For many people in Clifton Campville, the Mease is just our little river. However, it is also a source of pride that 'our little river' is of European significance. It is a SAC (pronounced 'sack') – or a Special Area of Conservation – under the European Habitats Directive. This means that the conservation protection of the River Mease in Clifton Campville is equivalent to the architectural protection given to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris!
The Mease is a key feature of the village of Clifton Campville. It meanders gently from the eastern end of the village, flowing under Stones Bridge, along the northern edge of the village, past the mill under Mill Bridge and along past Haunton until, flowing into Harlaston, it leaves the parish.
The river Mease looking upstream (east) from Mill Bridge showing the
treeless banks caused by the 'overclearing by former River Authorities
The river Mease looking upstream (east) from Mill Bridge showing the treeless banks caused by the 'overclearing by former River Authorities
The same river - but the other side
of the Mill Bridge - showing the tree-shaded pool
The same river - but the other side of the Mill Bridge - showing the tree-shaded pool
The true source of the Mease is around 12 kilometres (about 8 miles) away south of Snarestone in North-west Leicestershire. The 'alternative' source is found by following the Gilwiskaw Brook to the east of Ashby de la Zouch. This is around 13 kilometres away and the lower reaches of the brook are included in the SAC. About nine kilometres (six miles) from Clifton Campville, to the south-east of Measham, Gilwiskaw Brook joins the Mease, and the enlarged Mease is, of course, the reason for Measham's name (Mease-ham). The protected area starts at Packington and extends to the confluence of the Mease with the River Trent near Croxall Lakes, just east of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas.
The Mease is not a large river – at only around 27 kilometres long, (about 18 miles) it is quite short. It averages less than ten metres (30 feet) wide and in much of its length in Clifton, is shallow enough to wade through.
The first of the bridges as the river flows downstream is Stones Bridge on Netherseal Road (or is it Lane? - at one time the road signs said both!). Its gentle 'hump' can take unwary drivers by surprise. The bridge is the focus of many a villager out for a stroll or walking the dog.
The river flows from Stones Bridge a little over one and a half kilometres to the weir at Clifton Mill before going under the Mill Bridge on Lullington Road.
The river Mease looking west from Stones Bridge
As well as being a SAC, the Mease is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (a 'Triple S I') under the UK's Wildlife and Countryside Act (1992).
For such a short river that is quite impressive. So what is it that has earned the River Mease its European and UK status?
Well, it is a combination of the nature of the river itself – its citation states that it is a 'relatively natural lowland river in agricultural land'. This is quite unusual. Most lowland rivers run through industrial areas and hence have often had the course of the channels changed and they have become severely polluted. As it is so short, the Mease doesn't have much industry and although its water quality is officially 'poor', work is being carried out to help it recover.
In addition to the River itself, there are several species that make our river special. Two species of fish – the Bullhead and the Spined Loach are protected along with the White-Clawed Crayfish, the Otter and a plant called River Crowfoot.
Wildlife In/around the River
When thinking of wildlife in rivers, most people probably think first of fish. The Mease is a popular river with fishermen, having a good range of fish species. The Environment Agency's annual fish survey at Stone's Bridge shows that the number of fish has, however, declined in recent years. The most numerous species is the Chub. Perch and Roach are the next most common species, but Roach have fallen from more than 100 being caught in the survey in 2003 to fewer than twenty in 2011. Dace and Pike can also be found in the river. Gudgeon were plentiful in former years – almost 80 were found in the 2007 survey but none were found in 2011. This doesn't mean that there are no Gudgeon but is does show that they are not as common as they once were. Bullhead and Spined Loach are special species in the river and are covered below.
The fishing rights for the stretch of the Mease between the two bridges are let to the Burton Mutual Angling Club http://www.burtonmutual.co.uk/ , so if you fancy enjoying a spot of fishing in the river, you can contact them through the hyperlink.
There is also, of course, a good range of birds to be found around the river. Kingfishers can be seen occasionally flitting up and down – flashes of glorious iridescent blue on a sunny day are worth waiting for.
Herons enjoy fishing in the Mease and are regularly seen flying over the village, probably from the heronry at Statfold. These large birds are mainly grey with a 'crest' that flops down the back of the neck. They stand so still when fishing that they are easy to miss – until they are startled and take off in a great flap with a raucous croak.
Other more general species are seen by the river. Wood pigeon enjoy roosting in the ivy in trees along the bank. Blue and Great Tits are happy in the area as are many finches. Bullfinches have been seen further downstream and may be present around the Clifton Campville stretch of the river. Larger birds such as Rooks and Crows use neighbouring fields.
Amphibians are not generally 'river' animals and so are not found in the Mease at Clifton Campville. They tend to prefer still water. Frogs, for example prefer small shallow ponds while toads tend to go for larger areas of water such as lakes.
Damselflies and Dragonflies can brighten up the river on summer days. Of the more delicate damsels along the Clifton Campville stretch of the Mease we get the Banded Demoiselle and its lovely cousin the Beautiful Demoiselle. The female Beautiful Demoiselle is really stunning with its iridescent green body glossy transparent brown wings. Its male is a dark metallic blue. The Banded Demoiselle is identified by the large dark 'spots' on its wings that appear to create a 'band'. The larger, more robust Dragonflies found by the river include the Brown Hawker and the Common Hawker, although they need ponds for breeding
One species that we don't have – but people often remember fondly, is the Water Vole. These are 'Ratty' from Wind in the Willows. They are not rats but are endearing furry relatives of the field vole that domestic cats sometimes bring home. The Water Voles in the Mease have been lost in the last twenty years probably because of mink. These are in the area and can kill water voles. There is some hope that the return of Otters to the river could lead to a reduction in the number of mink. This in turn could allow the water vole to return – but only if the river is in good condition.
The plantlife of the river is varied along the length of the river. A survey of the river carried out by Scott Wilson in 2010 showed that the River Mease had common club-rush (Schoenoplectus lacustris), reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima), reed canary-grass (Phalaris arundinacea), branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum), greater pond-sedge (Carex riparia) and bulrush (Typha latifolia).
Submerged aquatic vegetation is more varied along the lower reaches of the river and includes river crowfoot (Ranunculus fluitans), common water-crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), blunt- leaved pondweed (Potamogeton obtusifolius), fennel pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus), arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia) and yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea). This covered the whole of the Mease SAC and it would be interesting to survey the plantlife just for the Clifton Campville stretch.
For more information on these species and for other wildlife around Clifton Campville, see the natural history section of the website.
The Special Species
The River Mease has a number of species that are rare and in need of special efforts to conserve them. These are:-
· two species of fish
· the Bullhead and
· the Spined Loach.
· the White Clawed Crayfish
· the Otter
· River Crowfoot
In the middle of the last century (the 20th Century), the Bullhead (Cottus gobio) was a common fish – found under stones by many a short-trousered schoolboy hunting sticklebacks. When fully grown it is only about 12 centimetres (five inches) long. Also known by some as 'Miller's Thumb' it is a small and wonderfully camouflaged fish.
Bullhead (Cottus gobio)
Bullhead (Cottus gobio)
It is a quite sedentary fish staying still under its chosen stone waiting for smaller fish to come within easy reach. Then the Bullhead darts out to grab its meal. To avoid becoming a meal itself, the Bullhead has two spines (one each side of its head) that deter larger fish from trying to eat it! It has been described as an ugly fish. It is a dull brown colour with darker mottling providing really effective camouflage. They breed in the spring with the eggs being attached to stones and the male keeping guard until the eggs hatch and the young swim away.
The Spined Loach (Cobitis taenia) is a pretty fish at about 10 centimetres (4 inches) long. It is protected in five river systems in England but the population in the Mease is isolated from other populations. As a result the Mease Spined Loach is genetically unique – there is nowhere else in the world that has a Spined Loach like ours!
Spined Loaches are sometimes known as 'Weather fish' because when the weather is about to become stormy, they tend to move from their favoured home at the bottom of the river to splash about at the top. They are slim-bodied fish, a little bit eel-like in shape. They are a pretty colour – slightly yellow/orange underneath and speckled with dark scales on their back. The 'spined' part of their name comes from spines that lie in grooves from the side of their heads. They are related to the Stone Loach and both species have six barbels (short spine-like projections) around their mouths. These are used for sensing their surroundings and helping to catch prey as they feed in the sandy bottom of the river
Spined Loach (Cobitis taenia)
Spined Loach (Cobitis taenia)
A few years ago, the idea that Otters (Lutra lutra) could be found around Clifton Campville would have been ridiculed – and yet signs of otters have been found on the Mease in this area. Indeed, a short while ago one was spotted making its way downstream at Stones Bridge.
With their wonderfully cute faces and thick fur, Otters are one of Britain's favourite species. As semi-aquatic mammals, Otters have large territories – a male may have a territory up to 60 kilometres (40 miles) long, although around 17 kilometres (11 miles) is more usual. So a male using the Mease through Clifton, may extend his territory out into the Trent or Tame at Croxall.
Males can grow up to 95 centimetres (37 inches) PLUS their tail which can be up to 45 centimetres (18 inches) long. Females are shorter. Otters' favourite food is fish although they will take other prey including crayfish (see below!). They are mainly nocturnal and so their presence in the area is generally known from tracks and other signs. Otter spraint (their 'droppings') is quite distinctive, smelling fishy or some say like new-mown hay. The fish bones can usually be seen.
The Otter (Lutra lutra)
The Otter (Lutra lutra)
It is, however, the White-Clawed Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) that is particularly special. It is widespread in most parts of England and is common in parts of eastern Wales. A significant part of the EU resource is found in the UK, but the species is now seriously threatened over most of its range in Britain which is why we need to do what we can to protect it in the Mease.
Looking like a mini lobster, the White-clawed Crayfish is an arthropod like crabs and woodlice. They are an olive-brown colour, with pale-coloured undersides to the claws (hence 'white-clawed'). It usually grows to only about ten centimetres (four inches) long but it can grow to 12 centimetres (5 inches) long. This nocturnal animal lives under rocks and stones in clean water – often rivers but also lakes and ponds. It is a world-wide endangered species.
Unfortunately an alien crayfish from America – the 'Signal Crayfish' – has been introduced and/or escaped in much of the UK and has caused the loss of many of the native (White-clawed) Crayfish. It has done this partly because it carries a disease that kills our crayfish but also it is bigger and more successful when breeding. As a result, the White-Clawed Crayfish has only managed to 'hold-on' in a few areas of the country – and The River Mease is one such area. Because it is so vulnerable, the protection of this species means that it is illegal to interfere with it in anyway. More information can be found at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/38055.aspx
Finally it is important to remember that plants are a vital part of any habitat. In the Mease, the River Crowfoot (Ranunculus fluitans) is especially valuable as a submerged water plant.
River Crowfoot (Ranunculus fluitans)
The Future of the Mease
As a SAC and SSSI, the River Mease benefits from special attention from Natural England and the Environment Agency which have recently launched a Restoration Plan for the River Mease because although it is 'special' at the moment, it won't be, unless it is cared for.
To enable them to identify the needs of the River, Natural England and the Environment Agency, divide it into a number of 'reaches' – and four of these fall within Clifton Campville (and Haunton). Each reach has been carefully surveyed and categorised as either 'Rehabilitate', 'Restore' or 'Conserve and enhance'.
The good news is that in Clifton Campville two of the reaches are good enough to be classified as 'conserve and enhance' but along the north of the village between the two bridges, the river is designated as being 'restore'. What does restoration mean? In summary it means trying to enable the river to get back to the way it was before the former River Authorities changed it in the 1970s and 80s.
In the past, the rivers authorities dredged rivers, cleared banks of vegetation, straightened sections of rivers and created steep banks. They generally created a 'sterile' environment. Unfortunately this was not helpful to wildlife and in some ways caused problems for people. By allowing rain water to flow quickly away from the fields and not be retained by various plants and 'backwaters', the river authorities created the conditions for floods downstream. Many of the recent flood problems in places such as Tewkesbury and Yorkshire were the result of such actions. The Mease had some work that has left it in need of help to return to its former state.
The Plans for the River Mease at Clifton Campville
The main objectives for the River Mease in Clifton Campville, as assessed by Natural England together with the Environment Agency, are
Along any river there are a few metres each side that occasionally become flooded. The ideal is for these to have a variety of vegetation – trees, shrubs, grasses and other herbaceous plants. These stretches are known as the riparian zones. The 'conserve and enhance' sections in Clifton Campville have reasonable riparian zones but some stretches in the 'restore' section would benefit from a greater variety of vegetation.
Dredging in the past created deeper water with a muddy bottom which is not what the Spined Loach, Bullhead and White-Clawed Crayfish need. They need the gravelly, stony river bed that the Mease used to have.
The most significant 'blockage' on the Mease is the weir at Clifton Campville. It causes a number of problems or potential problems. For the fish, crayfish and other animals, it prevents them from moving up and down the river. This means that they become restricted to shorter stretches of the river and are not able to take advantage of the full length of the river for breeding and living in.
At times of heavy rain, the weir causes water to 'back up', flooding the banks further upstream. This causes problems for farmers by reducing crop yields when the floods occur at the 'wrong' time of the year. It also means that the 'once in a hundred years' floods' are predicted to flood houses in the village. For these reasons, the Restoration Plan includes removing the Clifton Campville weir (along with other weirs in other areas such as Packington) to reduce these problems.
The term 'woody debris' is not one we use everyday, but it refers to all sorts of bits of trees that come downstream – everything from tree trunks to tiny twigs. They are an essential part of healthy rivers but were removed by the former River Authorities. Staffordshire Wildlife Trust produced a booklet called 'Fish Live in Trees Too' by Nick Mott, their Senior Wetlands Officer. In it he explains how fish need the quiet places and sheltered areas that are created by fallen branches and other 'woody debris'. To help the fish and invertebrates in the Mease, the Restoration Plan includes increasing the amount of 'woody debris' in the Mease.
Any work to restore the River Mease – Clifton Campville or anywhere else, is organised and funded by Natural England and/or the Environment Agency, but can only happen with the co-operation of individual landowners.
It would change the nature of the river – creating 'riffles' (shallow gravelly stretches) or making the river appear narrower as vegetation reverts to its natural state. The important thing to remember, however, is that it would be the river returning to the way it was – and arguably should be – before the old River Authorities 'attacked' it fifty years ago.
Nothing will happen soon. It all takes time but it will be interesting to watch the river become itself again.
The nice thing is that of any funding allocated to Natural England, the River Mease gets 'first call' because of its SAC status. So there is potential for Clifton Campville to benefit from taxpayers' money when any of the restoration work is carried out.
This European designation is intended to establish protection for specific habitats rather than for individual species. However it is often the presence of particular species that exist in particular habitats that result in an area being recognised as 'significant at the European level'.
Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive. Article 3 of the Habitats Directive requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in Annexes I and II of the Directive. The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level.
In the case of the Mease, there are several species that have added to the value of the habitat, but the river is being recognised as being unusual in that it is 'a relatively natural lowland river in an area of intense agriculture'.
Because of its shortness, there is relatively little industry to pollute the river. The two main causes of poor water quality are the output from sewage works and the 'run-off' of agricultural chemicals. Natural England and the Environment Agency are carrying out research to assess the extent of any pollution coming from the A42.
There are eleven sewage treatment works in the Mease catchment area, including our own in Netherseal Lane. Severn Trent are carrying out trials to further reduce the phosphate levels in the water discharged into the river.
The other key threat to the Mease is water extraction. Farmers wanting to extract water from the river can do so only with the express permission of the Environment Agency. They have strict regulations controlling when (and how much) water can be extracted.
In Clifton Campville some farmers have permission to extract water from the Mease but only when water levels are at a reasonable level. When the levels fall, the Environment Agency issues landowners with letters which temporarily remove permission to extract water.
The designation SSSI (“triple S I”) is a UK one and comes before an area can be considered for being granted European conservation status (SAC).
Natural England is the body responsible for identifying Sites of Special Scientific Interest and protecting the SSSIs in England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000). They notify landowners of their responsibilities when an area is awarded SSSI status and work with them to ensure that the areas are properly protected for future generations.
Interestingly, most people think of these as 'wildlife' protection areas and that is true – but they also apply to sites of Geological significance. For the Mease, however, it is the wildlife that has earned it its SSSI status. However it does provide clear legal protection which must be taken into account by landowners as they manage their land and by Local Authorities when considering planning applications.
The first SSSIs were identified in 1949 when the then Nature Conservancy notified local authorities of SSSIs, so their conservation interest could be taken into account during the planning process. As people have begun to realise that the health of the natural world has an impact on the health of the human world, more attention has been paid to ensuring that the 'biodiversity' – or range of species – is maintained for future generations of humans to enjoy.
Natural England produces a 'List' for each SSSI detailing operations that require their consent before landowners can carry out specific actions. The 'List' for the Mease can be seen via http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/Special/sssi/sssi_details.cfm?sssi_id=2000416 . Some people think that this means that the landowners are prevented from doing things, but in practice Natural England and the Environment Agency are keen to give the 'OK' when asked. It is really just a means of ensuring that no harm is done to this valuable River.
Although fishing is allowed, catching – or even “ Injuring, killing or removing any wild animal and damaging, disturbing or obstructing their eggs, nests and places of shelter” is not permitted for several species – including the Spined Loach and Bullhead (the reasons for the SSSI/SAC) but also minnows, three-spined sticklebacks and the Stone Loach. These are included for several reasons. Partly because of their similarity (especially their size) to the Bullhead and the Spined Loach, protecting the minnow and stickleback ensures that the Bullhead and Spined Loach aren't mistaken for minnows or sticklebacks. Also, however, the SAC is designed to protect a whole area of habitat – and that includes species that form a significant part of the food chain – such a minnows and three-spined sticklebacks. There is no point in protecting the Otter and getting it back in Clifton – if there is no food for it to eat!