‘Secret’ Suffolk river is re-born
- Credit: WATER MANAGEMENT ALLIANCE
Latitude festival’s watery neighbour makes music of its own.
Like a newborn baby announcing his or her arrival in the world with a fulsome, life-affirming cry, a somewhat secret Suffolk watercourse seems to be announcing its re-birth with assertive sounds.
Even before the winding River Wang can be seen, it can be heard. Its rippling river music drifts across its floodplain, audible from a considerable distance – a sure sign that its long-dormant flow has been re-invigorated in a restoration project now beginning to reap environmental dividends.
In summer, such tell-tale tinkling may either have ceased due to natural fluctuations of water volume, or perhaps it will be drowned out by the sounds of the Latitude festival rolling in from nearby Henham Park. For now, the newly quickened flow of spring spate, additionally fuelled and fastened by recent snow-melt, is the welcome soundtrack of enhancement work led by the East Suffolk Internal Drainage Board (IDB) and supported by the Environment Agency (EA).
The Wang, a tributary of the River Blyth, rises near Uggeshall and flows eastwards towards its culmination at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Hen Reedbeds nature reserve, near Southwold. For two kilometres of its length, nearing the end of its route and stretching to a point just west of the busy A12 under which it passes, it has been given new life by the partnership project.
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Funded by money the EA receives from the IDB precept from its ratepayers, and throughEA funding related to the European Water Framework Directive, the restoration scheme has cost a total of £13,000. It is part of a three-year programme that enables the IDB to work on waterways that have “Main River” classification, where it would otherwise be unable to – and it will offer long-term ecological and river management benefits that ensures value for money.
Tom Jones, operations engineer for the Eastern Water Management Alliance – the consortium that unites IDBs in Eastern England – said the project’s use of natural processes would deliver river management cost savings as well as environmental benefits.
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Landowner Hektor Rous managed much of the local area under a Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment scheme which relied on livestock grazing the river’s floodplain, said Mr Jones.
“If it is too wet too often the cattle and sheep would not be able to graze, but having the correct amounts of inundation is important for the maintenance of the area’s diversity of wildlife species, so water management is the key,” he said.
“The Environment Agency’s priority is to protect people and their property so a watercourse such as the Wang here, which is low-risk for flooding in that respect, would not attract full funding from them. But this project does meet the IDB’s criteria in terms of water management and environmental benefits and we are delighted to work with the support of the agency and in partnership with them.”
River enhancement has involved the installation of about 20 strategically placed water deflectors that narrow the channels through which the Wang flows, quickening its speed and producing oxygenation of the water.
Trevor Bond, EA’s Suffolk catchment officer, explained: “Everything that lives in the river needs oxygen if it is to survive and at this time of year that is not an issue. The colder water of winter and spring holds more dissolved oxygen but in the summer particularly it can be reduced and it is more of an issue.”
By deflecting the water into a narrower channel through which it has to flow, greater turbulence was created, producing increased oxygen levels, he said.
The deflectors were simple, entirely natural constructions - just locally sourced timber and brushwood - that were placed in the water at angles of about 45 degrees, stretching about half way across the river’s width.
In addition to oxygenation benefits for fish and invertebrates, the accelerated water flow and the slack water the deflectors created behind them produced variations in the character of the river bed. Fine sediments of sand, silt and clays were deposited in areas of slower flow and larger materials were focused in the area’s of higher water energy. “A diversity of sediment size is absolutely key as it leads to greater biodiversity - where there are gravels, for example, you can get fish such as dace, roach and possibly chub spawning and the deflectors themselves provide areas of refuge and shelter for a variety of invertebrates and small fish,” said Mr Bond.
“The actual quality of water has a big effect on biodiversity and here it is only moderate as there are phosphates that we know are contributed by sewage treatment, industry and agriculture so there is still a lot we need to do, but we look upon this project as a good example of showing how the IDB and the Environment Agency can work together,” he added.
Mr Jones said the scheme included river blockage removal costing £8,000, funded by the IDB precept, and installation of features costing £5,000, paid for by the EA. Amix of riparian tree species would be plantedto further enhance ecological improvements.
“This project will deliver long-term river management cost savings for the EA as well as delivering land drainage and biodiversity benefits. We are working with natural processes and so it will be as self-maintaining as possible,” he said.
“There will always be locations where you cannot achieve what we have achieved on the Wang because of their characteristics, but here we have worked with nature and we see it as a very worthwhile investment.”