River Ouse by Alex Cossey

More protection announced for the River Ouse

A new Great Ouse Rivers Trust has been launched to protect and enhance this vital waterway in the east of England

The Great Ouse Rivers Trust has joined the UK and Ireland-wide Rivers Trust movement to advocate for healthy rivers at the heart of communities.

The fifth longest river in the UK, the Great Ouse flows 160 miles through Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Norfolk before draining into the North Sea. The river and its tributaries reach a catchment of 8,500 km2.

Mainly a rural catchment, it is also one of the fastest growing areas in the country, with most of the 1.7 million people living in the large population centres of Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Bedford and King’s Lynn, and smaller market towns such as St Neots, St Ives, and Ely – all of which sit alongside the Great Ouse or one of its rivers.

The new Trust aims to protect its water quality and wildlife, as well as identifying safe areas for wild swimming, canoeing and paddle boarding, and conserving its rare chalk streams.

Lifeblood of our communities

In 2022, a House of Commons Committee report on the state of UK rivers concluded that no river in England was free from chemical contamination. Only 14% of UK rivers had a “good” ecological status. Pollution from waste water, agriculture, and rural land management all contributed to the failure to achieve good ecological status.

Phil Rothwell, Chair of the Great Ouse Rivers Trust, said: “We are the only organisation with the objective to focus on the entire river, from source to sea, at this crucial and critical time for the UK’s rivers. Rivers are vitally important for biodiversity, as fish passages. They’re also invaluable as our climate becomes more unpredictable, as natural flood passages. As well as these fundamental environmental issues, rivers bring a host of benefits for outdoor activities. They offer respite and joy as places to enjoy nature, and as a leisure destination for swimmers, anglers, boaters, and paddlers.”

Much needed protection

The Great Ouse Rivers Trust aims to lead on core projects that include river restoration, improving water quality, and natural flood defences, as well as improving fish and wildlife habitat.

The Trust will also identify nature-based solutions to flood management, such as tree-planting and wetland restoration for carbon capture to mitigate climate change. Other priorities include ensuring key biodiversity measures, such as Local Nature Recovery Strategies, benefit the Great Ouse catchment.

The charity hopes to secure funding to deliver innovative projects to improve river health to benefit recreation, local business, and tourism. It also aims to educate and engage people, including schools, youth groups and local communities.

The new Trust is backed by the British naturalist, explorer, presenter and writer Steve Backshall MBE.

Steve Backshall said: “Water is our planet’s lifeblood and we all have a role to play in protecting it. The Great Ouse Rivers Trust launch is a vital step towards safeguarding the health and biodiversity of this precious ecosystem for generations to come.”

Phil Rothwell added: “Our ambition is to be a powerful voice for the river, its communities, river users and wildlife.”

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.