On August 28th, I had the pleasure of attending a river habitat workshop on The River Misbourne, Colne catchment, led by The Environment Agency and The Wild Trout Trust. The objective of such workshops is to give participants practical experience of how to manage and improve river habitat for the benefit of wildlife and the community. They are designed to cater for a wide range of backgrounds including: volunteers from local and community groups; angling club members; and staff from the Envionment Agency, Local Government and Wildlife and Rivers Trusts.
The short section of the Misbourne we were to focus on was largely uniform in flow and therefore habitat. It was also densely shaded by trees on the banks, limiting the amount of instream vegetation. To address these key issues, we were to kill two birds with one stone, cutting back vegetation to reduce shading, and using the resultant woody material to make berms, which would increase variation in the direction and speeds of flow. In no particular order, here are my top five takeaway points from the day.
1. Good guidance to ensure best practice
With some experienced guidance the success of measures taken can be greatly enhanced; Mike Blackmore of the Wild Trout Trust, with help from Environment Agency representatives, was coordinating our efforts. Although the berm structures to be built were basic in design, there were some simple, yet not obvious techniques used to enhance their effectiveness. For example, dextrous live willow was cut partway before being bent into the river and held in place. Cut in this way, the willow will continue to grow within the berm structures. The cuts were also made so the willow could be bent pointing downstream, with the flow; if bent upstream they can easily be pushed out from the banks during high flow events. The day served as a reminder of importance of expert guidance to ensure best practice. View our guidance pages here.
2. Strength in numbers
Engaging the local community in projects is an integral part of the vision of the Catchment Partnerships. This can have multiple benefits, for example for environmental education and strengthening communities. Evident from the workshop, the ease at which practical work is completed is certainly on that list. Having been busy cutting back vegetation at a boggy area of the bank for an hour, I took the chance to observe the fruits of our labour. Three large berms were quickly taking shape, and already the channel had become more varied in flow directions and rates, and therefore habitat availability. It was a clear demonstration that there is certainly strength in numbers when undertaking practical work, and how building capacity through local engagement is important for projects led by the third sector.
3. Wellbeing benefits
I can’t write about the day without mentioning how enjoyable it was. The practical workout, meeting new people, being outdoors and surrounded by nature, all contributed to the fun. There are many initiatives to reconnect different groups within society to nature, for example Forest School’s and the Community Supported Agriculture scheme, which often advertise benefits to volunteer wellbeing. This is something which the river restoration community could potentially tap into more when evidencing the benefits of projects, or applying for funding. Have you thought about monitoring the social benefits of your project as well as the biophysical benefits?
4. Under the radar interest
On the day I met two members of the Amersham Amenity Group. Having been hit hard by floods in 2014, they had come on the day interested in river restoration as a tool for reducing the risk of similar floods occurring again. They had not heard of CaBA and Catchment Partnerships, and were from a group which perhaps wouldn’t usually be associated with rivers. As we talked further, it occurred to me that they were somewhat “off the radar” with regards to river restoration work. So I was struck by the possibility that there may be many other individuals or groups out there like the Amersham Amenity Group in the UK, who are highly interested in restoring their local rivers, but simply don’t know about the wealth of activity and information out there. Then again, they may be an exception. What this encounter showed was the importance of communicating through new communication channels to diverse audiences on the benefits of river restoration; a key challenge for the sector as a whole. It has therefore been encouraging to see river restoration featured on both Countryfile and BBC Breakfast in recent weeks!
5. Knowledge exchange
Finally, knowledge exchange is a key element of events such as this. It was great talking to other attendees, learning about their experiences of river restoration, and providing guidance where I could. Through exchanging experiences, ideas and information, we learn and are better off for it. The RRC, among other organisations, run a number of training courses and events each year which provide fantastic opportunities for knowledge exchange. The RRC Annual Conference is a prime example of this. Or if you’re looking to exchange knowledge online, have a look at the new CaBA forum, which the RRC now support as a part of the CaBA support team.
Many thanks go to the Wild Trout Trust, Environment Agency, and the other participants at the workshop for a great day in the river!