The River Wye is one of a number of important chalk streams in the Chilterns and is approximately 16km (10.5 miles) long rising in the Chalk springs to the north-west of High Wycombe falling some 60 meters to its confluence with the River Thames at Bourne End near Cookham Lock. Its principal tributaries are the Hughenden Stream and the Wycombe Marsh Brook. Agriculture, including arable farming, is the dominant land use in the area and the geology is mainly Chalk. Chalk Rivers like the River Wye are important habitats in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB).
This lower section of the River Wye starts at the fire station, just below the confluence with the Hughenden Stream, and runs for approximately 12.1 km (7.5 miles) to Bourne End where it joins the River Thames. It is a highly urbanised chalk stream having once supported a number of paper mills and subsequently badly affected by industrial discharges becoming quite polluted although conditions have improved in recent years. Also, in the past the river suffered from the effects of over abstraction for public water supply but these are now declining and below the sewage treatment works the effluent compensates for the effects of abstraction.
Now though industry has declined, the town of High Wycombe, which takes part of its name from the river, has grown and the channel remains greatly modified from its chalk stream origins. Once through the culverted central town section the river opens up and the area becomes more varied with residential and commercial areas interspersed with areas of open space providing opportunities to restore the river. Despite all these problems the river is still an extremely valuable habitat for wildlife and there is a thriving fishery resource in the catchment with populations of brown trout, roach, chub, dace and pike. In the past the Wye had been a salmon run so the removal of a number of old mill weirs or the installation of fish passes will be required to allow for the free movement of fish along the watercourse.
The Environment Agency have designated this section of the Wye as a River and Hydromorphologically as not being heavily modified. The catchment area of this lower section of the Wye is 33.4 km2 (12.9 miles2).
Environment Agency Classification for the Wye (High Wycombe Fire Station to the Thames)
|2009 Cycle 1||2016 Cycle 2||Objectives|
|Water body status overall||Poor||Poor||Moderate by 2027|
|Ecological Status||Poor||Poor||Moderate by 2027|
|Chemical Status||Does not require assessment||Good||Good by 2015*|
*As reported in Environment Agency's WFD Classification Status Cycle 2 v3 data set published 18th May 2017.
As can be seen from the table above, in 2016 the Environment Agency classified this lower section of the Wye as being Poor overall on the basis of its Ecological Status. This is primarily due to a Poor Biological Quality Component mostly related to the fish element, because the lack of free passage for fish along the whole river, whilst the invertebrates, macrophytes and phytobenthos elements were classified as Good. Of the Physicochemical quality component Phosphate was the one factor that stopped this component achieving High status. The Chemical Status was deemed to be Good. However, the overall water body status is predicted to improve to Moderate by 2027.
You can find out more about the classification of rivers in our catchment by using the Environment Agency’s Catchment Data Explorer