River Wensum stops flowing through mill for first time in a century

Paul Seaman at Bintry Mill near Fakenham

Paul Seaman says the River Wensum has stopped flowing through Bintry Mill for the first time since his family acquired it in 1906 - Credit: Chris Hill

The rain-starved River Wensum has stopped flowing through a historic Norfolk watermill for the first time in at least a century.

Bintry Mill is located on the headwaters of the Wensum, about a mile west of the village of Bintree, near Fakenham.

But after Norfolk's driest July on record, the depleted river has stopped flowing beneath the picturesque, disused building.

Paul Seaman pictured in the dried-up water channel beneath Bintry Mill

Paul Seaman pictured in the dried-up water channel beneath Bintry Mill - Credit: Chris Hill

Owner Paul Seaman said it is the first time this has happened since his family acquired the mill in 1906.

But although the lack of rainfall is a key factor, he said it has been compounded by a damaged river bank half a mile upstream, which is leaking water into another stream, "bypassing" the mill and rejoining the Wensum below the mill.

The Environment Agency said bank repairs are due to be completed by the end of this year, and that no environmental issues have been reported on this section of the protected river, which is designated as both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

But Mr Seaman said he is concerned for the fish in his private fishery, as the reduced river flow leaves the channel "choked" with weeds and algae.

"My family has been here 120-odd years, but I have never known the mill to have no water coming under here," he said. "A mill without water is like a pub without beer.

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"Because I can lay in bed and listen to it, I can tell the flow just by acoustics, I just feel I am missing something, I am losing my empathy with the river. It is not talking to me any more.

"If we had normal rainfall there would still be enough to come through here. But it is a combination of the lack of rainfall and this unresolved engineering issue upstream that has dried the mill up.

"The water is going through a hole in the bank and coming down a side stream, and joining up with the river further down from the mill.

"Now there is not enough water coming through to oxygenate the fish, so the fish are suffering. The whole river is not affected, it is just the area around the mill."

Bintry Mill, near Fakenham

The River Wensum has stopped flowing through Bintry Mill, near Fakenham, for the first time in more than a century - Credit: Chris Hill

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We are aware of a breach in the bank of the River Wensum upstream of Bintry Mill which, along with the prolonged dry weather, is reducing flow in the main channel.

“We are working closely with the landowners, the Internal Drainage Board and Natural England to fix the issue, and we expect to complete work this year.

“To mitigate, we have lowered the water level at our sluice to encourage more flow through the mill, and are considering whether this can be lowered further in the short-term.

“There have been no reports of environmental impact in the area but we continue to monitor the situation. If you spot anything of concern, contact our 24/7 incident hotline on 0800 807060.”

The River Wensum downstream from Bintry Mill, near Fakenham

The River Wensum downstream from Bintry Mill, near Fakenham - Credit: Chris Hill