A project to restore vital habitat, boost river ecology and reduce flood risk has been praised by the Environment Agency’s Chief Executive Sir James Bevan after he paid a visit to the site.
Sir James saw first-hand how the scheme will improve conditions in the upper Witham for invertebrates including native crayfish, fish like wild brown trout, and even small mammals such as endangered water voles in the upper River Witham.
He accompanied Environment Agency officers to the site at Grange Farm near Grantham, where the river has been restored to a more natural form by bypassing a disused weir.
A new winding 640 metre long channel has been created to re-connect the up- and downstream parts of the river; this will help join up isolated groups of wild brown trout, bolstering populations by helping the fish migrate and spawn.
The project also restores habitat badly needed by water voles, which are now the most endangered mammal species in the UK. Nearly 90% have disappeared in the last seven years, mainly due to habitat loss and predation by American mink.
Plus, the channel has been reconnected to the floodplain and its length has now been increased by almost a third, or about 150m; this additional meandering shape will help maintain water levels in dry spells and slow the flow when levels are high, helping naturally reduce flood risk to Grantham and other areas downstream.
Following his visit, Environment Agency Chief Executive James Bevan said:
There are many challenges facing our country’s rivers, and after considerable investment the rivers in England are the healthiest for 20 years.
This project is an impressive example of how we can work collaboratively with others to improve and protect our natural heritage.
The Environment Agency, with our partners, will continue to develop schemes like this one to achieve multiple benefits for people and the environment.
Initial surveys have shown the improvements have already had an impact, as wild trout populations in the river have increased since the scheme’s completion.
The project has presented a chance to pilot techniques which could be applied elsewhere in the catchment, including in the urban area of Grantham, as part of an ambitious plan with partners to improve the Upper Witham river corridor.