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Dead duck re-ignites row over algae and weeds in water in Butts stream and the Ropewalk, Sandwich


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A grim reminder of how fish and birds are dying at a choked waterway has emerged in pictures, this time showing a dead duck.

Fish, for some time, have been suffocating in the stream at the Ropewalk and The Butts in Sandwich where oxygen levels are too depleted in the water.

Damian Smith (50380755)
Damian Smith (50380755)

It follows repeated calls from users and townsfolk demanding Dover District Council keep the area clear of reeds and duckweed, a thick algae like substance that covers the surface.

But despite continued work over a 24 month period, the authority says it's difficult to keep it clear because duckweed keeps coming back.

The authority is continuing to monitor the situation by testing the water for oxygen and nitrogen levels and says no reported fish deaths have happened this year.

Dead fish from the waterway along the Ropewalk in Sandwich Picture: Andy Duncan (41350987)
Dead fish from the waterway along the Ropewalk in Sandwich Picture: Andy Duncan (41350987)

The area is a known walking spot and a promoted fishing site, providing a natural environment around the outskirts of the town.

Damian Smith was walking with his children on Tuesday, August 17 at 4pm when they spotted the dead duck by the bridge connecting the Co-op with the cricket club.

"There is an action plan in place with the next major works starting in September for the bridge replacement at The Butts."

He posted a picture of it on the town's Sandwich Kent page on Facebook prompting 40 comments about the saga.

The cause of the bird's death is unknown but getting caught in reeds or drinking the water, high in nitrates and phosphates, being possibilities.

But the image - showing a thick coating of duckweed 0 highlights the problem is back.

The water along the Ropewalk in Sandwich (19364616)
The water along the Ropewalk in Sandwich (19364616)

DDC previously revealed high levels of nitrates and phosphates are being recorded in the stream. Duckweed feeds on these. When duckweed gets too dense, it chokes the oxygen supply.

High nitrate levels can bring about nitrate poisoning or nitrate shock in fish.

Town councillor Dan Friend commented on Mr Smith's post saying he joined a site meeting with MP Craig Mackinlay, Sandwich Town Council, DDC and Kent County Council.

Dead fish from the waterway along the Ropewalk in Sandwich Picture: Andy Duncan (41350991)
Dead fish from the waterway along the Ropewalk in Sandwich Picture: Andy Duncan (41350991)

He said: "There is an action plan in place with the next major works starting in September for the bridge replacement at The Butts."

In August 2019 people were advised not to enter the water. DDC blamed the hot weather for the lack of oxygen

More dead fish sparked anger in October 2019 when Simon Harrison demanded Dover District Council take swift action over the state of the watercourse and had produced a five-page proposal on how to tackle the issue.

Desilting work has begun along the Ropewalk in Sandwich Picture: Megan Friend (26265808)
Desilting work has begun along the Ropewalk in Sandwich Picture: Megan Friend (26265808)

At the beginning of 2020 desilting work costing £2,300 took place but by July more dead fish appeared.

In our report that August, fisherman of 25 years Andy Duncan revealed this has been a long-standing problem: "We had to fight for it to be dug out back in 2004. They did with Mid Kent Fisheries in 2006 but they've left it to go down hill since. He called last January's desilting work a "half hearted attempt".

A justgiving page was set up by Charlene Holden this July to raise £2,000 to help with cleaning rope walk and restocking the fish.

Damian Smith (50380750)
Damian Smith (50380750)

DDC has been working with the Environment Agency and the Internal Drainage Board to determine what action to take.

A DDC spokesman said: “Dover District Council have undertaken extensive works, including desilting and reed cutting on the Ropewalk over the past 24 months, supported by professional advice from the Environment Agency and the Internal Drainage Board.

“Duckweed remains a problem and is extremely difficult to eradicate. The Council has tried removing the duckweed by netting and explored alternative methods including chemical control which both the Council and the Environment Agency are reluctant to use.

“The Council is regularly monitoring oxygen and nutrient levels, and to date has recorded no fish deaths this year.”

Read more: All the latest news from Sandwich

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