Is the River Sid the shortest river in England?

The meandering River Sid at Fortescue

The meandering River Sid at Fortescue - Credit: Charles Sinclair

Could the River Sid be the shortest river in England? It's only six miles long, so it's not impossible.

But there are other pretenders. For example, the River Bain in North Yorkshire makes the claim as being the shortest river in England, at just two miles long. But let’s consider that claim. The Bain is just a two-mile-long tributary of the River Ure and is little more than a conduit from a lake to a larger river. And though that fits the dictionary definition of a river, it barely makes sense to me, as it has no real beginning, middle and end.

The Sid however has a real source high in the hills at the top of the valley. It rises in Crowpits Covert, near the Hare & Hounds pub, and grows as it rapidly flows down the Valley. Further down the valley, as it matures, it slows and meanders across the landscape where several streams and brooks feed it. The Roncombe, the Snod Brook and the Woolbrook, evocative names that feed a biodiverse river.

As it enters the lower reaches it becomes a mature river that flows alongside the tree-rich Byes, until it finally enters the sea at the Ham.

That’s my definition of a true river. A complete river. One that rises, flows and enters the sea at its end. Not a channel that joins to other bodies of water.

But of course, there are those further north that will disagree with me. And perhaps they are right. But what I also know to be right is that The Sid, as well as having a beginning, middle and end (and being the only complete river to run its full length in this way within one parish) is a biodiverse river. That’s not up for argument.

I’ve mentioned how tree rich the lower reaches are. Indeed many of these trees are mapped by Sidmouth Arboretum and are splendid examples of what the Victorian plant hunters (such as Veitch and their 22 recorded plant hunters), brought to our shores. Upstream the range is decreased but they are examples of rural England at its best.

And let’s not forget the wildlife. Dippers, kingfishers and otters are to be found if you know where to look. And there is a good fish population consisting of sea and brown trout, salmon, eels, lamprey, bullhead etc, though it has to be said that the various weirs do little to help migratory fish.

As for vegetation, Sidmouth Arboretum has recorded and mapped many and diverse trees on the lower reaches. Higher up the river the number of species is smaller, but numbers are high with a range we’d expect in farmland and meadows bordering a river.

Access to the river is good, with miles of riverside walks, not only in the Byes, but also below the packhorse bridge in Sidbury and at Sidford Millennium Green in Sidbury.

To ensure water quality local volunteers regularly monitor the river and streams for pollution. The water is checked for turbidity, phosphates, total dissolved solids, temperature, wildlife, vegetation and signs of pollution. The results are coordinated by the Westcountry Rivers Trust and contribute nationally to river quality research.

I still believe the River Sid is the shortest river in England. But whether that is disputed or not, it is rich in biodiversity and needs to be looked after so it can give its best.

There’s more about biodiversity of the Sid Valley at https://sidvalleybiodiversity.org.uk

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