River Catchments

Oxfordshire’s landscape is defined by its river network, including eight major rivers (Leach, Windrush, Evenlode, Glyme, Cherwell, Oxon Ray, Ock, and Thame) and many smaller tributaries that flow through the county and into the Thames. Rivers and streams in semi-natural landscapes are typically associated with complexes of wetland habitats including floodplain wetlands, fens, wet grassland, oxbow lakes, permanent and temporary ponds and wet woodland.

Along the roughly 73km of River Thames within Oxfordshire the river drops in elevation by around 30 metres over 26 Locks and their associated weirs. Weirs and locks can act as barriers to fish, eels and other species, preventing free movement up and downstream. This river network has been a major determinant of settlement and land use since long before Oxfordshire was created as a county, and continues to be a major influence on both current and future development

Through pilots the Environment Agency found that improvements to water quality was most effectively delivered by a local partnership, and that a river catchment was a good ecological unit to use. Each catchment has a host organisation whose role is to bring together partners, identify work, find funding and to deliver wildlife and water benefits to that catchment.

River Catchments are geographic areas defined naturally by surface water hydrology. There are six sub-catchments in Oxfordshire the Thame, Ock, Windrush, Evenlode, Cherwell, Ray and South Chilterns. For more information on individual catchments see Catchment Partnership pages.

The objectives for the Catchment Based Approach are:

  • To deliver positive and sustained outcomes for the water environment by promoting a better understanding of the environment at a local level; and
  • To encourage local collaboration and more transparent decision-making when both planning and delivering activities to improve the water environment.

Adopting the approach will promote the development of more appropriate River Basin Management Plans but will also provide a platform for engagement, discussion and decisions of much wider benefits including tackling diffuse agricultural and urban pollution, and widespread, historical alterations to the natural form of channels.

RESOURCES: ‘Improving Water Quality’ Guidance for Local Authorities