Digby leaves the RRC

I’m coming to the end of my time here at RRC. It has been a great few weeks over which I have learnt a lot about river restoration. This blog will explain a bit about what I have been up to and some of the things I have learnt and particularly enjoyed.

The first task I was given was to draw together a timeline of river restoration from the 1930s through to the present day. This included the various legislative changes at a European scale right down to the individual regional and local trusts and partnerships which have been founded over the last century. In particular, it was interesting to observe the patterns and themes which occurred. For example, the 1930s to 80s have been described as a “50 year assault on rivers as they were deepened, widened and straightened”. Moving through to the present day however, the focus has shifted to a re-establishment of ecological processes and a start of restoration projects at a catchment scale. This is reflected in the legislative changes from the EU (the Water Framework Directive); through to the smaller community based projects which are taking place all over the country. This was a particularly good way to start my placement, as it gave me a feel for the industry as a whole, and then enabled me to have a better idea of how the RRC fitted in and what I would be doing over the next few weeks.

My major task, which I spent most of my time doing was helping Marc and Josh with updating the National River Restoration Inventory (NRRI). The NRRI, with the UK projects map “provides a complete record of all river restoration related projects (no matter how small or at what stage), carried out in the UK.” The overarching aim we are working towards is to complete a fully functioning, searchable database which can be added to simply by the coordinator of each project. This will provide benefits for those looking for projects where the same techniques have been used, or give some ideas about which restoration techniques have worked well in similar contexts.

This involved a number of different steps, but the first was transferring the existing excel database into a Microsoft Access format, which was better suited to the aims. Included in this new database were all the projects from the Environment Agency, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the existing NRRI and the River Wiki. Some modification of the formats of the spreadsheets was necessary to ensure consistency. In particular, all the location data was converted into National Grid Reference format.

Following this, I read through the RRC’s Manual of Techniques, making a note of keywords which could be useful search terms in the NRRI. Having formulated a list of keywords for the contexts of the projects and the techniques used, I searched for synonyms and linked them to the keywords tables. Then, all the existing projects were tagged with the relevant keywords for the context the projects were undertaken in (e.g. “Urban”; “Heavily modified channel”; “Chalk stream”) and the techniques used (e.g. “Re-meandering”; “Boulder seeding”; “Marginal planting”).

Already this has aided the RRC team with the various project enquiries we have been dealing with. A search in the NRRI database for “weir modification” for example, with the condition that the project was undertaken in an “industrial” context yields a list of corresponding UK projects. Then the relevant information can be gleaned, such as the total costing or the timescale of the projects. The next step is to make this kind of search available on the website for all those interested in river restoration projects.

In the future, the development of a ‘new project form’ will help the upkeep of the NRRI, giving consistency to the new projects being uploaded. The hope is that this will mean the user could compare and contrast different projects more easily.

As well as helping Marc with the NRRI, however, keeping social media and the news and events sections of the website up to date have been my daily tasks. I have also formatted and edited four new website pages found under the community engagement section of the website (view), produced the second guidance video for the EU River Wiki, and have updated a number of spreadsheets to organise RRC’s content.

Finally, last Wednesday I was given the opportunity to join Marc on his visit to the Bedford Ouse Catchment Partnership meeting. It was a great experience and summed up the struggles facing these partnerships. With limited funding available and a great diversity in the organisations and groups represented it was great to see and hear evidence of successful restoration projects, training days and volunteer workshops which had been put together and achieved over the last few months.

Overall I have been given a much better idea about what is involved in river restoration planning and management. I have been able to pursue my particular interest in the management of fisheries and have been doing some reading on the Wye & Usk foundation’s work to improve the habitat of those rivers for spawning Atlantic salmon. And I have gained valuable experience of working in river restoration which will hopefully help me next year at university as I write my dissertation and beyond.

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