- Published: Tuesday, 05 October 2021 09:36
Wendy Stowe, Beaulieu Harbour Master gave this talk at the Beaulieu Harvest Thanksgiving Service, Sunday 3rd October 2021:
Thank you for inviting me today. Although this is not the normal harvest festival talk, the Beaulieu River is a very important part of the Estate.
It begins near Lyndhurst passing through Beaulieu and Bucklers Hard and continues 12 miles to Lepe. For a such a short river, it holds quite a long history.
Over the years the river has been an integral part of Beaulieu, with the building of the abbey, to ship building at Buckler’s Hard and the build of the D Day Invasion fleet in WW11
Back to the early days the Cistercian monks not only used the river for transporting the stone and materials to build the abbey but also for food as primarily the monks were pescatarian. The technique of seine net fishing has been undertaken since medieval times, with the net being deployed on the high tide to catch eels, sea trout, sea bass and mullet. This ancient tradition of fishing is unique to Beaulieu and is the only river that still undertakes this activity due to it being privately owned by Lord Montagu and not the Crown Estate, where recent new regulations have no longer allowed this style of fishing.
Until the industrial revolution most technical advances were made in Monasteries, including the Cistercian monks developing watermill technology. The original tidal Mill was built adjacent to the Abbey gate house on the other side of river within the Abbey walls. The monks then constructed the mill pond along with the bridge. It is not known when the mill moved to the present site, but it may well be before the Dissolution. The existing mill has been on this site since 17thC and continued in operation until 1942. The mill normally ran for 4 - 5 hours per day or 10 hours if required by working both tides.
Monks were discouraged to linger at the mill as idle gossip was possible whilst waiting to off load grain or collect ground flour. For this reason, the keys to the mill and to the wine and beer cellars could not be held by the same person.
When the abbey was dissolved in 1538, it was sold to Lord Montagu’s ancestor, Thomas Wriothesley.
Buckler’s Hard was then created in the early 18th century by John Duke of Montagu, who planned to build a free port on the banks of the Beaulieu River for the import and export of sugar from the West Indies. The idea failed to get off the ground when the French captured the islands, but from the 1740s the site was used for the building of over 50 wooden ships for the Royal Navy. The Master Shipbuilder, Henry Adams, and his sons built ships such as Agamemnon and Swiftsure, all of which fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, by using wood from the New Forest.
In 1879, oysters were considered a delicacy that consequently offered the potential for profit, Henry Scott, Lord Montagu, took initial tentative steps into the world of oyster cultivation.
The lower reaches of the Beaulieu River provided suitable growing conditions for these hard-shelled, salt water molluscs that feed by filtering suspended plankton and other particles from the water - they thrive best in brackish water where there is protection from the worst of the seas but still a tidal current to bring in their food.
A little downstream from Buckler's Hard, near Clobb Copse, two large rectangular oyster beds lined with tiles were dug out. Banks and sluices were incorporated to control the flow and level of water.
The beds were operated from 1880 in partnership with Major Alexander Boyle, of Cowes, who already owned and operated oyster beds at Newtown, Isle of Wight, and at Fishbourne.
Oyster and Mussel beds to this day are still in place throughout the river although no longer fished for but more protected. The river is currently part of the oyster restoration project that is currently taking place throughout the Solent.
Over the years the river has played an important role in regards to the transporting of goods including grain, wheat, timber and wool as one of the main transport routes from the New Forest.
Today the river is used more for leisure, currently mooring up to 600 boats and welcoming up to 7000 visiting vessels. Although no longer used as a trade route it still plays an important role within the Estate. We have swopped carp and oysters for yachtsman and families who continue to enjoy the natural beauty of the river.
As the Harbour Authority, our role is to ensure the protection of the river including the salt marshes which are the upper vegetated parts of intertidal mudflats that are exposed between tides. Saltmarshes can provide grazing for domestic stock and shelter or nursery areas for a number of commercial fish species (e.g. bass). They also provide a cleaning function by absorbing nutrients, heavy metals and oil from the estuary system. Saltmarshes play a vitally important coastal protection role, accreting sediments to stabilise the intertidal and keep pace with sea level rise, and protecting seawalls and other coastal habitat from wave erosion.
Water quality is very much a responsibility of everyone and something the Estate is very passionate about. Many water quality problems arise from multiple sources of widespread pollution, spread across the landscape. This includes; contaminated runoff in both rural and urban areas; incorrect plumbing in homes and businesses by causing sewage to run into rivers; poorly maintained septic tanks; and increased rainfall, resulting in overwhelmed sewage systems.
As a leisure harbour, we have installed new equipment as part of the marina redevelopment to ensure best practices are followed such as black water pump out for boats to use to empty tanks rather than polluting the river along with a new wash down area. This means when cleaning boats the water is recycled and reused, ensuring any pollutants are collected and not returned to the river.
The Beaulieu Estate supports initiative such as The Living Waters in the New Forest, which is a New Forest Catchment Partnership project to protect and restore freshwater wildlife back into the river. Blue marine Foundation, an Oyster restoration project and Natural England’s Seagrass Restoration, which are both currently taking place in selected areas around the Solent.
These projects show the importance in protecting our rivers and how even the smallest things like oysters and clams help to filter the water, providing a healthy habitat along with endangered species such as newts. Everyone has a responsibility to help this special environment by taking their rubbish home and not walking on the riverbanks which are a protected habitat, not only for the salt marshes but also winter migrating birds.
If you would like to find out more information on these projects, Father John has provided links to their websites in his bulletin, or I am happy to answer any questions after the service.