River Study activities
The National Nature Reserve covers the lower reaches of the River Meon. The River Meon is a good river for study because it is relatively small, running only 21miles from its source south of the village of East Meon to its mouth at Hill Head. This means a variety of landscapes can be seen in a short distance. However, the River Meon differs from other rivers where it meets the sea.
To understand why, you have to go back in time
During the 16th century, the village of Titchfield was a bustling port, linked to the sea by the River Meon. Towards the end of the century, the river was silting up restricting the passage of larger boats. To maintain Titchfield's status as a port, the local landowner, the Earl of Southampton, proposed that a canal should be dug to keep the sea link. The waterway was hand-dug and when opened in 1611 it was only the second canal existing in Britain at the time. The canal was a failure as after a few years it silted up like the river and so sea trade moved to Southampton and Portsmouth. Incidentally, many local people lost money in the venture so at Titchfield Carnival, held around Bonfire Night each year, an effigy of the Earl of Southampton rather than Guy Fawkes is burnt.
The key part to the construction of the canal was to dam the River Meon to help control water levels in the canal. The present road past the Visitor Centre follows the route of the embankment dam and the tidal sluice gates that controlled water flow still exist and are located just outside of the Visitor Centre.
The damming of the River Meon changed the landscape of the valley for ever but without the sluice gates, the habitats of the nature reserve could never have been created.
- River Study Worksheet 269kb pdf
Despite the unique status of the River Meon, many schools have found it a good example for the study of river systems. Rather than glossing over the past history, it can be incorporated into the activity to enhance the experience.
Groups can be met either in the car park by the Sailing Club at Hill Head or by the east entrance to the nature reserve.
A 10 minute walk leads to the Knights Bank Hide, the furthest hide on the east side of the valley. From this hide there are good views of the river valley, flood plain and grazing marsh. Ducks and geese can also normally be observed feeding on the meadows.
Having seen the upper part of the valley, children can now follow its route to the sea.
Walking back through the reserve, time can be spent to look at typical wetland habitats such as reedbed and swamp. A visit to the Suffern Hide gives excellent views of the river as it is built right on the water's edge. It is here that children can be asked to envisage what they think a river should look like where it meets the sea. This can be done with the aid of worksheets. Having got a picture of what to expect in their minds, the children can be led to the Visitor Centre and up onto the viewing balcony on the roof of the Centre.
From here there is a clear view of the mouth of the River Meon. Having established that what the children are looking at is not a typical river system, the group can go down to the road side (there is a wide pavement to assemble on) and have a close look at the tidal sluice gates. It is at this point that the colourful history of the river and the canal can be recounted.
A display of old maps and aerial photographs in the Visitor Centre exhibition helps to visually reinforce the historical and geographical themes.
- River features - meanders, islands, floodplain, estuary, mouth.
- What are nature reserves and why are they important?
- Wetland habitats - water meadows, reedbeds, marsh, woodland.
- Birds - the visits to the hides can link in with the Birdwatching Activity (see separate section for more details).
- General wildlife of the nature reserve - many items of interest (e.g. a badger sett, fox and deer tracks, frog spawn) can be pointed out on the walk through the reserve or can be highlighted through environmental games.
- Art - children could sketch the river landscape and wildlife.
- Local history
The River Study takes a minimum of 1½ hours to complete.
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