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L-R: Glen, Keith, Emma, Libby,Jenny, Louise, Tom, John, David

Turning a frown into a smile amongst ordinary people working to improve their environment

Today started badly there is no doubt about that. The US became even more of a theme park than usual and an Orange Man who hates almost everyone but himself had become President.

Yet haven’t most of us known for some time that 21st Century Western Civilization is broken. It’s a machine designed to make us consume, because consumption is the dynamo that drives the growth economy which allows our societies to build more houses and shops and roads and hospitals and schools so we can live long and healthy lives….er… consuming.

For me Brexit and Trump are warnings of collapse, but instead of marshalling the best in us to build a better world, they are symptoms of the fear that people have for their future when power is taken away from them, away from the idea that Governments are elected to represent them but instead give power to globalised entities in the name of wealth generation and growth.

Wealth generation and growth is a process, not an end point. The end point should be global well-being.

My antidote to all this was a day on the Rye Brook , a small tributary of the River Mole which itself is a tributary of the River Thames, rising in West Sussex near Horsham and flowing 80km north-west through Surrey to join the Thames at East Molesey near Hampton Court. I was here with 9 volunteers who had given up their day to help improve the morphology and habitat of the Rye as it confluences with the Mole in River Lane Meadows, Leatherhead. The Rye is classed as a Heavily Modified Water Body  in the parlance of the EU Water Framework Directive due to its modification for flood relief, so it will never achieve Good Ecological Status. However we can mitigate the effects of the structures and impoundments along its course by improving habitat. This is the aim of the project we are now running called Rye To Good, with the target being Good Ecological Potential.

I have been working on the Rye since 2010 when I produced a Hedgerow Management Plan for Ashtead Rye Meadows. Today, I manage projects like Rye to Good as part of Surrey Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscape vision, and particularily our Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) work hosting the River Mole Catchment Partnership (RMCP) and Wey landsacpe Partnership (WLP). The Rye Brook is lucky enough to have an army of interested residents and forward-thinking landowners who readily get involved to improve the condition of their local watercourse.

Today everyone looked a bit fazed. We had hoped to break a couple of weirs at the mouth of the Rye to improve the passage of fish into the brook, but after a full night of rain the brook was too high to work with the equipment to cut through concrete weirs. However we set to work on the other goals- installing two deflectors to encourage a straightened section of channel to meander; building a berm to create a low flow channel which would continue to move silt even in lower flows; and day-lighting the brook from years of neglect allowing blackthorn to block out any light into the channel.

With myself and colleagues Glen and Emma today were John, Keith, Libby, Tom, Louise, David and Jenny.Volunteers were from the Surrey Wildlife Trust RiverSearch Citizen Science Project and Surrey County Council’s Lower Mole Countryside Project.

Today has reminded me that real political power lies in the connections we have with each other. Keeping an open mind and heart and solving communal problems as citizens- not as consumption-orientated individuals has to be the way to a brighter future.

Stay positive.



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