Concerns have been raised that vulnerable "fussy fish" may die as a result of plans to build a major new road in Oxfordshire.

The county council has put forward the proposal to construct a relief road in Watlington which would direct traffic away from the high street and provide direct access to the B4009 either side of the market town.

Oxford Mail: Watlington High Street.Watlington High Street. (Image: Loraine Daniels.)

Oxfordshire County Council says the aim is to reduce congestion, noise and air pollution in the town centre and to enable future housing developments with more cycling and walking options.

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High street traders have raised objections to the application on the basis they will no longer benefit from passing trade and flooding concerns have also been voiced by the Environmental Agency.

Oxford Mail: Watlington Relief Road plan.Watlington Relief Road plan. (Image: Oxfordshire County Council.)

Chief executive of the River Thame Conservation Trust, David Fraser, said: "The Chalgrove Brook and the two tributaries that flow into it are all in the vicinity of the proposed relief road.

"Those rivers are chalk streams are inherently important because of their unique ecology and hydrology.

"We want to make sure the bypass road doesn't have any detrimental impact on the chalk streams."

Mr Fraser said a primary concern was plans for a new crossing point as the group thought the existing one was sufficient but a broader concern was also raised about "all the kind of nasty things you get deposited with traffic".

Oxford Mail: Chalgrove Brook.Chalgrove Brook. (Image: Contribution.)

He added "Brown trout are a characteristic species of chalk streams.

"They have particular requirements for a much higher quality of water which is cooler and cleaner.

"They are much fussier and a bit more special and are restricted to relatively few tributaries.

"We know they are very vulnerable.

Oxford Mail: Wild brown trout from the Chalgrove Brook.Wild brown trout from the Chalgrove Brook. (Image: Contribution.)

"There have been fish kills in the past - when you get pollution incidents it doesn't take much to basically kill the fish."

Chris Church, co-chair community alliance and campaign group, Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance, said: "The Chalgrove Brook chalk stream is known to be an important and highly sensitive ecosytem.

“Oxfordshire County Council's plan for building a new road across it puts it at risk from toxic road runoff very likely having a negative effect on the protected brown trout species inhabiting the stream.

"This is another problem for this scheme. We should not be building a new road across this unique habitat."

Local councillor Freddie van Mierlo supports the relief road scheme but said he had "emphasised the importance of minimising impacts to the Chalgrove Brook" from the start.

Oxford Mail: Freddie van Mierlo.Freddie van Mierlo. (Image: N/A.)

Mr van Mierlo added: "During public exhibitions held in Watlington and Pyrton and the public consultation on the planning application consultees have also expressed their desire to see the chalk stream protected. All of these comments are being taken into account and a revised plan will come forward."

Oxfordshire County Council said they would consider the concerns as part of the application process.

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About the author

Noor is the Local Democracy Reporter for Oxfordshire who covers political stories from across the county. 

She began working as a journalist in Oxford in September 2023 having graduated from the University of Oxford.

Noor was trained at the News Associates journalism school and can be found on X through the handle @NoorJQurashi