Caught by the River

Letter From the Welland

Ceri Levy | 12th June 2021

Ceri Levy fills us in on his new project, following the River Welland from source to mouth.

I’ve been meaning to write for some time to let you know what I’ve been up to. I’m working with Jackie, my wife and producer, on a podcast series that sees us travelling the length of the River Welland, from its source, (if we can find it – it is apparently lurking somewhere in the small Northamptonshire village of Sibbertoft) to its mouth at The Wash. Along the way we will talk to an array of people who are inspired, influenced and affected by the river. From artists, writers, musicians and poets to conservationists, environmentalists, historians, scientists, farmers and fishermen and all points in between. If it happens in and around the river we will seek it out.

Why do rivers attract us so much? Will the story of one river tell us an amount about all rivers? Have they become overlooked? Do people still use them? What is the health of our waterways like in this modern, disposable and throwaway age? Are we taking care of our rivers, brooks and streams? Are they still relevant to our lives? So many questions for which we hope to provide some answers. 

We are working in tandem with The Welland Rivers Trust to promote the work they do in benefitting the health of the river and its tributaries and joining communities with their stretch of water. Next week we will go out and record several of their sessions with people who wish to become river wardens, a project where local people learn how to determine the health of the water by checking for specific invertebrates that should be found in decent numbers in our waters. They will also check phosphate and nitrate levels, which will indicate if there is a problem with agricultural run-off and the discharge from water treatment facilities.

I’m already aware of some depressing facts and figures and know that pollution is one of the greatest problems faced by our waterways. A huge amount of plastics found in the oceans start off in inland waterways and we are going out with litter pickers to see what they find on a small stretch of water in the centre of Market Harborough. How bad can it be?

It most certainly isn’t all doom and gloom either; we will meet many inspirational figures and I hope we can do justice to their actions, deeds and love for their waters. So how did this all start? Well, we have to go back in time, to before the pandemic…

In a different time we ran a bioblitz on a piece of land at the front of our village and were amazed to find staggering total of 253 species across the land, the woodland, and the river. The river… I knew so little about it but I had discovered that this was part of the Eyebrook, which was a tributary of the Welland. A conversation here and a phone call there and we were put in touch with The Welland Rivers Trust and Geoff Gillfillan came down to the bioblitz to see what kind of stretch of river we had and offered to teach a group of locals how to be river wardens. We learnt and started testing. Time passed… 

Just before lockdown I received a call from Chris French at the Trust, who had replaced Geoff. He was keen to come and see our stretch of water but before we could meet, the pandemic hit. The river wardens stopped wardening. Time passed… 

In that small pocket of time between lockdowns in the summer of 2020, Chris introduced me to Perry Burns, who was now the Community Engagement Officer for the Trust. With this short passage of freedom we met at Allexton and talked about the river and how much Jackie and I would love to do something for the Trust, as conservation has little money thrown at it and often relies on charity and the kindness of strangers. Then it was back into our houses. Time passed…

Slowly, we began to formulate an idea. Time used…

What if we were to travel the 65-mile length of the river from source to mouth and engage with people that we found along the way, re-telling the tales we heard along the riverbank and across its tributaries? Engaging with people and places, meandering like a river, through historic sites and captivating landscape and unearthing the folk tales and stories uncovered through our conversations. One story would lead to the next. It would be an exploration as seen from the river’s edge. We planned as time inexorably moved on.

In the meantime, research picked up pace and we wanted to find the source of the river. It had been a bone of contention for years, but chance would help us on the beginning of our quest. This was going to be fun. Time was no longer passing… We started making phone calls and talking rivers.

And now our first engagement will be to go out over the course of a few days with the Trust and meet people who care enough about the health of the river to learn how to be river wardens, with most wanting to discover the state of the part of the water that means the most to them. The health of our rivers are not what it should be, but the wealth of our rivers and their cultural importance on our lives is huge. Every river has a tale; now it’s time for the River Welland’s. 

Time well spent.


Find the Welland Rivers Trust website here, where you can register interest in becoming a river warden.