For the first time ever, I heard the EA admit that they would, “in an ideal world”, like to dredge the river and backwaters. That may sound good, but in reality, the ideal world would need a money tree. But the only trees we have are the ones which have fallen into, or overhang the backwaters.
We met with a group of Sunbury river dwellers whose gardens border the ‘anabranch’ of the Thames on this reach. To you and me, that means the backwater which flows (if you can call it that) around the back of Rivermead Island and rejoins the main river at Monksbridge. This used to be the setting for the regatta. Punts, canoes and dinghies would meander down it, taking in the sights of kingfishers and coots going about their business. It was a ‘Wind in the Willows’ paradise.
But no more! If you have visited Monksbridge during the Open Gardens weekend, you may well have had a look over the bridge at the bottom of the garden to what is now a swamp see photo). It has not been dredged for 25 years and there seems no hurry to do anything about it any time soon. The EA is strapped for cash. They will pay for a survey (which even they expect to confirm that the dredging of this anabranch will not alleviate any flood risk) but they will not find money to pay for the dredging work itself. That will be left up to the property owners and if they are lucky local and county council may be able to help. It is a sad state of affairs. We are unlikely to see the paradise of the backwater returned, any time soon.
If you see work on the anabranch it is likely to be the clearance of floating pennywort. You may have noticed this mass of green floating vegetation and wondered what it was. This rigorous invasive, non native species is a pest. Banned from sale in 2014, it is the remnants of ornamental ponds which has gone mad and is clogging our waterways. It causes a range of problems including depriving the water of oxygen and thereby threatening fish and invertebrates. It is also a health and safety issue as it may appear to be solid. Both my dogs have ended up in the river as a result.
Thankfully they were unscathed, but the possibilities of either pets or a child drowning doesn’t bear thinking about. Pennywort has become a particular problem over the past year. It will be pulled out, piled up and left to rot down. This is not any solution to the water flow and the only option if the waterway is not dredged is to let it silt over completely and fill it in. That would be a tragedy. But the funding issue comes back to the same dilemma of priorities in this country, where the government never seems to have enough money to go around.