National Trust leads on UK’s first major restoration project to reconnect river to its original floodplain - The National Trust

In a UK first, the National Trust is leading on a pioneering, large-scale project to reconnect a river to its original floodplain to create a healthier, natural and more resilient place for both nature and people.

Following a successful 2019 pilot on a tributary of the River Aller on the Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Somerset, the innovative ‘Stage 0’ approach is now being scaled up to embrace 15 hectares of the main river and its surrounding landscape.

Ben Eardley, project manager for the National Trust said: “We now have a tried and tested method to start reversing the damage done to our rivers. ‘Stage 0’ floodplain reconnection completely resets natural processes – it’s like the ‘ctrl, alt, delete’ equivalent of a computer reset - and lets the river decide what it wants to be. By seeing the river and its surrounding landscape as a whole, we can build resilience and boost biodiversity.”

The first stage of the project is underway with careful earthworks creating shallowly skimmed areas to reset the valley bottom and natural river flow. Large timbers have been pinned or partially buried into the floodplain so that habitat restoration can be ‘fast-tracked’ as this woody debris helps slow flows and develop more hydrological and ecological diversity. This creates the kind of conditions that might have existed before – prior to the river system being heavily managed, with the river itself modified into a single channel. Floodplain wildflower seeds such as ragged robin, devil’s-bit scabious and meadowsweet will be sown over the next few weeks. And next spring, further work will enrich the habitat, including the planting of about 25,000 native trees such as willow, bird cherry and black poplar.

Ben continues: “The river will no longer run along a single channel but form part of a complex waterscape with channels, pools, wetland and marshes. This helps slow the river flow to help combat flooding and drought events as well as well as increasing wildlife and tackling the impact of climate change by holding water in the landscape.By creating these new wetlands, they will not only hold more water during floods or drought but also effectively store carbon. So, the river catchment will be better able to cope with extreme weather events or changes in climate. And it also rejuvenates the surrounding landscape.”

These improvements to the riverside habitat will also support more wildlife including aquatic insects such as dragonflies, fish such as brown trout, grass snakes, birds, bats, water voles and otters.

Ben added: “Careful monitoring of this pioneering project will guide future floodplain reconnections in the UK and abroad. It’s a nature-based solution that you can literally see in action.”

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Posted On: 14/10/2022

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