Fish in River Pool

Removing and “saving” a few headline aquatic species, whilst of value, does not address the full degree of devastation the drying-up of a chalk stream brings.  To describe it as ecocide does not seem extreme. It is a loss of a complete eco system from mammals such as water voles, through the invertebrates that support so much of river life, to the single cell organisms and bacteria that contribute to water quality.  Some of these will be adapted, perhaps uniquely, to the stream, or even the pool in which they are found.

Failure of Regulation

The EA has introduced a system whereby, once flow rates reduce to a certain level, some licence holders are limited in the amount of water they can extract.  Whilst agreements can be made with water companies to limit water extraction at critical times, there are however commercial water users who would be entitled to crippling compensation if their extraction licences were revoked or limited. An alternative would be to transport water to them – equally as costly. This deters the water companies from limiting them.

Chub and Dace in Hogsmill River.jpg

There has been a drought in the South East of England for the last two years. The privately-owned water companies however, have refused to declare a drought or impose measures like introducing a hosepipe ban.  Politically this could be disastrous for them. It would highlight their failures to maintain a sustainable and resilient water supply; and failures on the part of government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat to effectively regulate the industry.

La Somme à La Chaussée-Tirancourt

By contrast in France, the only other country in the world to have chalk streams and also affected by the drought, have had strict limitations on the use of water from the affected aquifers.

L’Aa à Merck-Saint-Liévin

The lunacy illustrated below is at the head of the Hogsmill.  The black pipe should be discharging groundwater but over-abstraction of water from the aquifer has reached the point that its supply has ceased. Now water is being abstracted elsewhere, and fed into the stream to keep it running to meet the licence requirements to allow further extraction from the already failing aquifer that should be feeding it. This is unlikely to be of the right chemical composition and temperature for the organisms adapted to survive in the stream.

Head of Hogsmill River

Recently the EA has blamed three years of low rainfall as the primary cause of the problem. Like the rivers concerned, this does not hold water as the records show that the drying up of some of these rivers has been a regular occurence through out the first two decades of the 21st Century.  In a tweet reproduced further up in this post, The EA also blame water useage. If they had introduced drout orders in each of the last three summers; then at least some of that water useage would have been reduced.

The water companies in the UK make profit from supplying water. The more properties they supply, the bigger the profit. The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) introduced in the year 2000 takes an holistic approach affecting all aspects of the ecology of a water body or system requiring improvements to meet certain minimum standards; including future sustainable use. 

River Cray near St Mary Cray

The UK government requires the water companies to: “…provide a secure supply of water to their customers over a 25-year period…” and “…produce a water resources management plan (WRMP) every 5 years that shows how they will achieve this”. To do this they have to take account of population growth, future housing and business development and the possible effects of climate change. (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Policy Paper https://bit.ly/2WasKYB )

River Lee in Hertfordshire

If there is not sanction on the water companies for failing to meet these regulatory requirements or for the environmental damage they have caused; then there is no incentive for them to do any thing other than continue to pump the well dry and maximise their profits.

River Wandle Morden Park


Cattle, Crashes and Collateral Damage.

sussex Cattle 10

A couple of weeks ago I decided that, despite an overcast sky, the crisp dry weather demanded that I take my off-road bike and search out some bye-ways and bridleways to explore. By lunchtime there were patches of blue sky and stray spots of sunlight appearing. All was well with the world as I set off down a steepish, but slightly lumpy, farm track.

Passing through a gateway brought me to a section of the track that was separated from a field to the right by a barbed wire fence and a bit of a ditch. Grazing in that field were some Sussex cattle which were a joy to see and immediately drew my attention.

sussex Cattle 4

Sussex cattle are not one of the more common breeds despite being versatile and found in many parts of the world.  When the Romans decided to visit Britain a couple of millennia ago, they found an ancient breed of red cattle spread throughout Southern England. These were probably the foundation of several of our native red breeds such as the North, or Ruby Red, Devon; and the old Norfolk Red beef cattle that contributed to the modern Red Poll. Along the weald that reaches from Sussex, through Surrey, to Kent they were developed into the breed we now know as the Sussex.

sussex Cattle2

They were certainly recognised as a separate breed more than 200 years ago when Samuel Howitt (1756 –1822) produced this illustration which was reproduced in the 1809 book by Rev William Bingley, “Memoirs of British Quadrupeds, Illustrative Principally of Their Habits of Life, Instincts, Sagacity, and Uses to Mankind.” Now that is what I call a book title, although the main reason for including it is an excuse to include an etching by Howitt. This one was also available in a hand-coloured version.

sussex Cattle 3

I personally find the book fascinating – if you click on the picture above it will take you to a site where you can read it on-line or download a copy.

sussex Cattle 7

The success of Sussex cattle worldwide can be seen from this etching of a bull following its importation into the USA in 1882.  In 1887 it was published in, “The Breeds of Livestock, and the Principles of Heredity”, by James Harvey Sanders; and based on a drawing by Lou Burk (1845 – 1914). A click on the cover below will take you to an on-line copy of the book and a chance to view the other etchings in it.


Sadly, the cattle that drew my attention were polled (had no horns) unlike those in the Lou Burk illustration below. I should mention that the modern pictures were taken near Petworth by Wikimedia contributor Charlesdrakew, and in the public domain. Also, the picture at the top of this piece is from the 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica and has been attributed to both a photographer F Babbage, and the animal painter and wood engraver Frank Babbage (1858 – 1916) who signed some of his work ‘F Babbage’. Some sources have these as one and the same person.

sussex Cattle 9

Admiring the cattle cost me dear, as it meant I failed to see a large rock in the bottom of the rut I was riding down. My bike and I parted company – the former going to ground whilst I became airborne. My knee made crunching contact with a sleeper being used as a straining-post; before the rest of me embraced it more fully.

This provided some interest for the cattle who ambled over and then stood there watching to see what happened next. By now I was on my back in the ditch looking up at a small patch of blue sky through which the sun was shining on me. I could see a dunnock fossicking about in the bottom of the hedge across the track, and demi-nude trees beyond: rather like this well known Thomas Bewick print.

Bewick Dunnock

Laid on my back I could hear the rather comforting rhythmic sound of the cattle cudding, and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. The words of the British Prime Minister about rather being dead in ditch than making a particular decision, came to mind. I couldn’t help reflecting that if this was to be the prelude to being dead in a ditch, then it wasn’t so bad. At this point I felt the pain and started a head to toe assessment of my condition and decided that it was unlikely that anything was actually broken.  As I clambered back on the undamaged bike the cattle wandered off.  Eight miles later I was struggling to keep my foot on the pedal as my right knee rose with each revolution of the crank. At least I was at a station from which I could catch a train home. Actually the station on this old W. H. Smith, Kingsway postcard, shut before I was born, but there are others nearby.

Crystal Palace High Level Station

Long Tails – How Idealism and a Desire for Social Justice gave birth to New Type of Bicycle.

Xtracycle Stoker

When Carl Kurz, a bike mechanic, and transport planner Michael Replogle, started the ‘Bikes Not Bombs’ (BNB) movement in 1984, they could hardly have anticipated it would have resulted in a new type of bike and accessory system.  BNB was a response to the United States giving military backing of the Contra attacks on Nicaragua. In the words of their strapline; it was to “use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change”.

Bikes not Bombs

Before going any further,  you may wish to know that if you click on them, most of the pictures in this blog have a link to further information.

Why a Longtail?

Under the auspices of BnB, in 1995 an engineering student, Ross Evans, packed his welding kit and headed to Nicaragua.  The mobility offered by a bike greatly increased a person’s chances of finding work. Evans realised that something more than a standard diamond frame bike was required if it was also to carry a tradesperson’s tools, be used by a farmer to carry goods to market, or transport a family.  In response he invented the longtail bike as a sort of cycling equivalent to the Citroen 2CV.

Ross Evans

Having returned to the USA, in 1998 Evans and his friend Kipchoge Spencer created Xtracycle. The purpose was to design, manufacture and sell a commercial version of his longtail bicycle. Six years later he also set up Worldbike, a charity, “…focused on designing innovative bicycle prototypes to advance development in poor countries.”

One of the first products from Xtracycle was the ‘Free Radical’. This was a conversion kit that could be used to convert most traditional diamond frame bikes into a longtail. In 2016 this was updated and replaced by the Xtracycle ‘Leap’ kit.

Leap Longtail Bike Kit

Open Source – Commercial Cohesion or Exploitation?

In 2008, Xtracycle attempted to create a set of standards for longtail frames. To support this, they put their own longtail frame specifications online and made it open source. By creating a ‘Longtail Standard’, they hoped to encourage accessory and luggage manufacturers to produce items that could be used regardless of which company had made the bike they were to fitted to. Sadly, whilst some bike makers followed the ‘standard’, others chose not to.  Now Xtracycles documents are only available by arrangement with them.

Xtracycle Free Radical

The first company, other than Xtracycle, to produce a bike to the longtail standard was Surly with their ‘Big Dummy’. It can have the full range of Xtracycle specification accessories bolted to it. The design allows it to carry a load of up to 180kg – live or dead stock, including humanoids.   Like so many cargo bikes, the addition of electric assist has meant that many more people have felt confident enough to give one a go.

Surly Big Dummy Longtail Bike

Surly appear to want to create and maintain a certain mad Minnesotan image.  They tend to make their frames to accommodate a degree of customisation by the user – especially larger tyres. Their reputation for this was not harmed when rumours started circulating that a beast of a longtail had been sighted on the hills and in the woods not too far from Surly’s base.

Surly Big Fat Dummy Longtail Bike
Unlike the Yeti, it turned out to be more than a myth and in 2017 the ‘Big Fat Dummy’ was released. The early bikes were supplied with 5 inch tyres like the one above but, I believe, they are now shipped with 3 inch tyres as standard.  It’s worth checking before ordering.  The strange looking bit at the very end of the frame is a combined trailer hitch and mounting point for the front forks of another bike.

Other than the one above, the only Big Fat Dummy I’ve seen in the UK was purchased as a frame and built up to the owner’s requirement by their local bike shop. The UK Surly dealerships that I have looked at on-line, offer the frame as well as built up bikes.

In 2013 Xtracycle got together with Tern Technologies to produce the Cargo Joe.  This was a mating of the Tern Joe C21 with the Xtracycle Free Radical, to spawn a folding 26-inch wheeled longtail bike.
 Tern Cargo Joe 2

The Cargo Joe was such a success that in 2016 Tern developed the Cargo Node.  It is built as folding longtail and has the Xtracycle compatible rack system

Tern Cargo Node Bicycle

High, Low, or Just Don’t Know

Two clear trends have developed in the longtail market. One, like the Surlys above, keeps a frame geometry closer to that of the original diamond frame bikes; whilst other have gone for step through frames. The latter are easier to get on and off of, especially if carrying a bulky load or some children. The pictures of the Bicicapace ‘Justlong Sport’ and ‘E-Justlong’ below illustrate the differences.

Bicicapace Justlong

With a low bar approach, the ‘Yuba ‘Spicy Curry’ and ‘Kona ‘Ute’ in the picture below, have gone for something somewhere between the two. 

Yoba and Kona Bikes

Yuba have also opted for different size wheels to achieve a lower rear platform height – something that Xtracycle have also done with their ‘Swoop’.

Xtracycle Swoop Bicycle

Low rear platforms offer a number of advantages. They have become popular with parents who may have to lift young children in and out of rear seats or have children who wish to climb in; and offer the capability to carry bulkier loads.  It also lowers the centre of gravity which can make the bike feel more stable. The drawback is that side panniers are not as deep.

The longtail I see the most around here is the Tern GSD which has electric assist and can be fitted with two batteries if required.  One is fitted with two child seats (like the Cargo Node above) is used to carry twins to a local nursery.

Tern GSD Ebike

The Tern GSD above is fitted with a front rack that takes a standard Eurocrate, and has a passenger carrying rear seat. An alternative arrangement allows for a rear shelf to be fitted that can carry Eurocrates above the panniers. I should perhaps add that it is not just children that can be transported on the rear of a Tern.

Talking to people who own and ride longtails, a consistent response is that it is more like riding a traditional bike than is the case with some other utility or cargo bikes.  This is especially the case with the newer shorter wheelbase models.

Longtail Bikes; The new 2nd car?

The Tern owners I spoke with, all told me that they were not using them in any commercial way, but that they were a family alternative to having a second car. One had also cancelled a gym membership since getting their longtail. Another was using one for school runs, including in the rain, and shopping; as a deliberate attempt to reduce car use and contribute to lowering air pollution. Even if the cost of purchasing and just maintaining a second car is discounted; they estimate that the bike will pay for itself within two years. This includes third party bike insurance, annual service, depreciation and the cost of charging the battery. An unexpected consequence is that they now plan their shopping more carefully which has resulted in more savings.

Having said that, the blue Tern GSD above can be seen couriering documents around the City of London.

Is the Longtail Bicycle still “… a vehicle for social change”?

Portal Bikes Nepal Longtail

Whether you see them as utility bikes or cargo bikes, the original concept and purpose of the longtail has stood the test of time.  It is still enhancing the life opportunities of people around the globe.

Portal Bikes Nepal Longtail 3

One example of that is Portal Bikes of Nepal. Portal is a U.S. based NGO supporting three organisations in Nepal: Portal Shelters, Portal Prefab and Portal Bikes. The first two are, following the 2015 earthquakes, providing shock-resistant shelters and buildings. Portal Bikes are providing employment through the building of the bikes. They then offer the bikes to those that have least. These are often on finance schemes, provided by Portal, that the recipient can actually afford with the repayments all going towards building more bikes.  In many cases the bike forms the basis of a business which can then be used to support a family.

Portal Bikes Longtail PTO

To make the bike even more versatile it can be fitted with a ‘power take off’, rather like an agricultural tractor. This innovation  allows for a range of attachments to be fitted – currently a corn shucker and a (grain and bean) grinder are available. Initially the latter had me thinking more along these lines.

Cycle Grinder

Clicking on the pictures above will take you to the Portal Bikes website. Should you wish to donate, click on the image below.

Portal Bikes Donate

The founders of Bikes Not Bombs with their aim to “use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change” were not thinking of industrialised prosperous western democracies.  The movement they started, however, led directly to the development of the longtail bike. As more countries are experiencing a degree of austerity, the growing levels of air pollution becomes more detrimental to human health, and the consequences of global warming are becoming more obvious; so, even in these countries, the longtail bicycle may become a vehicle for social change.

If you are interested in finding out more about Worldbike, click on either of the pictures below.


And finally

If you have enjoyed this blog please click the ‘Like’ button.  Better still, why not click on the ‘Follow’ button so that you receive an email notification when I post the next blog article

Surly Big Fat Dummy Longtail Bike 2

The river that’s been in my bones since before ever I was born

River Wey at Upwey

“For a lot of us in the UK, chalk streams are our water-wells. But they’re much more than that too. They’re part of our landscape and our natural environment – our history, culture, geography and economy as well as our ecology.” WWF-UK The State of England’s Chalk Streams 2015

I have always loved chalk streams; perhaps explained by the fact that they have quite literally been in my bones since before I was born.

Before going any further,  you may wish to know that if you click on them, most of the pictures in this blog have a link to further information.

Twenty years ago, I had a PET Scan on my head. The radioactive solution was fed into a vein in my arm, and my head was slid into the business end of the scanner. After about 20 minutes it was clear that something wasn’t going right and I was removed from the machine where the consultant was waiting to speak to me. It turns out that despite using the maximum strength of radioactivity that they were licenced to use; the scanner was not able to pick up and map any emissions from within my brain.

PET Scan of a Normal Brain

 By now it was 4.30 on Friday afternoon, but the consultant insisted that I spend two hours undergoing a series of tests. These were to determine whether there was something wrong with me; for example, having no brain or no blood supply to my head; or whether it was just that I had particularly dense bone in my skull.

Fortunately, they concluded that the latter was the case. I put this down to having grown up close to the South Dorsetshire Ridgeway, and drinking water extracted from the local chalk aquifer at the Friar Waddon and Sutton Poyntz pumping stations.  Even by hard water standards, this was hard water – furred up kettles were just a fact of life. It appears that all the calcium going into me, resulted in an abnormally dense skull.

Bincombe Bumps South Dorset Ridgeway
Growing up I had taken the beautiful crisp water that could be scooped from local springs, or that came out of the tap, for granted. Likewise, the clarity of the local chalk stream; the Dorsetshire River Wey.

The River Wey from Watery Lane Broadwey

One of my earliest memories is of rolling down the slopes of the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ field at Radipole.  This was a sloping field with numerous undulations in it. In my memory, it seems that it was always covered in buttercups. It was also incredibly noisy – full of grasshoppers and crickets, whilst the level of birdsong was something I have not heard now for several decades.

Once I had tired of throwing myself down the slopes, we would cross the lane to the bank of the River Wey. No more than 5 miles long, this was a minor chalk stream, but no less thrilling as it meandered under mature willow trees. When the water flow slowed in summer, stones would appear above the surface and could be used to cross to the other side. This toddler discovered that they were too far apart for him to use! 

Buttercup Field

The ‘Humpty Dumpty’ field is on the left in the picture above, whilst the river is just beyond the bushes in the foreground. Also, in the picture is the Norman, St Anne’s Church, built in the 12th century. Behind the church is the roofline of the 16th Century manor house. A few years later I attended a newly built junior school  just above the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ field. 

Cows by the River Wey

The view above is just a few yards further along the river before it splurges out into an area of wetland which is now the RSPB Radipole Lake Nature Reserve.

Radipole Lake Wetland Reserve

As a young child, one thing I always wanted to do was to have a ride on the miniature railway. It ran alongside the western edge of the lake. Living locally, this could happen at times when there were no queues and, sometimes, no other passengers.

Miniature Railway Radipole Lake

A few years later I was working in the hamlet of Holwell which appears in the Domesday Book (1086) as the Manor of Halegewelle or Holy Well. The autumn chores included ensuring that some of the streams that fed into the Wey were clear and running freely. The reason was not environmental, but to ensure that field drains were clear. I never did find that holy well.

The River Wey at UpweyTitbit on road toupwey

The Wey rises in the ancient hamlet, recorded in 1212 as Helewill, of Elwell.  Modern Upwey has totally subsumed it – the last reminder found in the name of Elwell Street.  Helewill is thought to have derived from haele, or healthy (safe), well. Haele has a northern European origin which is not surprising as the area was settled by Saxons in the 7th Century. The local Anglo Saxons must have been a hale and hearty bunch as archaeologists have found a burial pit nearby, containing the remains of dozens of Vikings which they had executed.

As you might expect of an area with rich lands, mild climate and plentiful supply of clean fresh water, the history of the area goes back much further in time. Archaeological records show that the earliest settlement of the area was by Mesolithic hunters in about 8000 BC. A nearby Neolithic Causeway Enclosure has also been discovered along with evidence of it having come to a sudden and violent end around 3400 BC. It is thought that it was in the Neolithic period that areas of the Ridgeway were first cleared for cultivation.

Artefacts recovered from Radipole lake show that it was used for fishing by these early inhabitants.

Bronze age round barrows on Bronkham Hill Dorset

There was plenty of activity all along the South Dorsetshire Ridgeway throughout the Bronze Age. More than 400 barrows, or burial mounds, are still clearly visible today.

Around 600 BC, one the greatest and most complex Iron Age hill forts to be found anywhere in Europe was created. Maiden Castle is thee or four miles from Upwey and to the north of the Ridgeway.

Aerial photograph of Maiden Castle 1935

It covers an area equivalent to about 50 football pitches and was thought to be the main base of a Celtic people called the Durotriges, or water-dwellers.  Time Team investigated an Iron age settlement at nearby Waddon.  

Time Team Video link

The Durotriges appear to have been more of a federation of local population groups rather than one distinct tribe. Whatever form their alliance took, they were organised enough to have a good old dust up with Vespasian and his legion when the Romans invaded Britain in AD43.

Old Roman Road on Dorsetshire Ridgeway

The Romans used the inlet where the Wey drains into the sea, and which now forms Weymouth harbour, to access Radipole lake which they used as port. Being Romans, one of the first things they did was to build a long straight road to connect it to Durnovaria; modern day Dorchester.

The road went over the Ridgeway just to the east of Upwey, connecting to it by what is now Elwell Street.

Old Roman Road and Ship Inn Upwey
Local folklore has it that in times of national crisis Vespasian, and his legendary ‘Legio secunda Augusta’ of Roman soldiers appear and march along this stretch of track at Ridgeway Hill, between Dorchester and Weymouth.  This story and the road were known to Thomas Hardy, who told it in verse form in his poem, “The Roman Road”.

Hardy The Roman Road

No one knows when the springs at Upwey became known as the ‘Wishing Well’ although the springs in the area may have been used for votive offerings as far back as the Neolithic era. The author, Hawley Smart refers to “Upwey Wishing Well” in his 1874 novel ‘Broken Bonds’. If you click on the picture below you can download a copy, or read it on line.

Broken Bonds

StatueKing George III Weymouth

Prior to that King George III visited Upwey well several times around 1770, whilst at the seaside at Weymouth.  A seat adjacent to the Wishing Well was constructed for his comfort and, it is said that, the original Ascot Gold Cup was made for him to drink the water from the well.

Wishing Well at Upwey

On the third visit he had his feet washed at the foot of the steps. Perhaps his ‘madness’ and delusional behaviour was already developing, and he got the bit about Christ washing his disciples’ feet the wrong way around.

Upwey Station post war

The fortunes of the wishing well were boosted again by the coming of the railways and the desire of better off Victorians to broaden their horizon. Broadwey station (later renamed Upwey), on Great Western Railway Abbotsbury branch line opened in 1885 and was ¾ of a mile away from the village. As it could also be used to visit a swannery at the end of the line, it became a popular with tourists. It eventually closed in 1952. Twenty years later I used to visit the station building as it then housed the trade desk and offices for a farm machinery supplier based in an attached new industrial unit.

Upwey Wishing Well halt

Upwey Wishing Well Halte opened on the Weymouth to Dorchester main line in June 1905, close to the tunnel through the Ridgeway. It was closed in 1957.  Due to the distance to the village at various times both the above had a connecting charabanc service to the wishing well.  Today the ‘Upwey Wishingwell Tearooms and Water Gardens’ remain both a popular attraction and wedding venue.

Upwey Wishing Well and Water Gardens

In the early 1970s I would, from time to time, load a tractor and trailer with hessian sacks of grain and trundle around to the watermill at Upwey.  This was grain that had been riddled out as too small to be sold. At the mill it would be put through the stones and ‘rolled’ so that it could be used as animal feed.

Upwey Mill

Although this mill was built in 1802, records show that there was an earlier one on the site. This most likely was a fulling mill, as it was operated in the late 16th Century by Edward Sprague who was a fuller by trade. In 1628, three of Edward’s sons; Ralph, Richard and William, set sail for New England aboard the “Lions Whelp” They were founding members of Charlestown in Massachusetts.


In 1896 Upwey Mill was the scene of tragedy. George Scutt, the 13 year old son of one of the mill workers, and a friend decided to explore the mill. This despite having been chased out of the mill a few days earlier, by the owner, and warned that it wasn’t a safe place for children. George and his friend climbed to the top floor, where George clambered on a barrier to peer down at the water wheel.  He overbalanced and fell. By the time the alarm was raised and the wheel stopped, the boy was dead and his body mangled.  He was laid to rest in the nearby St Laurence Church.

Church of St Laurence and Churchyard Upwey

Today, even with modern health and safety provisions, agriculture and related industries are the most dangerous to work in and, according to the Health and Safety Executive, ‘Children and young people up to the age of 18 are regularly killed and injured on farms…’  Their leaflet ‘Preventing accidents to children on farms’, can be downloaded for free.

Thomas Hardy by William Strang1893

The Dorset author Thomas Hardy wrote in a letter, that ‘Overcombe Mill’, portrayed in his novel ‘The Trumpet Major’, was part based on Upwey Mill. This connection is cited as contributing to the reasons for it being made a listed building

Upwey Mill Near Weymouth

It is described by Historic England, in the listing document as:
Corn mill. Dated IG 1802 on stone under hoist. Squared and coursed Portland stone, large flush quoins, slate roof. PLAN: a compact building in 4 floors plus attic, with overshot wheel fed from a leat immediately behind (to the W), and prominent projecting hoist clad and roofed in corrugated-iron. EXTERIOR: in 5 bays, the central bay with hauling doors. Windows are all 3-light horizontal bar wood casements to stone voussoirs with projecting key, but no sills. Bay 3 has a narrow pair of plank doors from a stone landing to a paired stone stair flight with simple iron rail containing a gate opposite the doors; above are plank hauling doors, and the deep projecting hoist housing on props. Low right is a very wide opening with segmental arch, to the wheel. The half-hipped gables each contain a Diocletian window with small-pane glazing, and, in the S end, a 12-pane sash at second-floor level. In the right return is a wide opening giving to the very large iron wheel, approx 7m diameter and approx 2.7m wide.

Upwey Mill Postcard

One thing I found interesting at that time, was that the mill had two sources of water supply – one from the River Wey and the other from a spring.  This enabled the waterwheel to operate as either overshot or, when water levels were lower, breastshot.  About 15 years after its last commercial use, the owner of the mill decided to once again harness the potential power of these water sources. In 2006 sluice-gates were restored and a turbine capable of generating 15kW of electricity per hour installed.

The Mill and House Broadwey Dorset

Downstream from Upwey is Broadwey with which it is now combined. Broadwey also had an impressive mill which, in the late 1800’s, was run by the Luckham family.  An article on the Dorset Echo website back in 2017 caught my attention. An envelope, and love letter in the form of a poem, from 140 years ago had been found in their archives. It was addressed to Richard Luckham – the miller himself.

Dorset Echo love letter

All pretty unremarkable except for one thing; Richard Luckham was the same age as I am now, but probably wealthier. If you are curious enough to want to know what words might soften the heart of a Dorset boy, click on the picture of the envelope. It will take you to the Dorset Echo website where you will be able to read it as well as see pictures of the actual letter.

As a teenager I loved cutting grass for hay on the water meadows at Nottington close to the Wey. They had not been ploughed in living memory, and the sward was full of wildflowers, herbs and vetches. The smell of that hay was always fantastic and in the middle of winter would still smell of summer. It was given as a Christmas Day treat to the cattle.  

Water Meadows Nottington

At somepoint in their history a ridge and furrow system had been created, and can still be seen  in the screen grab above from Google maps. Upwey is in the middle distance snuggled under the sunny side of the Dorsetshire Ridgeway.

Water Meadows near Puddletown

Traditionally water meadows would be deliberately flooded in spring similar to those above, a few miles away on the Piddle. This was to help the ground warm, add nutrients from the river silt and to encourage new plant growth. 

Sluice gate and weir Nottington

Overlooking both the water meadow and the adjacent weir in the river was a strange octagonal building.  It was built over what originally been a spring in a roadside field. There are record showing that certainly in the 17th Century it was being credited with various healing powers; for animals as well as people. 

Nottington Spa House

Various ramshackle buildings were constructed around the spring, but it really became popular when in 1791 King George III and his wife, the rather gloriously named Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, visited. Same water as at Upwey but a mile and a bit closer to their digs in Weymouth. It really gained a reputation as a spa and even greater reputation for its powers.  This led to demands for an appropriatly fine spa house to be built and, in 1830, the Octagonal House was built. It contained a pumproom, with warm and cold showers, and vapour baths. It was topped off with a rather grand weathervane in the form of an heraldic pelican. Sadly this has not survived and currently the house has no weathervane on it.

octagonal spa house Nottington

In the late 19th century a pumping station was built at Gould’s Hill above Upwey to abstract water directly from the aquifer that feeds the Wey.  This was to supply piped water to the Isle of Portland.   By 1914 water source was not adequate and was replaced by a new pumping station at Friar Waddon Road. To gain a sufficient ‘head’ of water to reach the top of Portland, a reservoir was constructed high on the Ridgeway.

Portland Water Works

In late November 1914 the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment were guarding the reservoir, although against what seems less clear. At the time the men were housed in tents or incomplete huts, and may not have had the best of rations.  In what appears to have been a drunken prank an attempt was made to pull down a non-commissioned officer’s tent.  When challenged by a guard, a brawl broke out and someone started shouting, “mutiny”.

Other troops picked up guns and some started firing blindly in the dark. What happened next is not clear but despite strong winds and stormy weather, local Upwey residents claimed to have heard about 100 shots.

Dorsetshire Regiment Badge

By the end of the night one soldier was dead and another seriously injured. The dead man received a military funeral with shots fired over the grave.  Five others were charged with mutiny although in the end, as far as I can determine, the only sanction was that one soldier was found guilty of manslaughter. Following the strongest of recommendations from the jury for clemency, the sentence was for six months imprisonment with hard labour.

Friar Waddon Pumping Station

In its current configuration the pumping station is powered by electricity The hatches that can be seen in the roof are for pump changes. Provided its not a windy day, a giant crane can set up and lift the borehole pumps straight in or out of the roof hatches.  Perhaps, even now, this building is pumping out water that is carrying the chalk that will be absorbed into a developing cranium.

When its time to meet the maker who knew me before ever I was, perhaps my mortal remains will be returned to the river that’s been in my bones since before ever I was born.

River Wey and Sheep Beneath Willow

Most of the pictures in this blog post are being used courtesy of a common use licence. The details of those licences can be found by following these links.

Wikimedia Commons

Old Stone Bridge over the Wey

London’s Cavalcade of Cargo Cycles, How the Post Office Delivered, and Ikea makes a Start.


What is in a name – or would a bike by any other name still smell as sweet

My last blog was about cargo cycles, focusing particularly on cargo tricycles. This is something of an update on that; before my next bike related blog which will be on cargo bicycles, trailers, multi-axle vehicles, and the next generation of power assistance beyond batteries.

I gave a guide to a couple of terms that I had used.  Between them, the illustrations below cover most types of cargo cycles available.  Clicking on them will provide a link to the original sources.

Common Cargo Bike Types

Common Cargo Bike Types 2

I guess that on the basis of the above, this picture shows a quad caddy trailer train. Actually, it dates from the early 1990’s and shows the legendary cycling advocate Kieran Byrne of Square Wheel Cycleworks in Dublin.

Irish Bicycle Trailers

Square Wheel closed a couple of years ago, but had started life as part of the ‘Dublin Resource Centre’ – a worker owned co-operative. This was how Kieran would arrive with his stock at a cycle jumble, exhibition or whatever.  Yes, this is an excuse to include a picture that appeals to me.

Never too young to travel by bike

I referred to a cargo trike that had a range of detachable front ends, including one that could have a pram fitted.  Coincidently, on Twitter, @Hackneycyclist posted these pictures taken in London in the 1920s.

Tricycle with Pram

Cargo Tricycle 1920s

A more dubious arrangement is the pram that converts to a sidecar.  In this advertisement, the picture of it as a side car doesn’t actually show it in the one-wheel configuration.

Pramcar Advert

Cyclist, organ grinder and monkey

These images brought to mind a couple of pictures I came across in Prague way back in the last century. They were in a frame that was covered in tar deposits from the cigarette smoke of generations of late-night music lovers.  In the snap I took of it, the original images are so dark as to be barely decipherable.

The beer and music were both great, although my companion couldn’t quite understand why my interest in the pictures should make a trip to the bar such a prolonged affair. Old, black and white or sepia, they were of many an ancient machine. Some were of youthful riders with their racing steeds but who were, by this time, probably mostly pounding the celestial highways.

The pictures that drew my attention, showed a barrel organ similar to the one below, but mounted on a cargo bike.  The main difference was that the top section was lower and showed the organ pipes.

Barrel Organ on Handcart

In one of the pictures the organ grinder was cranking the organ with a handle. In the other the handle had been replaced by a sprocket connected by chain to another mounted on one of the front wheels. This clearly allowed the ‘organist’ to play by pedalling about.   I’ve made a drawing of it but sadly my skills do not extend to including either an organ grinder or the monkey which, in my imagination, would be riding pillion on the rear rack.

Bicycle Barrel Organ

The tempo of the music would have been somewhat dependent on the verve of the rider – perhaps best illustrated by this video.

Bicycle Organ Video

An internet search threw up this picture of a cargo trike being used to carry and display an organ in Amsterdam. There is no suggestion that it was powered by the bike though.

Barrel Organ on Cargo Bike

135 years of Royal Mail red delivery tricycles

The Royal Mail featured in my last blog as an early adopter of the use of cargo tricycles in the UK.  135 years later they have revealed the latest iteration; a trike which they are trialling in three locations. Delightfully, after all those years, they still carry the red livery.

Royal Mail Delivery Tricycle

Parcels Post

Comparing this picture with the tweeted video below will reveal some of the progress made in that 135 years.  These look suspiciously like they from the stable of Cycles Maximus of Bath. Two of their vehicles can be seen in the picture at the start of this blog.

Royal Mail Cargo Tricycle

Obvious differences from its predecessors include a change from tadpole to delta trike, increased capacity, and a degree of weather protection for the rider.

The technology though, emphasises the jump from the 19th to 21st Centuries.  Bikes with electric assist are not necessarily that innovative anymore.  These trikes however, do not rely on charging from mains power alone. Battery life is extended by trickle charging from photo voltaic cells mounted on the roof and, like Formula 1 cars, from regenerative breaking.Royal Mail e-bike video

The e-trikes  in this video are being trialled in Stratford (East London), Cambridge and Sutton Coldfield at the moment.

I personally think the trikes look better than the new electric van which Royal Mail are about to trial.

Royal Mail electric van

London Bridge Cargo Cycle Expo and Cavalcade

To coincide with the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in the centre of London, Team London Bridge held a Cargo Bike Expo Event.

Cargo Bike Expo London

The following is taken from their press releases.

As part of the London Bridge Cycle Strategy, and in anticipation ULEZ, Team London Bridge is launching a Bikes for Business initiative to encourage the use of Cargo Bikes for deliveries in the London Bridge area, replacing motor vehicles on our streets. As Cargo Bikes are exempt from ULEZ and Congestion Charges and are proven to be as quick or quicker than a light goods vehicle in many circumstances, it makes good business sense to switch.

Subsidies of up to £600 are being offered to businesses to trial cargo bike services.

The scheme should prove popular with businesses as switching to cargo bikes reduces costs, journey times, and congestion– completing journeys 50% faster than vans in peak traffic. And switching to cargo bike deliveries now will future proof business freight services, aligning with the Mayor’s aims to deliver zero emission zones in Town Centres from 2020 and in Central London by 2025, ensuring the business is prepared, able to test suppliers and avoid any disruption come 2025.

Cargo Bike Expo London 2

When I spoke to one of the organizing team, he claimed that it was going to be the biggest collection ever of cargo bikes (types?) in one place in the UK. Wandering around, it was clear that these were everyday working vehicles; not the especially prepared for exhibition examples that might be seen elsewhere. The Christiania below, belonging to Ride Clean, was typical of many in that it was there between commercial jobs.

Cargo Bike Expo London 3

The vast majority of the cargo bikes had electric assist.  The degree to which this has allowed cargo bikes to develop, was well reflected in this articulated cargo bike produced by Cycles Maximus. This will feature in more detail in a future blog.

Cargo Bike Expo London 4

As part of the event there was a cavalcade of cargo bikes around the London Bridge area. I was able to capture part of it in the video below as it set off.

Cavalcade Video

The event was held in Guy’s Courtyard and, to coincide with the event, Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals announced they are to trial cycle deliveries of medical supplies as part of a wider “green” initiative and in response to the launch of the ULEZ.

Cargo Bike Expo London 5

Baby steps Ikea, baby steps

In the last blog I commented that Ikea do not have any cargo cycles for hire at any of its UK stores.  A few evenings later I was riding through Deptford when I came across this Zedify trike being used to make a delivery from Ikea’s Greenwich store.

Zedify Cargo Trike

A bike fit for a Crown Princess (and her old man who uses it too)

Earlier in the day I had passed this nihola Family trike outside the local pharmacist. It can sometimes be seen at London Recumbents so may be one of theirs.

Nihola Family Trike

The nihola has the less common Ackermann type steering.  This does, to some extent, compromise both what can be fitted between the front wheels, and how tight a turning circle can be achieved.

It can’t be bad though as there are more than 10,000 niholas just in Copenhagen. The Dutch Association of Cyclists claim that: ”the “nihola was the fastest and easiest to steer cargo bike of all (in its comparison tests) and provided the most pleasant ride…”.

One enthusiastic nihola owner is Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, who uses hers for the school run – even when its snowing.  I can’t afford to include the pictures here, but they can be seen by following this link .  Australians and bikes – not always the best subject to contemplate a year out from the next Olympics!  The Crown Princess is not only a regular pedaller but is promoting an anti-obesity scheme. Sadly, from an environmental perspective, she is normally followed around by a minibus carrying her security guards.

Nihola 4point0

I took the pictures above and below to show the steering arrangement; this time on a nihola 4.0 of CarryMe.org.UK

Nihola Steering Gear

Tucked away in a corner of Borough Market is ‘On Your Bike’. Rather than the traditional adverting A frame signs, they have a couple of nihola Posterbikes. The drums on the front are designed to carry adverting posters, and hinge open to allow leaflets or stock to be carried.  I guess that the missing seat makes it less likely that someone will just jump on and ride it away.

Nihola Advertising Trike

Also from nihola is the Flex, which can be used to carry wheelchairs as described last time.

Nihola Flex

Pleasant surprises

One of the pleasures I find in riding cycle routes and quietways, is discovering makes or models of cycle I haven’t seen before.  Unlike on a busy road, there is usually space to stop and find out a little more about it. A few days ago, I came across this Kangaroo Luxe just a quarter of a mile from home.

Winther Kangaroo Luxe

Riding alongside for a short chat, I discovered that it is produced by Winther, yet another Danish manufacturer. The rider told me that he had chosen this model, based on its light weight, whilst working in Holland. Non-the-less, he seemed to appreciates the electric assist on our local hills.

When not using a cargo, bike it has to be parked and secured.  Recently, having just ridden the poorly maintained pavé through Limehouse, I was glad of the excuse of photographing this Christiania as reason to dismount for a moment or two. At least it set the mood for viewing Paris Roubaix.

Christiania Cargo trike

The Italian Job – a Milanese confederacy adds chic to a french classic

Lastly, the Agnelli Milano 2CV Paris.  I think it is a thing of beauty and fun as well. Too much excess weight though for an everyday working cargo bike; even with electric assist.


Agnelli Citroën 2CV Trike 2

It was built by bike builder Luca Agnelli for the 2016 Autonomy Urban Mobility Show. It combines a classic 1920s Doniselli Duomo cargo trike with the front end of a Citroën 2CV.

Agnelli Citroën 2CV Trike 3

Within the inner wings of the 2CV front half is a cargo box for carrying goods

Doniselli Milano

Doniselli were founded more than a century ago and are still manufacturing bikes today. This is one of their current range of cargo bikes.

Doniselli Cargo Tricycle

Besides restoring antique furniture, Agnelli is known for building unique e-bikes. Many of these incorporate parts scavenged from motorcycles manufactured between the wars. His use the fuel tanks to hold the batteries have become an iconic statement piece on these bikes.  If you wish to see a gallery of his work, follow this link. A kayak as a sidecar to fit a bicycle – really?  The bikes are fantastic though.

And finally

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Agnelli Citroën 2CV Trike