The importance of physical habitat and natural processes for healthy rivers
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By Alexandra Bryden, Information Officer, River Restoration Centre
River restoration is the re-establishment of natural physical processes, such as flow variation, sediment transportation, erosion and deposition and the creation of hydromorphological features such as bars, pools and riffles. River restoration also incorporates physical habitats of the river, including floodplain reconnection.
The River Restoration Centre is an independent, UK-wide, not-for-profit organisation, that champions the natural and societal benefits of restoring river systems. We support river restoration by collating project information and evidence, developing best practice, and sharing this knowledge throughout the river and catchment management community.
Physical modification of a river is a key pressure in the UK and the main reason why rivers are failing to achieve good ecological status. We actively promote the re-establishment of natural processes, features and biodiversity across river systems, and support the need for ‘space for water’ to allow reconnection of river channels with their floodplains and wetlands.
Each year the River Restoration Centre holds an Annual Network Conference, bringing together professionals from across the river restoration community, including contractors, consultants, engineers, academics, trusts and NGOs, local and government agencies. This 2-day event includes over 50 presenters, workshop sessions and site visits, as well as opportunities to network with others in the industry. This year, 400 river experts attended the 2023 River Restoration Centre (RRC) Annual Network Conference in Birmingham on 19th & 20th April, titled ‘An Action Strategy for River Restoration’. The consensus view from the conference is that, to achieve the social, environmental and economic benefits of restoring healthy rivers and functioning floodplains in the UK, there are a number of things we need to recognise.
We urgently need the policy, funds and capacity to restore healthy rivers. We need to increase the scale and rate of implementation of restoration actions. We must plan at the catchment scale to restore natural processes and connectivity in rivers and floodplains.
Most of the UK’s rivers aren't in their natural state, and have been anthropogenically modified in some way, having a huge impact on biodiversity, habitat and floodplain connectivity. We provide courses to teach how a natural river should look and function and are holding a scientific conference with the title ‘Scientific Advances in River Restoration (SARR)’ on September 6th – 8th at the University of Liverpool. This conference hopes to bring together industry professionals to continue the conversation on how to enhance current river restoration approaches. You can book to attend this conference at the link here.
We need physical habitats and natural processes to be recognised as being equally important as water quality and quantity for healthy rivers. We must communicate better the importance of physical habitat and natural processes for the health of our rivers. We need physical habitat and natural processes to feature more highly in national campaigns.
We need better-defined national targets for river morphology and habitat quality. We need science, research and monitoring to understand and measure success.
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