In this land of large fields and monster blocks of plantation woodland, it is the rivers that provide the all-important linkage across wider spatial scales. These are lowland rivers, more often than not a steadily flowing meander that shifts its liquid bulk across the broad, barely perceptible valley floor. At various places along their length these rivers are controlled, forced into channels that meet our needs: the neat, concrete-sided river that flows through town; the high banked channel into which the drains feed to keep the low lying land dry.
If you could see a natural river from above over a period of many decades you would see a river that is alive, its course shifting over time as it throws out new meanders, splits into multiple channels and reforms. These shifting courses underline the power of the river, brought about by the volume of water that is carried ever seawards.
My local river forms part of my own natural rhythms. It is my guide as I walk to work; it is my companion when I seek somewhere quiet to pause. In summer it is clear, the green of countless waterweeds gently moving in the current, but come winter it turns dark and brooding. The river annotates the seasons, catching the blossom of spring and the spent leaves of autumn. At times it is tranquil, its surface a flat reflection of bright skies and white clouds. On other occasions it is fierce, the rush of water over the weir gates into the plunge pool below, whose depth you can only guess at.
It is the wildlife that brings the river to life, the other creatures with which I share its watery environs. An egret hunting in one of the shallow feeds that drain into the main river; the electric blue of a Kingfisher as it rushes upstream piping alarm, and the rare glimpse of an Otter as it slips silently into the water in the shade of the far bank. These creatures make use of the river along its length, a pattern repeated on other rivers in other places. It is a corridor that connects many different habitats, providing linkages that would not otherwise exist.
There is a flip-side to this connectivity, however, in that damage done in one place may be felt elsewhere along the river’s length. The plastic bag carelessly discarded here may choke a creature many miles downstream. Sample a river upstream of a town and compare this with what you sample downstream of that same town and you’ll gain true measure of our impact. The river is not about the here and now; it is connected and we must understand that if we are to care for it properly.