Following the Path of the Byde Mill Brook

Today I walked out from The Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, to follow the path of the Byde Mill Brook through the town. I’m leading a Creative River Walk with The Pound on Wednesday 9th August (follow the link to book, if you fancy joining me), so this was a chance for me to research the route, develop a new piece of artwork for my Drawing on Water Exhibition, and learn more about this tributary of the Bristol Avon.

Walking out from The Pound Arts Centre

I took some new fold-out Walking Pages (I’ll be providing something similar for the participants of the August River Walk), and did my best to follow the Brook as it flows through the southern part of Corsham, both above and below ground.

The Byde Mill Brook at Corsham has been heavily modified, running through culverts in two places, under roads and houses (with no light to enable plant growth that in turn provides food and a home for other wildlife). Between culverts, the Brook passes through residential areas and is lined with lush cow parsley, docks and grasses. After the second culvert the Brook eventually emerges near the railway line, leaving the town via a long, artificially straightened channel.

Researching online, I found that chemical pollution levels between Corsham and where it meets the Avon at Lacock appear to be pretty bad, with water conditions made worse by sewage overflows at local treatment works.

According to the Top of the Poops website, the Byde Mill Brook at Corsham was polluted by Wessex Water 46 times in 2022 through the release of sewage, lasting a total of 565 hours. That’s the equivalent of 23 1/2 days solid of sewage pumping into this little river.

Walking Pages in Progress, and Wild Garlic

Please don’t let me put you off joining us for the walk! There’s some beautiful spots, and without reading up beforehand you’d probably never realise the challenges that the Brook and many others of our streams/rivers face.

I just think it’s really important that as well as enjoying our rivers, and the associated green spaces, we understand the ways that we negatively impact on their health. By doing so, we can start to think about how we can improve both water quality and wildlife habitats. That’s something we will discuss as we walk together in August.

I took a longer walk than we will as a group, as I wanted to get a feel for the whole of the Brook as it passes through the town, so had less time to stop, listen, notice and record than we will in August, when we can pause for longer and include more detail on our pages. Today I concentrated on making notes and layering printed photos with rubbings and printing

Through my Queer River work, and the Drawing on Water exhibition, I hope to communicate the value of taking time to be with rivers; slowing down to notice the communities of life that they support, as well as the damage that we have done. Perhaps that way, we can be inspired by their beauty and start working together to take positive action.

The image featured at the top of the post (also added below) was taken from a 2022 Environment Agency report into flood risks associated with Byde Mill Brook, and shows in red one of the culverted sections of the Brook.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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