Pollution continues on the River Cut, a river in crisis

February 13, 2022 at 2:11 pm

Only a day after the Environment Agency were working on improvements to my local River Cut, I was driving past the club water, when I saw another member fishing and decided to stop for a chat, turning the van round to park in a layby at the top of the section, where outlet pipes flow out into the river. Pulling up, I could see across to the outlet and witnessed its water turn from clear to white in seconds, spilling over the sill at the weir to cloud the water. By the time that I reached the outlet, the whole river had changed colour.

On the sill was a lone roach flapping in distress, before lying still. I had called the Environment Agency on their Incident Line 0800 807060, which was answered immediately. Once the call was finished, I took the image above, by which time the rate of flow had slowed. The EA had contacted Thames Water, to send out a technician to test the water quality, who by the time he arrived four hours later, found the river to be clear with no sign of pollution. This had been the case the week before, when a club member spotted dead fish on the sill. They had been flushed through by pollution down inside the tunnel, then washed out onto the sill to die. These were river fish, roach and gudgeon. One roach was still alive, when the EA arrived. The water quality was tested and found to be up to standard, the coloured water having washed away.

There were over two dozen dead fish, which had been in top condition before they were killed.

These fish are a mystery, as there is no known stream inlet upstream of this point, although they could have entered through the overflow grille from the Mill Pond as fry, to grow on to become healthy adults in a deeper section of the pipework, like Ninja Turtles of the fish world.

In the past this was Downmill Brook, a natural stream that flowed from Swinley Forest above the small market town of Bracknell, then known for it’s brick making. Passing to the west of the town, the stream flowed through lakes at Southill Park, a stately home, then on to power a water mill, before entering the River Cut, named in the 1820’s when it was diverted to flow directly into the Thames at Bray, rather than meandering through meadows, where it caused annual flooding westward toward the town of Twyford, finally entering the Thames twenty miles upstream of Bray.

Bracknell became industrialised after the war, with  most of the streams that made up the Cut being culverted, as the once rural land was concreted over for houses and industrial estates, the rainwater drainage running directly into these hidden streams. Here lies the problem of the beleaguered Cut, an out of sight out of mind, out of mind attitude of many residents and business owners, is that it is far easier to pour old oil, and paint for instance, down the drains, than it is to take it to the council tip, which has imposed restrictions of access, requiring proof of a Bracknell address before applying online for a time and date to attend, usually a week after applying. Much easier to chuck it down a drain, when no one is looking.

Only a day after my my photo at the head of this post, a fellow club member took this image of the outlet of yet another industrial scale spillage into the Cut. No dead fish were seen this time.

In 2017 the Environment Agency recorded 13 serious pollution events on the River Cut, one of which, traced back to a company on the Western Industrial Estate, resulted in a total fish kill downstream of the same outlet. That company was never prosecuted, but advised of environmentally suitable disposal. The oily substance from that single event four years ago, still oozes from the mud along the banks of the Cut.

Having fished the river since moving to the town twelve years ago, I have enjoyed excellent fishing for roach and chub, despite it being overgrown and full of rubbish. Before the formation of the Braybrooke Community Nature and Fishing Club and a general clean up, one of the areas renowned for it’s chub was the Shopping Trolley Swim. Older locals speak of the 60s and 70s, when the river was a dumping ground, where if you had tried to fish, the men in white coats would have soon been by your side!

What of my friend Mick, who was fishing further downstream on the day I stopped for a chat? He had been catching some quality roach, until the river changed colour, then only a few small gudgeon, before packing up.

Mick’s swim

Thanks to the dedication of the local Environment Agency officers, who wish to see the Cut continue as a viable fishery for local people, they have made regular restocking of fish a priority, but how long their persistence can continue, will be a decision of higher management considering costs over returns. Annual testing of the river has rated the general water quality as moderate, while each test for chemicals has rated it with a Fail.