The River Brit has its source in the hills north of Beaminster; after flowing through the town it heads southwards through Netherbury, on to Pymore and eventually reaches Bridport where it is joined by the diminutive River Simene. After reaching the confluence with the Asker, the Brit then meanders its way across the fields to West Bay where it empties into the harbour over several electrically operated hatches which, except in the winter, are normally held closed unless the harbour is being ‘scoured’ at low tide.
The River Asker rises from the chalk hills around Eggardon at Askerswell. It then flows on through Loders until it reaches Bradpole where it is joined by a side stream, the Mangerton River. From here it continues onto Bridport where it joins the River Brit above the weir at Palmers Brewery.
The rivers in and around Bridport have had quite a rough time in the last few centuries. The town has had a long history in the hemp and flax growing industry and the process of rotting or ‘retting’ the flax must have introduced fair levels of pollution into the river systems as did processes from the tanning industry. Add to this the discharges from the Victorian sewage systems and dyes and chemicals of modern netting factories and this resulted in conditions that were not exactly conducive to a healthy aquatic environment. Up until recent years kitchen sinks and even sewers have been found still discharging straight into the river; there may still be some undiscovered.
On the whole though, thanks to the river authorities and now the Environment Agency, river systems have been dramatically improved. Water quality is good and supports a wide variety of species including minnows, stone loaches and a healthy brown trout population. This in turn supports other wildlife such as kingfishers and otters. Salmon and sea trout are now running the rivers, trying to make their way up-stream in order to spawn. Conditions are healthy enough to support the young (parr) of these species which live in the river for two to five years before turning into smolts and returning back to the sea. The reasons behind declining stocks of sea trout and especially salmon are numerous and complicated but there is one thing that we can do to improve their chances of survival and that is to ensure that spawning grounds are clean and accessible.
Many flax and corn mills have been built in Bridport and surrounding areas, the weirs and hatches of which to some degree or another have presented barriers to migrating fish. The addition of more recent developments also presents some formidable barriers and it is here where more help is needed, namely fish passes. Although some fish do spawn successfully, enabling fish greater opportunities to access new and better spawning grounds can only help the situation by increasing the number of smolts returning to sea, and hopefully more adults returning to spawn. Research has also shown that fry hatched from redds in the upper reaches of streams and rivers have a much higher rate of survival than those of the lower reaches; unfortunately, most of the migratory fish in this system are forced to spawn in the less favourable lower stretches.
Things are, however, looking more positive now as developments are in progress to aid fish to overcome these obstacles and hopefully in the near future, many more miles of river will become available to them.