Posted 18th Jul 2018 by Peter Byrne
A multi-million pound project has started with the aim of reopening the UK's longest river to protected fish species
This week, work started on a major UK wildlife programme at the River Severn, courtesy of £10.8 million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £6 million from the European Union LIFE programme.
The project is one of the largest of its kind to be attempted in Europe and is also one of the biggest natural environment schemes to be supported by HLF.
Unlocking the Severn for People and Wildlife is being run by the Canal & River Trust, Severn Rivers Trust, Environment Agency and Natural England, and is aiming to reopen 158 miles of the River Severn to fish. This will be done by creating routes around physical barriers that are preventing migration to critical spawning grounds. This will help to secure the long-term future of many of the UK's declining and protected fish species, including the now threatened twaite and allis shad which hundreds of years ago, acted as a staple food in the court of Henry III.
The installation of locks and weirs, which were required to allow navigation during the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, meant many of these species became extinct in the upper reaches of the River. Now, state of the art fish passes are being installed on four navigation weirs on the River Severn, with fish passage improvements being made at two sites on the River Teme.
Sir Peter Luff, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "The National Lottery is one of the biggest funders of the UK’s natural heritage, so it’s entirely fitting it is supporting Unlocking the Severn for People and Wildlife. The shad may be almost unknown now, but it was the fish of kings and queens, from Henry III to Elizabeth I and Charles II. The River Severn used to teem with the migratory activity of this species - and with other species that will also benefit from this investment. This project will bring new life and increased biodiversity to a significant stretch of the longest river in the UK and will also see historic buildings from the Severn’s industrial past restored and given new uses."
The project will also deliver ambitious heritage, education and science programmes that are aiming to reconnect eight million people with the River. This will be done by working with over 200 school classes, 100 community groups and creating thousands of volunteering opportunities.
Jason Leach, Canal & River Trust programme director, said: "This project has been in the waiting for over 150 years. While the Severn has been fundamental to the progress of communities along its length in that time, we now have the opportunity to return the eco-system on this stretch of the river to as close as possible to its natural state. If we can do this, it will have a vital impact in enabling protected and endangered species to thrive once more. The project will be ground-breaking in scale and will create best practice for natural heritage management, conservation and biological research across the world. We also believe it can have a positive impact on the local economy and create new opportunities for people to enjoy and benefit from the river."