Anger as River Stour 'running dry'

MORE than a third of the River Stour is running dry because of alleged poor management by the Environment Agency, it was claimed last night.An 18-mile stretch of the river is now thought to be drying out after agency chiefs decided to keep open water gates, prompting fears of an “absolute disaster” in scenes made famous by John Constable.

MORE than a third of the River Stour is running dry because of alleged poor management by the Environment Agency, it was claimed last night.

An 18-mile stretch of the river is now thought to be drying out after agency chiefs decided to keep open water gates, prompting fears of an “absolute disaster” in scenes made famous by John Constable.

The issue was first reported by the EADT earlier this week and residents and river watchdogs are now leading widespread calls for the Environment Agency to open and close the sluice gates at regular intervals - or risk facing legal action.

Lesley Ford, of the River Stour Trust, said: “Not operating the gates could have serious implications for wildlife habitat, fishing and water levels - the effects could be absolutely devastating.

“The Environment Agency has statutory requirements to maintain water levels and navigation depth so there could be a legal issue here as well.

“It is no good claiming health and safety as it is vitally important that these gates are operated properly and there can be no excuses.”

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Following concerns in Clare and on the Sudbury common land, which was virtually allowed to run dry before a water gate was closed, problems with river levels were last night echoed in Nayland.

Resident Ray Spencer, who has lived near the River Stour for 30 years, said: “Over the last few months, there has been a definite drop in levels on the Stour.

“To the back of our property, there has been no water going over the weir at all - it has been completely dry.

“I think the current management of the river is abysmal. We weren't even able to use the river in the summer as the water levels were so terrible.”

Common land ranger Adrian Walters added: “The gates are there to alleviate the pressure of heavy rainfall or to help water levels when there are dry conditions and they need to be operated properly to control potential floods or drought.”

The 47-mile River Stour forms most of the county boundary between Suffolk and Essex and was made famous by the paintings of Constable and Thomas Gainsborough.

Environment Agency chiefs said the changes to the management of the gates was made on health and safety grounds after a worker was hurt trying to close a gate four years ago.

A spokesman said last night: “Over the next few weeks, we will look at what needs to be done in the long term.

“Each of the gated areas possibly has its own solution and we will prioritise which is the most important.

“We are aware of the concerns and we can assure people we are taking this very seriously. But we must look at the bigger picture and consider health and safety issues as well.”

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