Latest on the Sid: reporting on water quality – plus South West Water and Japanese Knotweed

The town council’s environment committee met up on Monday 9th October – and looked at several issues around the River.

Here’s an excerpt from the minutes under “The Environment” – and please note that these are the draft minutes, to be ratified later:

Jan Metcalf from the Sid Valley Biodiversity group … was invited to speak… They gave an overview of the River Sid … project (A summary is attached as separate document with the minutes.). Plans for the immediate future included improving river habitat. They were most concerned about Woolbrook, due to urban and rural pollution. Members acknowledged and thanked them for the concise report.

Councillor Chris Lockyear gave an update regarding his dialog with South West Water. A project manager had been appointed and a meeting was expected to be scheduled.

Councillor Kevin Walker and Rodger Wolley updated the Committee on the spread of Japanese Knotweed in the Sidmouth Area. It was pointed out that Japanese Knotweed was not something that the Town Council had the power to treat or act on as it was a landowner responsibility to liaise with the Environment Agency.

RESOLVED: to request that a letter be written to the MP, Head of County Council and District Council to request that communications/information be sent to landowners on their responsibilities to tackle Japanese Knotweed. Actions be taken by them and others to ensure that Japanese knotweed is removed and does not spread further in the river Sid.


And here’s the conclusion from the Report on the Water Quality of the River Sid:

Summary of Findings

1. Temperature

The catchment range was typically 6C – 17C but 18C have been recorded on Lincombe Stream and Burscombe Brook and 20C on Bickwell Brook in Glen Goyle. The highest readings are usually in July and August. A future consideration might be tree planting to provide shading on some river stretches to protect river life.

2. Total Dissolved Solids [TDS]

Plyford, in the upper catchment, has the lowest TDS readings not exceeding 70ppm followed by Sidbury, rarely exceeding 150ppm, in contrast, the Sid, at Sidford and School Weir are usually above 165ppm reaching 200ppm on a few occasions. It is to be expected that TDS would increase as the water travels downstream and there are more opportunities for chemicals, whether natural or man made, to dissolve in the water. Two Sid tributaries of particular concern have TDS levels considerably above the main river. . Burscombe Brook and Woobrook generally range from 200 ppm to 250ppm. Both only dip below 200ppm during times of heavy rainfall. The highest recorded TDS on Burscombe was 288ppm and on Woolbrook 270ppm.

3. Turbidity

The clarity of our fast flowing river water is an attractive feature of the river and of benefit to river life. However, after rainfall, soil is easily lost from both eroded riverbanks and our steep hillsides. Land management is important, as are hydrological interventions to slow the rate of erosion. These could also benefit biodiversity.

4. Phosphates

Generally, phosphate readings in the catchment are low but the Snod has some high readings and the Woolbrook and Burscombe Brook readings are often unacceptably high. Woolbrook readings have exceeded 500ppb occasionally and Burscombe Brook readings reach 500ppb. These streams also have high TDS and the two could be related.

[Details of monitoring sites are posted on our website.

What’s next

Continue with our monthly monitoring programme which may reflect changes related to global warming and will give us data to justify interventions to improve water quality and river habitat. This might include bank restoration to reduce soil run off and provide additional river edge vegetation habitat and planting to provide shade especially in streams where water temperature might be detrimental to river organisms.

Volunteers have recently trained to carry out River Fly Surveys. This is a nationwide programme which involves kick sampling a river bed in a defined locality to discover the presence and abundance of eight indicator species, mainly the laval forms of flies, from these data a score is given. Performed in one locality regularly over time, it allows us to note any changes to this river fauna. This will be a useful addition to our data set.

A closer investigation of Woolbrook and Burscombe Brook has begun. Electrofishing surveys conducted in 2014 and 2023 found there were no fish in the Lower Woolbrook.

As a result of our observations, the urgent necessity for remediation to temper rapid run off has become clear. To this end we now have a catchment advisor, Simon Browning, who works for the rivers Trust. He has identified 125 hot spots, both urban and rural, where run off is especially intense and interventions might result in water being held for longer on the land meaning a reduction in its erosive power and greater drought resilience.

in terms of our monitoring, in future years it might be possible to extend the range of tests available to Citizen Scientists and to work more closely with the professionals. CaSTCo [Catchment systems Thinking Cooperative] is a national pilot project funded by Ofwat to trial the potential to give citizen scientists more robust training endorsing the reliability of their results so enabling a closer working relationship with professionals such as EA officers.

We have made contact with our new EA officer Chris Angell hope to develop a good working relationship with him.

A huge debt of gratitude is owed to our team of water monitors, listed in Appendix 2. Their data is the basis for this report and continues to contribute to our understanding, protection and improvement of the catchment.

Thanks to the West Country Rivers Trust who organise and run the Citizen Science Investigation programme across SW England, the East Devon Catchment Partnership [EDCP] who support catchment projects in East Devon, advise and bring stakeholders together and East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [ED AONB] who support initiatives to improve our environment and provide information about the area and networking opportunities.

Report on the water quality of the River Sid, its tributaries and Bickwell Brook

Report On The Water Quality Of The River Sid, Its Tributaries And Bickwell Brook. – Sid Valley Biodiversity Group

Photo of the River Sid by Mary Walden-Till