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Conservationist's pollution fear over River Gaywood

The Environment Agency is being urged to keep a close check on the quality of the River Gaywood, one of about only 200 chalk streams in the world.

Conservationist Russell Biggs, of Hillington, believes that the waterway is no longer the haven for fish and plants that it should be and fears pollution from agricultural run-off, including slurry, might be the cause.

Mr Biggs, who is a fan of chalk rivers, was so concerned at the brown colour of the water at the rear of dairy farmer Oakwood Farms Ltd in Gayton Road, Bawsey, that he took a sample from a ditch running into the river last Saturday. He claims that the sample’s appearance had hardly changed two days later.

Water joining River Gaywood at the rear of Oakwood Farms (41738662)
Water joining River Gaywood at the rear of Oakwood Farms (41738662)

He said: “It’s clearly not silt as even the finest silt would have settled.

“I’m really worried about the quality of water. That river used to be full of fish but I took a long walk along it from Bawsey Ruins and saw just one.”

He added: “The Kettle Mills used to lift water for drinking out of the river. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if you were to drink that now.”

The sample collected by Russell Biggs last Saturday night.(41738664)
The sample collected by Russell Biggs last Saturday night.(41738664)

Mr Biggs says he has raised concerns over run-off into the river with Oakwood Farms in the past.

Chalk rivers emerge from the chalk aquifer and are rich in minerals, supporting diverse plants. However, Mr Biggs says that the Gaywood river, which discharges into the Great Ouse, now only supports hardy reeds below the area of concern.

Norfolk Rivers Trust, which describes chalk streams as “exceptional ecosystems” which should be restored and protected to support a greater amount and diversity of wildlife, this week called upon the Environment Agency to test a sample .

The EA says its latest checks on water quality in the River Gaywood show no signs for concern.

Officers attended on August 19, the day after a report of pollution.

In a response to MP James Wild, who had highlighted Mr Biggs’ fears, the agency said: “Chemically the water quality was showing no signs of ammonia, which we would have expected if the incident had occurred from a point source solution such as a manure heap or lagoon spillage.”

It added: “The Environment Agency has made several interventions with the farming operations of Oakwood Farms. We have secured improvements to the effluent lagoon storage and advised on the land spreading operations to protect the water course.”

It vowed to investigate any further reports.

The agency says it is working with the trust, Gaywood Valley Conservation Group and King’s Lynn Internal Drainage Board to “look for ways to further improve the river”.

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