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Restoring Rivers for Wildlife: Action for the River Kennet

Restoring Rivers for Wildlife: Action for the River Kennet

If you’re considering giving a #PresentForThePlanet this Christmas, you might want to find out more about where your money could be used. Each week, we’re going to tell you about a few of our favourite projects which donations like yours could help to support. Today, we’re hearing from Anna Forbes, Project Officer at Action for the River Kennet, about some of the work they’ve carried out to build better habitats for wildlife in their catchment.

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I love rivers, wildlife and people so running community river restoration projects is a hugely satisfying part of my role as a Project Officer and Volunteer Co-ordinator for Action for the River Kennet (ARK).

Getting to know a community and getting them excited about their local river is key to a successful project.

I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t like being in waders! Our community river restoration days get the locals into waders and in their river. We get them to see rivers and streams through new eyes. Often communities do not realise that they live next to a rare chalk stream, nor that it supports or has the potential to support a wealth of amazing wildlife.

This year we’ve returned to the River Dun, a tributary to the Kennet and have been working at several sites.  We know from Environment Agency data that the river is not at good ecological status, with fish and macrophytes both significant problems. We can improve this by improving habitat and morphology.

In 2017 we ran a community river restoration project on a 150m stretch flowing through a retirement complex in Hungerford, Berkshire. Within months of restoring the riverbank to a more natural state water voles had colonised, birds were nesting in the newly establish marginal vegetation and pollinating insects were benefiting from the flowering purple loosestrife, hemp agrimony and flag iris.

Climbing into this stretch two years later it is amazing to feel the clean gravel riverbed under your feet, in comparison to the deep silt that our volunteers and I struggled around in back in 2017. The clean, loose gravel has benefited the aquatic invertebrate life and in turn the brown trout and grayling too.

The local postman and another local are our trained riverfly monitors here, enabling us to collect long-term data for this site.

This year we’ve been working upstream of our previous habitat improvement work on the Dun at Bearwater, where American signal crayfish have caused significant bank erosion.

ARK before and after

Over several days with our volunteer team and Bearwater residents the area was transformed, using hazel faggots that our volunteers had made in a local wood, locally coppiced alder, six tonnes of chalk and lots of native marginal plants.

Last week we were back restoring the river corridor on the opposite bank to our 2017 work. Residents who look out on our 2017 project excitedly reported their regular sightings of plump water voles and views of otter too.

The small section of hard engineered riverbank that we were enhancing has a more natural bank now, packed with native plants. It is really encouraging to have riparian landowners welcome less tidy riverbanks and embracing LWD and plants, not pulling them out!

Insects are benefitting from the restoration work, too.

Further upstream on the Dun in Little Bedwyn villagers approached ARK wanting to know how they could care for their river. In October after a site visit and a presentation the villagers had removed a small weir that had been impeding fish passage and were out with our regular volunteers making faggots. Over the following weekends more than twenty villagers volunteered with me installing them in their river, coppicing along the riverbank to let more light reach the river and using the materials to backfill. Creating sinuous meanders has got this river flowing and the riverbed is becoming cleaner. Hundreds of locally foraged plants now line the riverbank, providing a buffer stripe between the land and the river; and as they establish will provide a rich habitat for wildlife, both freshwater and land based. The communities we have worked with now have a much better understanding of their river and what wildlife needs to thrive. They enjoy it and value it.

The Froxfield Stream flows into the Dun. The Parish Council own a small water meadow with the stream flowing adjacently. We are working closely with the councillors and the wider community.

This water vole was spotted in the river following restoration work. Look how lovely and clean the water is!

This year we’ve restored the stream, installing faggots, deflectors and LWD; creating meanders to improve the flow. Once again this has shifted thick silt that was smothering the gravels. The channel has a range of flows, plenty of cover and fish are now able to spawn. Kick samples have shown there is a healthy range of freshwater invertebrates and small fish present. Regular sightings of a kingfisher are being reported. We’ve just completed a new wetland and the community have volunteered with us planting it up and wildflower seeding the disturbed surrounding land. This will increase biodiversity in the meadow and help filter road surface run-off, meaning less silt enters the stream.

Hedge planting between the busy main road and the water meadow will bring numerous benefits, including shielding the noise of traffic, filtering road surface runoff before it reaches the stream; as well as a corridor for birds and bats, amphibians and insects.

ARK River Dun Before

Many of the volunteers that get involved through our community river restoration projects on their door step enjoy the experience so much that they became one of our regular volunteers; developing their knowledge of chalk streams and their skills, whilst discovering and helping us improve rivers in the Kennet catchment. By getting communities in the river with us and being part of a project, they see first-hand the plights of chalk stream wildlife. Issues such as water scarcity, pollution and unsympathetic management. Community volunteers develop an understanding of what we are all doing and why; and a huge positive is they often get to see wildlife and signs of wildlife up close.

 

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