En route, the Soar flows past market towns whose heritage is intrinsically intertwined with the river. Barrow-upon-Soar, Stanford-, Normanton-, Kingston- and Ratcliffe-on-Soar each carry the Soar in their identity.
The Soar’s heritage is equally connected to theirs. As villages began to industrialise and grow into towns and cities, their relationship and demands on the river changed. This is true for the Soar-a river that partially diverts into the Grand Union Canal linking Birmingham and London, made navigable, straightened to fit new developments and slowed to power Leicester’s clothing manufactories. As life along the riverbank changed, the river did, too.
While the Soar has been predominantly affected by urbanisation and the industrial-scale efforts powering Leicester’s growth, its rural tributaries have been shaped by agriculture. Melton Mowbray, the pork pie capital of the world, stands testimony to the importance of agriculture in this rural part of the Midlands.
In the Soar catchment, rivers sustain agriculture, but they also feel its pressure. Melton Mowbray’s River Eye, Asfordby’s Wreake and East Leake’s Kingston Brook flow through rolling hills with a rich agricultural legacy. Agriculture sustains local livelihoods and it’s the brooks that help sustain streams of income.
Brooks and streams entering tributaries are used for drainage and irrigation – not without taking a toll on water quality, flood risk and habitat. While pockets of habitat have been retained and parts of the catchment have been awarded SSSI status for exhibiting exemplary features of a typical lowland river, rivers in the Soar catchment are overwhelmed by the weight they have been asked to carry.
Urban and agricultural pressures have been overwhelming the Soar and its tributaries. Changes to the river have reduced its resilience to pollution and its capacity to cope with drought and flood.
In the Soar catchment, Trent Rivers Trust is here to help. Urban or rural, farmer or city council, pollinator project, or Natural Flood Management, the Trent Rivers Trust is invested in improving the rivers and streams that see communities thrive.
The Soar is under pressure. Under the Water Framework Directive, only 1 out of 51 rivers achieves Good Ecological Status. The reasons for not achieving ‘Good’ vary. Many rivers see poor phosphate conditions, a result of sewage and agricultural pollution.
Overall, in 2021 the catchment saw a total of 5,854 sewage spills for a total duration of 37,343 h. In the urban centres, plastic pollution is also a big and visible pollution problem.
Less obvious to the untrained eye, but with far-reaching impact on wildlife, are the physical modifications. Culverts, sluices and weirs form barriers to passage. As these barriers change the flow of the river oxygen levels decrease, while the water temperature increases. As fish species and some plant species depend on well-oxygenated waters, the slowed flow can prove detrimental.
Other issues are introduced by INNS. As the Canal network links river systems, invasive species such as American Signal Crayfish, Himalayan Balsam and Floating Pennyworth threaten and/or suffocate the Soar and its downstream catchments.
Looking to the future, climate predictions for the region suggest a higher risk for drought and flood by 2050. As water resources decrease, urban areas including Leicester and Loughborough are expected to feel the effects, while increased flood risk affects lives and livelihoods, wildlife and the economy.
The Trent Rivers Trust hosts the Soar Catchment Partnership. The vision is for “a healthy and functioning catchment that has a sustainable and diverse water environment that benefits people, the natural environment and the economy of the area. A catchment in good ecological condition with improved resilience to climate change, flooding and pollution events which is connected by robust and healthy habitats”.
The Soar Catchment Partnership plan can be found here.
More information on the challenges, priorities and plans for the Soar Catchment is available on the ‘Humber River Basin Management Plan‘.