THOUSANDS of pounds will be spent fixing a bank on the River Windrush after concerns that a 'significant' drop in the water level would endanger wildlife.

West Oxfordshire District Council has a budget of £45,000 to repair the breach west of Woodford Mill, Witney, with the project due to start next week.

The issue was flagged up last spring before the bank collapsed to create a new water course earlier this year, raising fears that it could damage the habitats of several plants and animals.

This caused the water level to drop in the relief streams running off the Windrush, while the weir next to the river has virtually dried up.

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The Environment Agency has since installed pipes to ensure there is a continuous water flow, but residents remain worried about the environmental impact.

Greg Peters, who lives nearby, said: "The pressure of the volume of water flowing down from the breach stops other water from flowing.

"The water level has dropped so that the flow over the bathing place weir has virtually ceased.

"We look forward to the flows returning to normal. Because of the breach, the river is much lower than I have seen it since 2015."

Steve Fletcher, also from Witney, added: "My concern is that we've got three relief streams that are almost empty and they were flowing with water before this happened.

"That must have an impact on the wildlife."

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Mr Peters explained that the breach started as a 'trickle' but had grown since last May, with the new water course leaving very little water flowing to the weir.

An Environment Agency spokesperson revealed 'lengthy enquiries' were conducted to establish the landowner responsible for repairs, with the district council eventually found to be responsible.

He said the dry weather had also contributed to the issue, adding: "As a result of this, we’ve stepped in and installed pipes to syphon water over the weir to ensure there is a flow of water along the channels that were beginning to dry up.

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"No significant numbers of fish in distress have been seen and we suspect that they have moved away from the affected streams as the levels slowly dropped as the breach worsened.

"However, there will be temporary loss of habitat for aquatic plants and animals, including fish, otters and water-voles while we wait for the permanent repair to be carried out."

Last month, the district council said the breach would be fixed at the start of June, but later confirmed repairs would start next week.

This will be carried out in two phases, with the initial temporary repairs set to form part of a permanent fix to be completed over the next couple of months.

The £45,000 budget was preferred to cheaper repairs, which Norman MacRae, the council's cabinet member for environment, said would have involved using cranes and road closures. 

He added: "Our main aim is to secure the breach and get the ecosystem working again."

A spokesperson said: "This is a matter for which WODC is responsible and work is ongoing to ensure everything needed for a successful repair and construction project can begin as soon as possible."