Cove Brook begins as water draining off Hungry Hill, south of Aldershot. One of its feeder streams runs under the Basingstoke Canal and under the main runway at Farnborough airfield; another comes from Eelmoor Marsh on the QinetiQ site. They merge with the Marrow Brook (coming from the town centre) to form Cove Brook proper which runs north to join the River Blackwater near the M3.
Before the 1960s Cove Brook was a shallow, natural stream running through marshy fields. In his book Our Hampshire Cove (1995) the local historian Arthur Lunn describes how it could grow into a torrent 10 feet deep and 100 yards wide after heavy rain. It had to be brought under control when the West Heath, Prospect and other estates were built in the 1960s and 70s. North of the railway, the channel was deepened and widened to reduce the risk of flooding. The banks were kept mown very short and the channel was frequently dredged. The brook carried sewage from Cove Sewage Works, which may be why older residents remember it being fuller than it often is today.
Also in the 1960s, the meadows at Southwood Farm were designated as a flood storage area, and a bund (bank) was built to hold the floodwater from the brook. The meadows became a flood-prone golf course and the brook was put into a straight concrete-lined channel from the airfield to Cove Road. This is hard to make sense of today, because this would have helped to carry the water quickly downstream, whilst the bund had precisely the opposite effect!
In 1996 the Cove Brook Greenway environmental initiative began as a partnership between the Environment Agency, Rushmoor Borough Council, Hampshire County Council and the Hampshire Wildlife Trust. The Environment Agency did major works to re-naturalise the southern section of the brook. North of the railway the channel was reshaped so that at normal low water levels the stream would scour itself, reducing the need for dredging. Shallow dipping areas with gravel underfoot, creating safe access, were installed. These also helped to oxygenate the water and improve it for fish. Vegetation was allowed to grow in the channel and on the banks, making it a haven for wildlife. (Article on the current Management of Cove Brook – to follow). This is a continuing source of love/hate for local residents. Now the brook is monitored by the Environment Agency and is cleared by them when there is deemed to be an obstruction.
In the late 1990s paths were created, rubbish cleared and the Cove Brook Greenway Group was formed so that local residents could maintain and build on the improvements that had been made. One of the first successes was the erection by Rushmoor Borough Council in 1996 of the Houseman Road footbridge, a well-used crossing today. In 1997 the Group benefited from the re-building of Blunden Hall giving them their own tool store and office / field study centre, which is still in use today. This paled into insignificance however compared to the filming of the Group by the BBC’s ‘Out and About Team’!
In 1998/9 more than 1000 young hedging and trees were planted by volunteer members of the Group who have met monthly for work parties since the start. In 1999 CBGG received a ‘special mention’ in the Queen Mother’s Birthday Awards run by the Tidy Britain Group; not surprising when in the early newsletters one reads about the appalling state of the Brook, with lists of the rubbish retrieved including three-piece suites, a car and a motorbike. In one picture some volunteers stand beside 7 shopping trolleys recovered from the Brook on one work party alone!
Successful grant applications enabled the Group to transform disused allotments at Birchett Road into the Birchbrook reserve, intended to be a resource for schools and a dog-free picnic area for families. In 2004 a BBC ‘Breathing Places’ grant enabled the group to put on its first Family Fun Day; the Group has also worked with Rushmoor Council to supply maps, and information boards along the brook.
Over the years the CBGG has worked with the Environment Agency to improve relations with local residents especially following flooding in 2007. During the 2000s the focus was on improving information-sharing, litter clearing, some wildflower planting and restoring the dipping areas. Work with Rushmoor to improve paths along the brook culminated in 2011 with the opening of a newly surfaced walking / cycling / wheelchair route along the length of Cove Brook, through Southwood meadows and from Holly Road to Hawley Lane, this was funded by Sustrans and a grant from Veolia.
Over the years the Group has been recognised by Rushmoor in Bloom and involved in the development of the local Biodiversity Strategy. With its popular bi-annual Fun Days, annual Spring Clean, involvement in local ‘green’ activities and learning experiences for children the Group continues to make a difference. The area around Cove Brook is unrecognisable from that which greeted the first volunteers in 1996.