THE owners of the riverbank controversially closed to the public have explained their decision.

Stretches of the River Itchen between Easton and Itchen Abbas have been fenced off to stop the public from getting to the banks.

This sparked widespread anger from some people who have enjoyed it as a beauty spot for decades.

Now Nick Owen has written an article published in last month’s Itchen Valley News magazine.

Headlined ‘Protection of the River and People’, Mr Owen, also writing on behalf of Andrew Impey and Richard Hunt, wrote: “This section of the river is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). We must protect wildlife and nature for future generations, but just as relevant and misunderstood is the need for protection of people from falling trees and from the diseases that abound in many rivers.

“Sadly we live in a litigious age when all land and riparian owners have to take precautions against the irresponsible minority who do not or will not take care of themselves and their children.

“Unfortunately some of these people are locals as well as visitors drawn by social media to ‘Itchen Beach’. The damage they cause, the disgusting rubbish they leave and the abuse they give when challenged is well documented in a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle on November 12 from Pat Brockway.

“As land and riparian owners, we have to have public indemnity insurance, as would any public body owning or managing the same land, if there were to be such a body prepared to take on the liability for management and public safety.

“Fencing is essential to deter and will have to be put up. The risk of accident and liability is a powerful reinforcement of our decision to close Cow Down on environmental grounds.

“We and our experts have made a presentation to a committee appointed by the council. The need for these actions has been compounded by the decision of Cllr Jackie Porter to follow up her suggestion, in interview with the Chronicle, that a small part of our fields and river itself should become a Village Green.

“There are many reasons why this proposal for a second local village green is inappropriate and regrettable. The whole river is in an SSSI/SAC and protected by law. It is the duty of riparian owners to enforce this protection.

“The river has been a known source of water borne diseases. These are rare but frequent enough for Alresford Surgery to have warned in the past against swimming in the river.

“Management of a village green needs regular control, cleaning and inevitably cost.

“There is no vehicle or bicycle access and parking has to be in Chilland, by Itchen Abbas Church, on the road verge in Itchen Abbas and is sometimes attempted in the lime avenue leading to Grey’s Lea. Parking in any of these areas creates nuisance and obstruction for local residents and emergency services.

“The mess made will soon clear when warmer weather returns and the first signs of returning species have already been observed. Let’s hope that is only a short term aberration.”

The landowners have been working with Heb Leman, Test and Itchen Restoration Strategy project officer.

He continued: “The Itchen Abbas project is the latest part of our strategy. Working together we have removed 13 structures such as weirs and hatch dams that slow the flow of the river, making it more difficult to achieve the conditions required for chalk stream flora and fauna to thrive.

“We have also added 20,000 tonnes of gravel and narrowed overly wide channels using woody material. This has raised the beds and further increased the velocity to create a habitat for species such as ranunculus to flourish, changed many kilometres of river bank from being manicured to natural, thereby improving habitat, creating cover, reducing erosion and making each river more resilient to climate change and brought together fisheries, landowners, anglers and multiple organisations.

“It’s taken eight years to get where we are now but ultimately, the project sold itself once the dramatic improvements of the first stages came to life.”