Acute observers of West Faversham will be aware of the appearance of bundles of twigs staked to the bed of the Westbrook stream between West Bridge and the Knole. These are part of residents’ environment group The Friends of the Westbrook and Stonebridge Pond's plans to restore the historic water system of Faversham.
The Westbrook stream and its associated springs, channels and ponds were once part of a complex water system that, from medieval times onwards, helped to power industry in Faversham. Through its channels and millponds it provided power for corn mills and more importantly gunpowder works up into the 20th century. Water power was a safe, reliable and sustainable power source that suited the gunpowder industry.
These activities have bequeathed the town an interesting landscape. After the gunpowder industry closed in the 1920s the system fell into neglect, exacerbated in the 1970s as suburban housing and unsympathetic landscaping covered over many of the streams and replaced the mills, ponds and gunpowder works. Abstraction upstream of Faversham for drinking water also reduced the stream flows, undermining wildlife habitats. By the turn of this century much of the once-pristine chalk stream had disappeared or become silted up, overgrown and rubbish-strewn.
In 2013, regular stream clears started to remove rubbish and tackle the choking vegetation. The formation of the Friends of the Westbrook led to fundraising and a more ambitious management plan in 2016, with expert advice on how to revive the stream.
This included using 'faggot bundles' to constrict the stream at key points and improve its water flow.
These bundles of twigs and branches are a tried and tested method of washing away accumulated silt to reveal the natural gravel and chalk bed.
The combination of faster stream flows in the channel and slow water behind the bundles provides more varied habitats for plants and animals while creating low embankments to encourage water loving plants.
To make sure the trial improved biodiversity without compromising flood defences, it was approved by the Lower Medway Drainage Board and supported by Kent County Council, Medway Swale Estuary Partnership, Swale Borough Council and the Environment Agency.
Work started in 2017 near the footbridge over the Knole, where natural native marsh plants soon became well established. And after a year of monitoring, the faggoting was extended down the section from the Knole in 2018 and now reaches behind the shrine of St Jude.
In addition, the Friends carry out monthly litter picks and river clears and the volume of rubbish collected has now begun to decline.
Local people have responded positively, unearthing fond memories of the Westbrook, when generations of children and adults enjoyed fishing, boating and paddling in the stream.
The Friends of the Westbrook stream group now has over 30 active members and many friends more supporters.
The group raised some of the money to buy equipment from membership fees and sales of teas at the Open Gardens Day.
More funding, for insurance, protective gear, equipment, faggot bundles and a punt for pond work, has come from Kent Community Foundation, Faversham Rotary Club, Swale Borough Council, The Co-op and Bensted’s Charity.
Future plans include education activities, interpretation apps and landscape management. The vision is to safeguard the much-loved stream as an amenity for Faversham's future generations.
To join the Friends or find out more, visit: friendsofthewestbrook.wordpress.com