6 Jul 2007

Poaching tackled in Ruscombe valley!

Now I'm not talking game or fish - or even a bit of cattle rustling in our valley. This is cattle poaching and it's been a problem. Not a big problem but a problem nevertheless.

Photo: Cattle poaching

I have to say I'd never come across it until a couple of years ago - then I helped set up the Ruscombe Brook Action Group and as blog readers will know it's been a wonderful adventure and learning process - I've learnt lots (see my blog article on 5th Jan 2007 for a summary) - and one of the things I've learnt about is cattle poaching...now the dictionary says poaching is: "To make (land) muddy or broken up by trampling."

And well cattle they like a drink and go down to the brook to have one - the trouble is that their hoofs make a mess and stir up the mud on the banks - especially when its wet - this leads to erosion of the top soil - sometimes quite severe - this soil makes it's way into the brook and has according to some of our water specialists been leading to areas where the brook gets silted up.

Photo: Fencing the brook off is part of the solution

One area this silting has occurred particularly is at the Lawns where the lake was dredged some 10 to 15 years ago and had silted so badly that it was until early this year only a few inches deep - British Waterways have removed a large part of the silt as part of their plans to improve water quality coming into the canal - this blog has much to say on all that but click on 'The Lawns' link below if you want more. Basically British Waterways have dealt with the problem but not the causes of the silting...

Cattle poaching has only one small part to play - the repeated sewage overflows have also played a part. There also appears to have been a new spring appear or maybe with the different weather an old spring has moved and now comes out half way up a bank. This led to part of a field getting very muddy indeed.

Anyhow when it was found that the cattle poaching was taking place in Ruscombe the District Councils Drainage Officer, Bob Nightingale offered some help to find possible solutions. There was talk of Defra grants and all sorts but I have to say my experience with Defra on the telephone around this topic was that they were singularly unhelpful and indeed gave what I now consider to be wrong advice.....

Photo: Creating a harder-standing but permeable area where cattle can reach the brook but not lead to soil erosion

...anyhow one option is to put in water troughs and fence off the brook. This was strongly resisted by the two landowners we had contact with, as both are organic. I understand troughs can lead to increased likelihood of diseases being passed on.

Photo: Another view of new cattle poaching solution

Other possibilities to reduce the poaching were discussed by the owner of the field near Puckshole. You will see the solution from these photos I took a couple of weeks ago just after it was put in. The brook has been fenced off to reduce large areas of soil being trampled and a harder surface has been provided where the cattle can come down to drink - this significantly reduces the mud.

Clearly no system like this will be full proof but I applaud the landowner for taking these measures at her own expense to help improve our brook. Lastly let me finish with this photo below of Dog poaching!!

Photo: Mud stirred up by an enthusiastic dog who climbed in and out of the water stirring it up: not sure if Defra will be able to help with some answers to this particular problem?

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