At the start of July I attended a small workshop at the Izaak Walton Hotel overlooking the River Dove in Dovedale, Staffordshire.
As part of the suite of SSSI Rivers in England the Trent Rivers Trust and partners have recently completed the River Restoration Plan for the Dove SSSI. This document sets out what is currently problematic and what is needed to protect and improve this iconic but troubled limestone river.
For anyone who has been walking in this part of the country, you are likely to have crossed over the stepping stones and bought an ice cream from the mobile National Trust log cabin. This reach features many low weirs of varing construction, age and purpose (mostly now forgotten). These are seen weekly by thousands of visitors, and are one of the memorable aspects of the valley, but also impact the quality of the river habitat.
The workshop brought together a wide range of local and other national interest groups and individuals to discuss the weirs, their impact, their place in the valley and the options for improving the river habitat through their possible removal, and how this might be acheived with good planning and partnership. The last point was critical, as the day was organised under the banner of the River Dove Catchment Partnership.
The morning covered perspectives of fisheries; impact of weirs on fishing; beetles and exposed gravel; the 'natural' morphology of the river; heritage planning and partnership. Personally, I found the questions from the angling clubs the most insightful and refreshing, including "will you monitor the effects to prove it is working" and "what is the scientific evidence" - those concerns that RRC always ask to be addressed.
In the early afternoon, duriung the downpours, blistering sun and lightning strikes (taking out the hotel wifi), Seb Bentley (JBA) and I looked at examples of weir removal and what was being done well elsewhere in the country.
Following that, the hot day cooled down somewhat with a paddle in the river to see how the discussions matched up with the experience of the weirs on site. it was clear that a big hurdle will be the perception of the weirs and explaing why they have a negative impact. Visually, the majority of splashing kids were 'shoaling' in the clear shallows downstream of the weirs and avoiding the upstream deeper (black annoxic silt-laden) 'pools'. However, some low weirs had a buld-up of gravel behind them to the extent that these structures were drawing water (speeding its velocity) over the weir and gravel, creating ideal water crowfoot habitat, and looking stunning. But walk a further 10m upstream and the same deeper pooling of slow silty water was occuring. The key for public perception is showing this cause and effect link between the nasty looking sections and the pretty weirs.
A big thanks to Julie Wozniczka and Steve Rice for arranging the day.