In an exciting stride towards biodiversity restoration, Natural England recently unveiled the Species Recovery Programme Grant Scheme. A substantial £14.5 million fund has been allocated to support 63 crucial projects throughout England, all aimed at the recovery of 150 species nationwide. A beacon of hope for conservation efforts, this initiative has particularly caught our attention due to its significant impact on our beloved rivers.
Six projects under the Rivers Trust Movement have received funding from this program. We're thrilled to announce that among them is our Wild Figheldean project, strategically focusing on a 1km stretch of the River Avon, nestled near the village of Figheldean.
The River Avon at this particular site has faced historical alterations due to the presence of a long-demolished mill. The remnants of this infrastructure, particularly a weir, have stood as barriers to fish passage, deteriorating habitat quality upstream and disrupting natural sediment flow. The river channel itself has been unnaturally straightened and widened, diminishing natural geomorphology and hindering vital hydrological processes that sustain habitat niches in both the river and its adjoining floodplain.
To counter these challenges and restore the river a more natural state, the Wild Figheldean project has outlined a comprehensive approach. Key actions include the removal of the defunct weir, infilling of the weir pool to reinstate a more natural gradient, and enhancing fish passage for various species, notably the Atlantic salmon.
Moreover, the project will focus on reprofiling the steep banks to a gentler, more natural profile. This will encourage the formation of a marginal zone and work towards narrowing the excessively wide channel. Introducing woody material into the river channel will boost hydraulic activity, diversify the riverbed, and provide essential cover for fish and invertebrate species.
The project isn't just about revitalizing the river; it also involves restoring a culverted off-take that feeds a carrier channel across the floodplain. By daylighting this off-take and creating a new opening upstream, the project aims to establish 140 meters of new river channel across the floodplain, promoting consistent year-round flow. Additionally, this innovative design will enable a higher proportion of water to reach the floodplain during rising river conditions.
A key focus is also on wildlife conservation. The existing fencing will be moved back from the river, allowing a larger riparian zone to form and benefit the water vole population present on-site. A comprehensive mitigation package is proposed to ensure a net gain in suitable habitat and a positive outcome for these species.
We hope the Wild Figheldean project will instigate positive transformation to the river ecosystem; improving passage, spawning opportunities, and juvenile habitat for the Atlantic salmon while enhancing conditions for various macrophyte and invertebrate species associated with the SSSI/SAC designation.
Stay tuned for more updates as we embark on this exciting journey towards a more sustainable and thriving environment!