nr s brewham 1 orig

The River Brue three miles below its source

patrick s map after 1 orig
patrick s map before 1 orig

The River Brue and the River Axe, before and after 2,000 years of human intervention (maps taken from Patrick Whiefield, The Living Landscape).


Website article, July 2019

The River Brue has been much misused and abused over the centuries. As it says in the book The River (1), it was first a river – and a substantial one; then a canal – tamed and re-arranged so as to serve economic priorities as a transport system; and most recently a drain – a means merely to remove excess water so that the land around it can be used for intensive agriculture.

The results of this mistreatment are that our local river has first been re-directed and mis-shapen, and then polluted and rendered unwholesome. It no longer flows along its natural route, having been cut off from its original outflow near Brean Down. It no longer retains its natural shape; instead of the curves and meanders with which it was once blessed, large sections are now straightened and disfigured.

Only the headwaters of the river, the few miles above the flood retention dam before it reaches Bruton, bear much resemblance to its original state. For most of its length, largely as a result of agricultural run-off, its biological condition is classified by the Environment Agency as no better than ‘moderate’, and ‘poor’ in its lower reaches (2). In addition both its original outflow to the sea at Uphill and its present outflow at Highbridge are both excessively clogged up with silt.

The River Brue needs wholesale rehabilitation. In the absence of any serious effort to do so by government or any official body, this project has been established to begin the necessary process. This is being done with the understanding that our river is not different from or separate from the rest of the natural world; rather that it could be taken as an allegory for the whole.

In particular, as an integral part of the Somerset wetland, the River Brue has supposedly been protected since 1971 by the international Ramsar Convention. Signatories to the Convention committed themselves to land use policies that would promote “the ‘wise use’ of wetlands throughout their territory”(3). Since then this has been, and remains, the UK government’s position in terms of international law.

However, the policies and actions of successive governments since the 1970s have sadly failed to reach the necessary level of care for our environment. The River Brue Rehabilitation Board has been set up as a citizens’ initiative to press for, and if possible to initiate, effective action.

​1. Bruce Garrard, The River, Unique Publications (2018 revision), pp 57-59.
2. The River, pp 236-237. The condition of rivers has been monitored by the Environment Agency in line with the European Union Water Framework Directive.
3. The River, p 224. ‘Wise use’ is defined as “their sustainable utilisation for the benefit of mankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem”. ‘Sustainable utilisation’ in turn is defined as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.