After the deluge, a dead river springs back to life

A A A

A small jewel-like river that had partially died because of drought and years of over-abstraction of water has been brought back to life by the autumn rains.

A small jewel-like river that had partially died because of drought and years of over-abstraction of water has been brought back to life by the autumn rains.

The river Misbourne in Buckinghamshire, which flows for 17 miles through the wooded hills of the Chilterns, had almost disappeared. It had been dry for more than five years on several stretches, and grass grew over its gravelly bed.

But the record downpours of late last year have recharged the aquifer, or water-bearing layer of rock, that feeds it to such an extent that it is now flowing strongly along its entire length, to the delight of the local people.

The Misbourne is a chalk stream, a type of small river typical of parts of southern England. Chalk streams are very lovely, very rich in wildlife - and very vulnerable.

Rather than being fed by rainwater running off the land, they are fed by water stored in and filtered by the porous chalk underneath them, which means they have a steady flow and temperature and a low acidity, and are crystal clear. As a result they support teeming insect life, plentiful fish populations, a profusion of aquatic wild flowers, colourful birds such as grey wagtails and kingfishers, and scarce animals such as water voles and otters.

But because the chalk is porous, if the water level in the aquifer drops they can run dry, especially if water companies, extremely keen to acquire water of such purity, take too much out in their boreholes.

This happened with the Misbourne, as it has with several of southern England's chalk streams over the past decade, such as the Darenth in Kent. In 1997 the Misbourne was virtually dry, with only a short stretch flowing at Denham, near where it joins the Colne, a tributary of the Thames.

However, a £3m restoration scheme set up by the Environment Agency with Thames Water and Three Valleys Water, the two companies that had been doing the abstracting, helped the river recover by piping in water for consumers from outside the area. But even early last month there were significant stretches in the picturesque Chiltern villages of Great Missenden and Chalfont St Giles that remained dry.

But the autumn rainfall, the heaviest since records began in Britain, eventually had its effect, and later last month the stream began a steady flow throughout its length. Not only that; it is now flowing from half a mile above what is normally regarded as its source, Mobwell pond north of Great Missenden; something local people say has not happened for 80 years.

"It's such a pleasure to see it flowing again," said Sarah Bentley, 28, who runs the Chiltern chalk streams project, set up by the management of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to champion the rivers that run through the chalk hills. "The week after it started again I went to the section that flows by the car park in Great Missenden, and people who had been shopping were coming over and peering in, saying, 'Oh, fantastic!' and 'Isn't it marvellous?' Everyone is delighted."

Some of Britain's chalk streams are world famous as trout fisheries. But, Ms Bentley said, chalk streams also represent an internationally valuable and rare habitat, which in Europe only occurs in southern England and northern France. "They're one of the most beautiful parts of the English landscape and superb for wildlife," she said. "They have a magical quality, partly because the water is so clear. They tend to be quite narrow and fast-flowing, so they are your traditional babbling brooks."

Her project, which is a partnership of 15 organisations including water companies, local councils and the Environment Agency, is intended to champion a group of smaller rivers. They include the Ver (at St Albans), the Gade, the Bulbourne, the Chess, the Wye (as in High Wycombe), the Hughenden stream and the Hamble brook. Several have run dry in the past, and the project aims to give them long-term protection.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living