Press release

Unlocking the River Severn for people and wildlife

Funding announced for major new wildlife project to reopen the River Severn for fish and wildlife.

A major new wildlife project to reopen the mighty River Severn has secured almost £20 million of funding – £10.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £6 million from the European Union LIFE programme.

The scheme will re-open the mighty River Severn and its major tributary for fish and wildlife whilst reconnecting millions of people and local communities with the lost natural, cultural and industrial heritage of this magical river.

This is the largest project of its kind ever attempted in Europe and will reopen the UK’s longest river to all fish species, many of which became extinct in the upper reaches following the installation of weirs required to power the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The work will remove blockages and secure the long-term future of many of the UK’s declining and protected fish species by substantially increasing access to important spawning grounds.

This includes historically economically vital species such as the now threatened twaite and allis shad – a species favoured in the court of Henry III, once abundant and famed all across Europe for its taste and quality. The project will also benefit other critically declining species such as salmon and the European eel – all species on which the communities along the banks of the River Severn were historically built.

The project was developed as part of a 3 year long collaborative partnership between the Severn Rivers Trust, the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said:

After considerable investment, rivers in England are the healthiest for 20 years. This is down to more than a decade of hard work. But there is more to do and ambitious projects, such as the Unlocking the River Severn, to remove weirs and help fish migrate are a crucial part of this. But this isn’t just about fish – we want this project to reconnect millions of people with this beautiful river. This is a great example of working with partners in order to play to different organisations’ strengths, make our money go further and deliver more.

James Cross, chief executive officer of Natural England, said:

This is a really exciting example of what partnership working can achieve. The ambition and scale of this project, to restore over 250 km of historic spawning and nursery ground and support 2 species of shad, as well as a whole range of other fish such as salmon, eels, lamprey and sea trout, in the River Severn, River Teme SSSI and Severn Estuary, is great testament to the passion we share with our partners for the natural environment and the hard work the project team have put in. I am thrilled to hear that the project has been successful, and I’m looking forward to visiting the viewing gallery in the Diglis fish pass and seeing the migrating fish for myself.

Today, more than 6 million people live within close proximity of the River Severn, and the project will build upon the wide economic and social benefits to local communities the river brings. Recreational and commercial fishing activities contribute £15 million to the river each year with a further £4.4 million per annum from recreational activities, such as walking and cycling along the Severn Way. The project will build on this by restoring the fish populations to bring additional economic benefits, as well as enhancing the recreational and tourism opportunities along the river.

The exciting project will also work closely with local communities and schools in order to reconnect millions of people with the natural, cultural and industrial heritage on the rivers. Along with the UK’s first Shad Fest and England’s only fish viewing gallery at Diglis Weir in Worcester, a major citizen science program will also get people involved in the preservation of this lesser-known UK fish.

In reconnecting people with the river, the project will raise awareness of the value of UK rivers, not only for enhancing biodiversity, tourism and fishing, but ensuring the River Severn system is protected for our future generations to enjoy as part of our natural and historic heritage, and an important piece of what made Britain the economic powerhouse it is today.

Tony Bostock, chief executive officer of the Severn Rivers Trust, said:

This exciting project meets the aims of the Severn Rivers Trust and our partners in protecting and enhancing the Severn catchment. It will deliver multiple benefits to fisheries interests, anglers and a great many local communities along the Severn and Teme. The state-of-the-art fish passes will truly unlock the UK’s longest river and together with proposed habitat improvements provide greater resilience to climate change and other pressures in the future.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, said:

We are delighted to receive this very significant funding to help us restore this important fish stock to the upper River Severn, and we are very grateful to the HLF and the European LIFE fund. Whilst the weirs have played a vital role in enabling boats to use the river for over 200 years, it is fantastic that we can now introduce the fish passes that will open up the river for fish and wildlife once again.

Work to install the first of seven state-of-the-art fish passes will begin in 2017, and the project will take approximately 5 years to complete.