Waterlight Screening at Reed Gardening Club

This was another first for the Waterlight Team: a showing to a gardening club. Our screening for Reed Gardening Club — near Royston in Hertfordshire on 13th March — was again in a village hall opposite the village green. These halls appear to have all been built around the same period to a similar design.

Showing Reed Village Hall - venue for the Reed Gardening Club screening of 'Waterlight'.

In his introduction, Waterlight team member Bruce Huett — a keen allotment holder — highlighted the importance of water for gardening and how we must keep up our efforts to ensure that over-abstraction is stopped by the water companies. He also emphasised the importance of using water judiciously in gardening and mentioned that Cam Valley Forum, the chalk stream preservation action group, had just issued two leaflets; one comparing high and low water users and another with tips on restricting water use around the home.

It was encouraging to hear that several members of Reed Gardening Club had already walked the footpath along the Mel, so the film brought back happy memories of the river for them but also provided interesting additional information to enhance their enjoyment on their next walk there.

Some members of the group were involved in improvement to their local chalk stream the Rib — see the River Rib Restoration Project. They were encouraged in their work by the improvement that had been made on the Mel e.g. silt removal and revetment construction, which has produced a much better flow and revealed the beautiful chalk and gravel base so loved by invertebrates. Bruce was able to talk in detail about the work carried out by the River Mel Restoration Group featured in the film, and explain some of the techniques and the purpose of different elements of the restoration, to help them with their own project.

Showing the River Rib Restoration Project plan
River Rib Restoration Project plan: a project to enhance 2km of the River Rib for wildlife and people

It was interesting to hear that the river, and the moats and pools in the village, are located on the same hard chalk bed that stretches from the Chilterns and forms the base of the Mel.

There were about 30 members of Reed Gardening Club present and there was the usual lively discussion over tea and biscuits at the end of the showing.

Don’t forget to check our Upcoming Events page for future talks or screenings of Waterlight.

Waterlight Screening at Haverhill U3A

Waterlight filmmaker James Murray-White shares his latest screening of our Waterlight film with local audiences.

I was delighted to accept an invitation, and travelled to Haverhill at the end of last month to introduce the film to the Haverhill U3A Nature Group. They had hired the visitor centre at East Town Park for the morning, and about 25 or so members filled the space. I found it very moving to watch and hear Clare and her words again on the screen. Every time I see this I shed a tear for a dear friend, and feel we all co-created a wonderful legacy of her gifts and passion.

As it was, in fact, Burns Night that very day — to commemorate the life of Scottish National Bard, Robert Burns — I had done a quick scout around to find a suitable Burns poem on water to share, but unable to find anything that fit the bill, I opted to read them a poem of Clare’s, from her 1997 pamphlet, Landscapes (published by Redbeck Press). ‘Unknown Colour’ speaks of her beloved Cumbria, and is indeed dedicated to artist Winifred Nicholson, who also had a deep connection to that landscape; but the poem is also very broad in its dive into the territory of landscapes and elements – all of which absorbed Clare and her way of looking at the world and the landscapes she inhabited.

Showing 'Unknown Colour', a poem by Clare Crossman
‘Unknown Colour’, by Clare Crossman. © Estate of Clare Crosman, 2024

We got into a deep conversation afterwards, and I shared some current work I’m involved in on a community campaign, including a film, to improve the flow of a chalk stream that rises from multiple sources around the village of Dullingham, travels past Devils Dyke and around Tattershall’s horse stables and is then culverted under Newmarket’s main road (under the Jockey Club, no less!), through the town, and connects finally to the River Stour at Snailwell, under the A14.

More about that project as it progresses.

Much concern arose about the current states of rivers, both here in East Anglia and Nationally. The problems of both over-abstraction and pollution were discussed, as well as how chalk streams and waterways are responding to climate change. We are seeing many of these fragile streams dry up entirely during the hotter summer months and then be inundated with too much water during these recent stormy winters. Discussion continued into how communities can respond to these challenges ahead of us and really engage with the more-than-human. This might involve adaptation and developing greater resilience, as well as pushing for any political options, including (in my personal view) the re-nationalisation of water companies and beefing up the power and resources of the Environment Agency, which has been so badly under-funded and asset-stripped over several years by successive Governments.

Feedback from participants included:

“Loved the film, the photography, music and poetry and now have a better understanding of the rarity and importance of chalk streams. Covered a great range of topics in the discussion afterwards. James’ enthusiasm was infectious. Really raised an awareness of our problem with water in this area.”

“I enjoyed it. Beautiful photography and poetry.”

“Seeing the Waterlight film for the second time made me fully appreciate that it is a lovely sensitive mix of beautiful photography, the lovely poetry of Clare Crossman, the scientific input on the ecology of the river, the history of the river and the community spirit to preserve, maintain and care for the river.”

“Film was very atmospheric highlighting what we stand to lose by contamination and over-extraction of these streams. Hope we can have a visit over there.”

“I found the film quite exhilarating and very informative and inspired, I hope, a discussion going forward to perhaps setting up our own working group to create or assist in a wildlife area locally.”

“I really enjoyed the film and the discussion on the film and project.”

“Most informative. Also enjoyed hearing about the other projects James is involved in.”

It was lovely to learn that several of the group had already seen the film, at earlier screenings in Linton, hosted by the FROGS group there (Friends of the River Granta), and are involved in efforts to clean up that river. May we all find ways to engage with our local waterways, brooks, rivulets, streams, and winterbournes.

You can find out about future screenings at our Upcoming Events page.

You can enjoy Clare Crossman’s poems for the Waterlight project on our Poems page (where there is also a short video of Clare reading Crossings at the river Mel, and poems that other people contributed for this site). And do visit Clare’s own website, where there are many more of her poems, including recordings of readings she gave, and poems she contributed to the ClimateCultures website.

Showing 'Landscapes' by Clare Crossman
‘Landscapes’ by Clare Crossman.

Explore the Haverhill U3A site for other events and activities, including the Haverhill u3A Nature Group.

Waterlight Film Screening & Discussion – Linton W.I.

On a balmy autumn evening on 5th September 2023, 20 members of the Linton WI sat back and enjoyed the Waterlight film — presented by Bruce Huett from the Waterlight Project team — and discussed the state of the local chalk stream, the Granta, which feeds the Cam. 

There had been a debate about whether to watch the shorter or longer version and Bruce had persuaded them to view the latter. In the end, they all agreed that this was the right choice as the interviews were very interesting and put the poems in a wider context.

As usual, there were some interesting questions and comments after the film. One member described the biodiverse stream near her property in Australia. She didn’t know what the base of the stream was (certainly not chalk) and a guess was made that it might be granite.

As this 2021 item on work on the Granta by the Wild Trout Trust and funded by the Environment Agency says, “The Granta has suffered in recent dry years but also presents a flood risk to some properties. The River Granta is a chalk river that rises from springs above Bartlow. The river flows for ~29km through Linton, the Abingtons and Babraham before joining the River Cam at Stapleford.” 

There is an active group of volunteers (FROG – Friends of the River Granta) who have significantly improved the water quality, but the level is now low again. A June 2023 report on the BBC News website describing Concerns about River Granta rare chalk stream drying up, mentions the work of Linton FROG, whose Chair Helen Brookes said then of the chalk stream: “It’s been here for thousands of years; it was here before any of us were here. It would be lovely to know, or to hope, that it will continue to flow through the village as it has done. It’s a beautiful, natural, rare chalk stream and we’re lucky to have it.”

Photo showing the Granta at Linton with a pipe crossing that would normally be covered by water but now exposed.
Photo showing the Granta at Linton with a pipe crossing that would normally be covered by water but now exposed. Image: BBC News. Click to original story.

The National Federation of Women’s Institutes has agreed a resolution about creating bathing waters in rivers across England and Wales as a way to drive the cleanup of our waters: Clean Rivers for People and Wildlife, which includes:

Water quality in our rivers is shameful. Legally designated bathing waters must be regularly monitored for pollution. The NFWI urges its members, the wider public, local authorities, and Government to make, support and promote applications for officially designated bathing sites on appropriate stretches of rivers in their area. This will be instrumental to the clean-up of rivers as it has been for water quality improvement at coastal beaches.

A representative from a chalk stream preservation organisation, Cam Valley Forum (of which Bruce is an officer), will be talking to the group later in the autumn.

Linton WI Members were keen to visit the Mel and hoped that there might be another bird walk as depicted in the film. Bruce said the Melwood Conservation Group were hoping to arrange one and he would contact the WI when this was arranged.

The evening ended with people chatting about water resources and similar issues over a welcome cup of tea.

Don’t forget to check our Upcoming Events page for future talks or screenings of Waterlight.

Waterlight Film Showing at Royston W.I.

On 9th March 2023 — a very cold and drizzly afternoon, with snow flurries trying to carpet the road outside — about 30 ladies from Royston WI were transported to the world of the Mel through the Waterlight film. 

Royston is a particularly appropriate setting for showing the film as the water that supplies the Mel originates as rain falling on the soft chalk hills surrounding the town. Today, the melted snow will percolate through the chalk to eventually emerge at the springs in Melbourn, the source of the Mel. In his introduction, Bruce Huett drew parallels with his experience of snow melt from the Himalayas supplying the rivers of Tibet, other parts of China and India.

Showing speaker Bruce Huett talking with an audience member after the Royston WI screening
Speaker Bruce Huett talking with an audience member while others chat after the Royston WI screening.

Although Waterlight was not made as a campaigning film, audience members recognised links to national concerns about the general health of English rivers and mentioned the recent BBC programmes ‘Our Troubled Rivers’.

Following the screening, the Royston WI secretary e-mailed:

“Thank you again for coming to show your film and talk to us this afternoon. It was a very calm, peaceful watch, with beautiful music, as well as being very informative. I hope you could see how engaged all our ladies were. It made our afternoon very enjoyable”.

Bruce was again delighted to receive an account of someone who remembered playing in the river at Melbourn as a child, which was similar to accounts he had collected in ‘memory capture’ events with elderly residents in Melbourn and Royston. They had described swimming, paddling down the river in boats improvised from rubber tubes or barrels, fishing and generally messing about in the river or on the banks for whole days in the summer. Some of these accounts are on the Your Waterlight Stories page of this website and others can be found in the Mel pages at Meldreth History, The Story of a Cambridgeshire Village

Others, who had visited the British Queen pub in Meldreth but had never taken the short walk across the field at the back to the river, now decided that on their next trip there they will definitely take a stroll along the Mel and visit the adjacent Melwood local Nature Reserve that is featured in the film.

Shwoing DVDs of 'Waterlight: Portrait of a Chalk Stream' on sale at Royston WI
DVDs of ‘Waterlight: Portrait of a Chalk Stream’ on sale at Royston WI. Click on the image to go to our Waterlight Film DVD & Digital Download page.

Waterlight Film Showing at Linton Parish Church

On Saturday 4th February 2023, Bruce Huett and Nigel Kinnings showed the Waterlight film for the first time in a spiritual space: the Norman parish church at Linton, Cambridgeshire.  Bruce Huett linked this, in his introduction, to his ideas about the spirituality of water and the possibility that the Mel springs may have been an ancient ritual site.

Water film showing at Linton parish church, Cambridgeshire

The afternoon started with a substantial tea of sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and cakes, all prepared and served by local volunteers.

Bruce and Nigel were a bit concerned that the substantial tea might put the audience into an inattentive stupor. However this was not the case and everyone had their eyes glued to the screen throughout and there were a lot of positive comments afterwards, with the possibility of another showing at the local WI.

The church at Linton is situated by the local chalk stream, the Granta, a tributary of the Cam.  Before the showing Bruce and Nigel took the opportunity to explore the local stretch and Bruce was very pleased to meet members of the local chalk stream restoration group: FROG (Friends of the River Granta) who were attending the showing.  Thanks to their hard work the stream looked in excellent condition with a gravelly base below clear water.  Rob Mungovan, in the film,  indicates that this is just how a healthy chalk stream should look.

It was a rewarding experience to show the film in this space and also to be able to link aspects of Waterlight to the local water environment of Linton.

Showing Bruce Huett speaking at the Waterlight film screening, Linton parish church
Bruce Huett speaking at the Waterlight film screening, Linton parish church

Showing of Waterlight Film at Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve, Cambridge

Tuesday 22nd November 2022

On a rather wet and dreary night, about 30 members of the Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve gathered at the Newnham Croft Sports and Social Club in Cambridge to watch the Waterlight film.

It is clear from the appreciative message sent by the Chairman that the film was much appreciated:

“I’m writing on behalf of Friends of Paradise to thank you, and the film team, for an extremely uplifting and positive evening watching the beautiful and lyrical film of Waterlight.

Beset as we are by the climate emergency, the world situation, the energy crisis and our own local fight against development … not to mention the November rain and darkness, it was a sheer delight to follow the successful and fascinating story of the regeneration of the River Mel.

We all loved it, from the glorious River itself to the wonderful wildlife, old photographs, and the music and memories, all enhanced by the poetry. We were heartened by the story, and felt solidarity with like-minded people. Now we know about the river and the reserve I’m sure that we will be visiting them”.

Bruce Huett introduced the film with additional pictures of children “messing around in the river” which had been obtained in “memory capture” events during the preparation of the film. He and fellow Waterlight project team members James Murray-White and Nigel Kinnings responded to several questions after the showing and there was a lively general discussion, aided by the fact the bar was then open!

During the discussion after the showing it was clear that, although the film was made to celebrate Clare’s poetry and her love of the Mel landscape, people present saw that it also provided material that could be used in the campaign to save Cambridgeshire’s endangered chalk streams. More information on this campaign can be found on the Cam Valley Forum website: https://camvalleyforum.uk.

The audience departed into damp night with spirits uplifted and with plans to visit the Mel in the spring.

Newnham Croft sports and social club

Watch out for future Waterlight film screenings on our Upcoming Events page.