2022 Restoration Projects Round UP

Mike Blackmore

For the first time Wessex Rivers Trust has delivered over a million pounds worth of river habitat and fish passage improvement projects in a single year. The focus has been primarily on the River Test and its tributaries, but we’ve also undertaken works on the River Meon and headwaters of the Itchen, and have been working hard on an exciting pipeline of projects for the Avon and Stour.

Adequately describing each of this year’s projects justice we would probably require a whole additional magazine, so instead I’ll focus on some of the statistics…

We’ve delivered 14 projects across 10 waterbodies. This work required 19 excavators, 10 dumpers, an estimated 7500 tonnes of gravel, and countless bits of tree. In all we’ve un-straightened, un-widened, un-dredged, and untidied a total 8.4km of chalk stream!

Of these projects 9 were designed completely in-house, 3 with the help of the Wild Trout Trust, and 2 were designed by external consultants.
12 of our projects were delivered within a 12-week autumn window, with 7 delivered simultaneously within the latter 6 weeks. 4 projects were delivered in-house with the Trust’s staff leading specialist contractors, supported by local suppliers and a total of 95 volunteers. We procured the services of 8 river restoration companies, 5 specialist contractors, 2 surveyors and 7 river keepers. We’ve also worked closely with our very good friends at the Wild Trout Trust, our regions Wildlife Trusts, and local officers at the Environment Agency and Natural England.

Obviously, our autumns are hectic, but that busy period is actually when my personal anxiety levels drop. The start of capital works is the final straight of a marathon assault course of ecological and topographic surveys, stakeholder engagement, design, re-design, costing, permitting and procurement. There are multiple points of potential failure, and for more than one project it’s appeared at times that we wouldn’t finish the race at all. Getting a project started on the ground is an exercise in gritted-teeth-gritting determination, saintly diplomacy, and (to a certain extent) blind faith. Above all it takes a huge team effort, and I’m immensely proud and privileged to have such a strong team of professionals to work with. The team is close-knit, supportive and above all committed to the cause. They’ve pulled together to cover each other over holidays, illness, operations and even weddings and parental leave.

The end result has been a huge increase in habitat quality, diversity, and resilience. The local impact is significant; but more ephemeral, yet no less more important, is the journey of discovery for landowners, fishery managers, regulators, members of the public, and other stakeholders. Our goal is to raise the bar of what can be achieved in such a short window, and as the projects recover and “green-up”, what ecological dividends such habitat investments can yield.

We have big plans for next year, including major capital works on the Avon and Stour catchments as well as the Test, Itchen and Meon. Over the winter we’ll be investigating Natural Flood management and wetland restoration projects in the New Forest and limbering up for another marathon toward delivery of our 2023 projects. We hope you’ll continue to support our efforts.

2022's projects were delivered with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Test and Itchen Catchment Partnership, Environment Agency and Southern Water. With contributions from landowners and volunteers