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.”
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 filmmaker James Murray-White spoke at a major interdisciplinary chalk streams conference in Cambridge last month. ‘Owned by Everyone? Chalk Streams in Culture & Crisis’ on 30th March focused on the culture, science and future of chalk streams and featured conservationists, environmental and literary historians, NGOs, regulators, water companies, politicians and community groups.
James contributed by Zoom and shared clips from Waterlight. He talked about the making of the film and how it and the wider project captured the variety of local people who love the Mel, including the Restoration Group, with Clare Crossman as the project’s inspiration.
James says, “Covid has really emphasised to me that we are all watery bodies, and that we need to do so much more to protect and care for this incredible resource.” He reports that one highlight of the chalk streams conference was how lawyer and activist Paul Powesland spoke at the conference about how to legally protect the rights of nature, and how this is slowly becoming enshrined in law as a tool.
The event was covered by The Cambridge Independent and you can read theor piece by clicking on the image.
Don’t forget to check our Upcoming Events page for future talks or screenings of Waterlight.
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.
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 improvisedfrom 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.
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.
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.
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.
Watch out for future Waterlight film screenings on our Upcoming Events page.
Local historian and conservationist and Waterlight Project team member Bruce Huett shares an update on the latest showing of our film — and the choice of venue, at a landmark building in Eddington, a sustainable development near Cambridge.
The Waterlight team were delighted to be able to show the film twice (the 27-minute and 45-minute versions) at the Storey’s Field Centre on the Eddington estate on SaturdayFebruary 22nd 2020. The showings at the centre, on the outskirts of Cambridge (near Madingley Park and Ride), were previewed in an interview with Bruce Huett of the project for the local radio station.
The audiences were made up of local families and also chalk stream enthusiasts who had come from Cambridge and surrounding villages.We had a lively discussion after the second showing, which we hope will lead to some new posts on this blog.
A sustainable site
We were especially pleased to be at the Eddington development as this is an excellent example of what can be done to provide a sustainable living environment when the effort is made. It has the UK’s largest water recycling system, which can only be good for endangered chalk streams. There are two systems on site: one recycles rain and surface water to be used for flushing toilets, clothes washing and garden watering, and another supplies high quality treated water for drinking, cooking and bathing. Both are designed to minimise potable water consumption. There are also ‘green roofs‘, where sedum plants capture rainfall.
The development was constructed with sustainability in mind so insulation is of a very high quality and there is extensive use of solar energy.The buildings have all been designed and built to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5 and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method is part of the Code for a Sustainable Built Environment, which is a strategic international framework for sustainability assessment of buildings). There is a centralised energy centre and district heating network, providing greener, more environmentally friendly heating, hot water and energy.The energy centre uses gas to generate heating and hot water distributed via the network.
There is an innovative waste disposal system. Stainless steel bins have an underground sealed container to collect waste and recycling materials. When the container is 80% full, a signal is automatically sent to the collection company to alert them to empty the container.
There are over 50 hectares of open and green spaces around Eddington. Lakes at Brook Leys store the rainwater collected from across Eddington before it is treated and pumped back to the homes.The site is a Cambridge University project using a number of architects and sympathetic construction firms.
Historically the area is important, with the site of a Roman villa close by and evidence of even earlier occupation going back to prehistoric times. Roman coins have been found in an ancient well and, in 2014, artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie worked with the Archaeology department and used subsoil from the dig, combining the historical settlement and future development to create a scale model of the first phase of the development made from cob, an ancient, sustainable form of building. I participated in the archaeological event and the cob making.
There is also an interesting ancient conduit head nearby. Built in 1327, this used to supply water to a Franciscan friary in Cambridge in wooden pipes, then Sidney Sussex college and now Trinity College. This may have been a holy well in Roman, and possibly, pre-Roman times.
Thus this site, with its sacred water connections, was a perfect venue for the film showing, as there were many links to themes developed in the film: the spirituality of water; the importance of maintaining a healthy natural water environment; and the way in which this can inspire creative poetry and visual imagery.
We will be showing the film again at Eddington on 27th June, with Cambridge Past Present & Future — see our Upcoming Events page for details.
Waterlight Project team member and filmmaker, James Murray-White shares recent work on tree-planting in the Melwood and his vision of rewilding our rivers.
We know that trees need water to thrive, and some might know of the intricate ecological balance that rivers need trees to thrive too: river beds and banks are often interwoven through with tree roots. Too much felling of trees beside river banks, or no trees whatsoever, can lead to a severely weakened bank, which can burst or be overcome quickly during flooding. Both elements are part of the intricate living web of life that holds everything together in balance.
Trees and water
We are delighted that we have sourced some English Oak saplings, from the community volunteer NGO TCV: the Conservation Volunteers. The bulk of these were planted by an Extinction Rebellion Rewilding group on a small-holding in Wales, but some have been handed over to Clare and her husband Iain for planting in the Melwood, along the banks of the Mel, as a thank you to the river for generously engaging with us during the making of ‘Waterlight’!
While wrapping them in a recent copy of the Cambridge Independent, I noticed that articles on opposite pages celebrated the planting of 1,500 saplings in the village of Willingham and also mourned the imminent felling of trees along Histon Road, which is about to undergo widening as part of its ‘development’ as a major artery in our ever-expanding city.
This shows the crass irony of our modern human existence: we need to cut down for ‘progress’, and at the same time we need to plant in massive numbers nearby! I’ve just watched a French documentary on rewilding, and in the past two years I’ve become engaged in the idea and the practice: how can we make the argument that land (and large swathes of it — whole moors, and land that was once farmland) be given back to nature to return to how it has been before human intervention, and to enable top predator species — wolves, lynx, auroch — to return and roam?
Rewilding the River Mel
We have only to wander along stretches of the River Mel — this tiny chalk stream, which we hope has seeded some wildness and wonder of the natural world within the minds and imaginations of those who have watched the film (or will see future screenings), heard Clare’s poems, or explored all the words and images on this website — to appreciate both the ecological processes and synergy that are ever on-going and the visceral rewilding of the natural world.
Start with the River Mel, gently puttering along between its banks, see the trout, a moorhen, and then — a beaver! And see and get to know the trees, find the oak saplings that will shortly be planted, a muntjac and then a red deer, a stag… Then see if you can stretch to see a bison wandering through the sun-dappled glade! It has been before. Maybe again?
You can read a previous post from James, where he discusses filming the River Mel and his connection to this river and to water.
Local historian and conservationist and Waterlight Project team member Bruce Huett writes on the latest showing of our film — and the most prestigious so far. The special event, on 19th November at the David Attenborough Building at the heart of Cambridge University, was hosted by the Cambridge Conservation Forum and the Cam Valley Forum.
The David Attenborough Building, to quote from a news report on its opening, “acts as a collaborative hub for the conservation community within Cambridge and beyond. Creating a collaborative and dynamic space in which experts from academia, practice and policy interact and work together on a daily basis helps shape the future of life on Earth and the relationship between people and the natural environment on which we depend for our own wellbeing and survival.” It is visually stunning and the reception is backed by a wall of live plants stretching several stories high.
The Cambridge Conservation Forum and Cam Valley Forum are significant conservation organisations in Cambridge. The CCF, a founder member of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI), assists in co-ordinating the activities of over 60 conservation organisations in and around Cambridge, including practitioners and researchers. The CVF is the co-ordination body for an extensive network of partners working to protect and improve the environment of the River Cam and its tributaries, including the River Mel.
An engaged audience
It was therefore a very significant venue in which to show the film.The event was fully booked (about a hundred spaces) several weeks before the event, indicating the interest in this topic. The audience comprised representatives of conservation organisations and river groups in and around Cambridge stretching as far afield as Baldock, Bury St Edmunds and Milton Keynes.
The event started with Stephen Tomkins from CVF and Humphrey Crick from CCF welcoming the audience. I then introduced the project, against a backdrop of archival photographs of activities in the river. This was a pleasurable opportunity to share what I see as the spirituality of the river to such a wide audience; thereby realising one of the main community focused aims of the project.
Clare read some of her poems and Penni and Bryan played some of their folk music. James and Nigel then gave an introduction to the making of the film.
We then showed the full version of the film which, as usual, received rapt attention and enthusiastic applause at the end.
CCF had kindly provided refreshments and this gave an opportunity for everyone to mingle and share their river experiences and conservation initiatives. Several groups expressed an interest in developing a similar project and there were expressions of interest for showing the film at other venues.
After an enjoyable break, the evening continued with questions to a well-informed panel of: Rob Mungovan from the Wild Trout Trust (who had also assisted with Mel restoration); Ruth Hawksley from the Wildlife Trust (who had also advised on Mel restoration); Steve Hawkins, Chair of the Mel River Restoration Group; and Mike Foley, bird expert and CVF member.
Questions mainly focused on water abstraction and augmentation issues and how organisations could bring pressure to bear on the environmental agency, water companies and the government to improve the situation. There had been an important meeting recently with these parties at the Guildhall in Cambridge to discuss the pressure on the local watercourses.
There was a question about finding a balance between tourist demands for a good flow in Bury St Edmonds against reduced flow elsewhere in the water system; the consensus on the panel was that it was difficult to resolve.
An interesting discussion point was the excess of phosphate in local water courses. Although nitrate runoff from agricultural land is now largely under control in Cambridgeshire this is not the case for phosphates. Although not as detrimental to the food chain as nitrates, phosphates do encourage plant growth, resulting in more weed needing to be removed from the streams on clearing sessions in order to maintain a reasonable flow.
Luckily mink had not been seen on the Mel recently and recent mammal and invertebrate sampling showed a reasonably healthy river.
Reference was made to the Cam Valley Forum’s Cam River Manifesto, a recent analysis of the threats to the Cambridgeshire chalk streams. We’ve linked to the manifesto below.
Praise for the Waterlight approach
After this session there was a further opportunity to mingle and discuss issues. During these conversations there was a lot of praise for the film and, despite our requests for any ideas for improvements, all the comments were positive.
Julia Grosse — event co-ordinator for CCF — said: “It was lovely to hear the fond memories of this little river. It goes to show how important places are to people. A great mix of history, nature and culture; beautifully filmed. I am now looking into how we can incorporate water use / chalk stream ecosystems into the Earth Optimism event next April. It will be good to give people ideas of ways to reduce water use and raise awareness of their rare local habitats.”
Dr Humphrey Crick, CCF’s Chair, initially commented: “The film was superb — congratulations!” He then went on to email us that“Chalk streams are little jewels in our countryside and Waterlight shows this to perfection! The film highlights how these national treasures are threatened by a range of pressures but also how local communities can come together to conserve them, a wonderful example to show how each of us can make a difference.”
Stephen, from CVF, said: “It was a brilliant idea and the whole project was a model of community achievement. The serenity of the film is the abiding impression. It’s a gem…”
Jacky Sutton-Adam, chair of Cam Transition was also delighted by the film: “Waterlight is a fine work weaving history, geography, nature, and communities; past and present. The beautiful imagery, poetry and music were incredibly moving, I felt joy, sadness, hope and wonder by turn. The interwoven lives of nature and humans through history meander like the river itself, and now converge once more with the help of the Mel River Restoration Group, a band of dedicated locals who’ve worked and nurtured this chalk stream back to health. At heart, its an eloquent story of communities — I absolutely loved it.”
A representative from Baldock stated: “It was a fantastic evening. Please let me know of future screenings as I would love to promote them to relevant local groups in Letchworth. I volunteer with Friends of Baldock Green Spaces, where our chalk stream the River Ivel is running dry. The plight of the Mel is very relevant to us and the publicity this film gives it is amazing.”
Another quote was: “It was a fantastic film! One which seamlessly combined poetry, film, science and local views beautifully.”
An even more intriguing comment was: “For early Man, water was the only way it could see itself. I wonder if the murky view one now gets on peering into our chalks streams is a reflection of our blurred attitude to the importance of our natural world.”
After a couple of hours of intense interaction the audience left the building fired up about the film, the wonder of our chalk streams and the need to ensure their survival.
Find out more about this event’s hosts — and other important local organisations and groups — on our Links page. And you can find the Cam Valley Forum’s River Cam Manifestohere.
Local historian and conservationist Bruce Huett shares another enthusiastic response for the Waterlight film, this time at Royston Probus Club at Royston Golf Club on 10th October.
Although the film showing following a sumptuous meal, accompanied by wine, attention was riveted on the screen throughout.
After the showing a lively discussion ensued, encompassing mills, otter hounds, the spiritual nature of water, local fishing and even beavers. The group were very interested in the history of the maintenance of waterways and I was able to describe findings from 13th-century manorial records, enclosure documents, 1950s flood prevention correspondence and the work of the River Mel Restoration Group on how this had evolved.
Members had interesting accounts about other streams they had visited around the country and it was distressing to hear that a local stream in Foxton (described in The Common Stream by Rowland Parker) and the Guilden Brook were now dried up. Someone remembered fishing here and catching dabs.
The group were particularly impressed with the way that the powerful imagery supported Clare’s evocative poetry, effectively set in a historical, social and environmental context. Several members of the local photography group were present and commented on how well the film shooting captured the “spirit” of the river.
The group were so impressed with the film that a walk will be arranged next year to experience the river in more detail, including, of course, the local public houses. The link here is that water for the local beer would have come from the Mel in days now past.
It has also resulted in an invitation to show it at the Royston Ladies Lunch Club next year.
Editor note:Probus clubs are a spin-off from Rotary for retired people to meet socially, often over a meal. Royston Probus Club holds lunch meetings at Royston Golf Club on the second Thursday of each month (starting at 12.30 for 1 pm), with a guest speaker approximately every other meeting.
Local historian and conservationist Bruce Huett updates us with the latest screening of the project’s film, at the Community Hall in Melbourn on 25th July.
On a very hot and thunderous night, we welcomed over 60 people to the Melbourn Community Hall to watch the first public showing of the Waterlight film. We had to open doors on both sides of the hall in an attempt to provide a through-breeze, although this provided an added local rural atmosphere to the proceedings as the neighbouring church bell practice was in full swing. More people kept arriving, we had to quickly unpack more chairs, and the hall was filled to capacity.
Clare gave a brief introduction to the background to the making of the film and then there was an appreciative hush, occasionally punctuated by appropriate laughs or intakes of breath, as the film unfolded. Despite the conditions, attention was riveted to the screen and the ending received with enthusiastic applause.
During the refreshments break people mingled and exchanged their memories of the river triggered by the film. The audience was made up of a wide range of local residents, some actively involved with the river or who had lived around (or spent time in) it. Anthony and Sylvia Hopkinson, previous owners of the Bury (the property at the source of the stream) were present. The manor had been in Sylvia’s family for many generations. They said the film brought back many happy memories of their times there and Sylvia was genuinely touched by a photograph of her grandmother included in the film. Another attendee identified a girl in an old photograph (with a jam jar for fishing) as her mother (this picture, below, features on our Taming the Mel page, part of the section on The Story of the Mel ).
Many commented on how the film had brought out the wonderful character of the stream, a stream which had been transformed over their lifetimes. However there was also much discussion of the current problems facing the river, and similar ones in the area. One person mentioned three rivers he had visited recently: Little Willbraham, Cherry Hinton Brook and Potton Brook, all of which had dried up in stretches.He also mentioned a recent talk by a civil engineer on the problems caused to these steams by over-extraction and inappropriate design of runoffs from housing development.
People had also come from other groups associated with river conservation in Cambridgeshire and one group were keen to try and carry out a similar project on their local nature reserve. Obviously we have offered to help as one of the aims of the project was to distribute knowledge amongst communities.
In fact the backbone of the project, as well as the artistic side, has been community engagement and the combination of the website, memory capture events, activities with school children and now the showings and lively discussions has amply fulfilled this objective.
We now look forward to future reporting of showings in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire and at festivals further afield.
We’re delighted to share two short clips from the Waterlight film. The first shows local walker Chris Ranner and his dogs enjoying the river, and the second features Clare reading her poem, Vaughan Williams at Warren Bank.
An extract from the Waterlight film, showing footage of local walker Chriss Ranner and his dogs enjoying the River Mel. Filmed by Nigel Kinnings for the Waterlight Project. The Waterlight Project on Vimeo.
An extract from the Waterlight film, showing footage of the River Mel with a voiceover from Clare Crossman reading her poem ‘Vaughan Williams at Warren Bank’. Filmed by Nigel Kinnings for the Waterlight Project, including footage by James Murray-White. The Waterlight Project on Vimeo.
You can see another clip, featuring another of Clare’s poems – Waste – in our previous post The Waterlight Film Premiere, which gives a summary of the earlier, invitee-only screening at The Plough in Shepreth.