Community River Watch – Rother

Do you want to know how healthy our rivers and waterways are? Do you wild swim, paddleboard, kayak, fish, have a boat or join other freshwater activities in the Rother catchment? 

Strandliners is delighted to announce the launch of a new community river watch project in the Eastern Rother, with a Making It Happen grant from Rother Voluntary Action. We can all can be part of a community looking after the health of our rivers. 

Join in wildlife walks along our local waterways, and try wildlife surveys. Will we see kingfishers, water voles or dragonflies? We will undertake simple citizen science surveys to monitor water quality. All training will be given for the water analysis which will contribute to a picture of river health across the Rivers Brede, Tillingham and Rother. There will be something for everyone.

Watch out for an event near you, starting in August. These events will be approximately weekly until the end of October. Please email Strandliners if you are interested in taking part, telling us the area you are based, to find out how you can be involved.

Why do we need to look after our waterways?

The State of Our Rivers Report 2024, issued by The Rivers Trust at the end of February, revealed that none of England’s river stretches are in good or high overall health.

Healthy rivers are essential for flourishing ecosystems that support biodiversity, but we need them, too.
~ They feed our reservoirs and provide much of our drinking water.
~ They provide a habitat for plants and wildlife.
~ They help us weather the effects of climate change.
~ They provide vital nursery grounds for juvenile fish.
~ They are good at filtering pollutants such as suspended sediment and bacteria.
~ They give us access to blue and green spaces to support our wellbeing.
~ They inspire our creativity, and have long featured in our arts and culture.
~They give us space to exercise and unwind.

Our rivers are under a great deal of pressure, and the threats they face are varied. Pressures include:
Habitat decline – over the years we have straightened wiggly rivers, changed their direction, dredged shallow stretches, and built barriers.
Water quantity – we use too much water. Almost half of our rivers and groundwaters are over-abstracted (too much water is taken from them). Climate change is diminishing our supplies and around 20% of our supply is lost to leaks. If nothing changes, we could be just a decade away from demand exceeding supply.
Water quality – we are washing our problems into them, impacting water quality, jeopardising wildlife and increasing the cost of cleaning up our water supply. Problems include nutrients (from farming and the water industry), chemicals (from many sources), urban run-off (from roads and other impermeable surfaces), and sediment (from soil erosion or decomposition).

All these problems can be made worse by poor regulation and enforcement, poor land management, reduced water quality monitoring and climate change.

Royal Military Canal (Image: Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership)

About the Rother catchment

The Rother catchment drains almost 1,000 square kilometres of land in East Sussex and Kent. The catchment has a unique collection of river systems and man-made canals and includes the network of ditches, streams and sewers of the Romney Marsh and the 28 mile Royal Military Canal (built in the early 1800s as a defence against a Napoleon invasion).

The Rother rises near Rotherfield in East Sussex and flows for 35 miles through
East Sussex and Kent. Along its course, it is joined by the Rivers Limden and Dudwell at Etchingham, the River Darwell to the north of Robertsbridge, and the Brede and Tillingham which join it at Rye before it reaches the sea at Rye Harbour. For the final 14 miles the river bed is below the high tide level, and the Scots Float sluice is used to control water levels. The sluice prevents salt water entering the river system at high tides, and retains water in the river during the summer months to ensure the health of the surrounding marsh habitat. Below the sluice, the river is tidal for 3.7 miles.

Romney Marsh, including Dungeness, is the largest coastal wetland habitat and is one of the most important wildlife sites in the world. The area is home to species found hardly anywhere else in the UK and is a crossroads for migrating birds. The area incorporates one of the largest vegetated shingle landscapes in the world, supporting a rich and diverse wildlife and a wide and unique variety of plants, insects and spiders. It is designated a National Nature Reserve (NNR), Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye are also designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (Image: Rye Harbour Nature Reserve)