About the Ouzel & Milton Keynes catchment

The Upper & Bedford Ouse catchment is one of 11 management catchments forming the Anglian River Basin District. The catchment covers an area from the headwaters of the River Great Ouse west of Buckingham and Brackley to east of Huntingdon and St Ives, where the river flows into the Old Bedford & Middle Level and Cam and Ely Ouse catchments – and on to The Wash.


This catchment includes a the Loughton Brook (draining west Milton Keynes), Tathall Brook and a section of the River Great Ouse (Wolverton to Newport Pagnell) where the valley delineates the northern boundary of the designated new town of Milton Keynes. . The Grand Union Canal runs north-south along the River Ouzel valley.

The major urban area of Milton Keynes dominates the north of the catchment, where the River Ouzel has been significantly modified by flood management schemes, including the two large balancing lakes at Caldecotte and Willen. There are linear parks along the main watercourses and floodplains and these are a defining feature of the city.

Leighton-Linslade is the main settlement in the south and the Ouzel’s floodplain provides a major area of accessible open space stretching through the centre of the built up area. The rest of the catchment is mainly rural with mixed agriculture including extensive floodplain grazing, and the river remains relatively small and intimate with meanders, riffles and pools.

One theory for the origin of the name ‘Ouzel’ is a historical association with the dipper, a thrush-sized bird now largely associated with upland rivers and streams, but which is featured on the town crest of Leighton-Linslade. Kingfishers can be seen along the river, which brings nature close to many people through the two main settlements. Records of otter are increasing along both the Ouzel and Great Ouse in Milton Keynes, and ancient willow pollards and rare black poplars are an important feature of the Ouzel’s cultural and physical landscape.

The Environment Agency has been surveying and monitoring water quality in the Ouzel and Milton Keynes catchment against WFD criteria since 2009. Details of the findings can be found from page 46 in the Upper & Bedford Ouse Management Catchment – Catchment Summary. The status (health) of the water environment in 2009 was assessed as being generally moderate, and while in 2013 the picture was broadly similar there were some changes – the number of waterbodies assessed as good had increased from 2 to 4, the number assessed as poor decreased from 2 to 1, but the number assessed as bad increased from 0 to 1.

Investigations by the Environment Agency since 2009 indicate that the top 3 reasons for more water bodies in the Ouzel and Milton Keynes operational catchment not achieving good status are:

  • Pollution from rural areas – particularly from agriculture
  • pollution from waste water – particularly from the water industry

Through local consultation and engagement issues such as Invasive Non-Native Species (in particular Himalayan Balsam and signal crayfish), litter and fly-tipping and low flows have also been raised.

The Upper & Bedford Ouse Catchment Partnership together with local groups, land owners and interested parties are working to identify projects and activities which can address these issues, to maximise the number of good water bodies within the Ouzel and Milton Keynes Operational Catchment.

Please navigate around the Ouzel and Milton Keynes operational catchment map to see current, planned and completed projects. More projects will be added as they arise.