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Little Waltham is a Go

The exciting Riverine restoration and improvement project run by the Essex Biodiversity project and the Essex Wildlife Trust at Little Waltham meadows has reached a major turning point with the granting of planning permission by Chelmsford City Council to undertake the works.

So, what are we going to do? We have devised a plan to enhance the wetland habitat and offer some significant gains to the overall condition of the river. This involves creating a back channel with connections to both the River Chelmer and an existing land drain, rehabilitating an existing wet woodland and by removing some of the diffuse pollution inputs into the River, improving the overall condition of the catchment.

To do this we will need to install two control sluices, set to specific levels which will allow water to enter the back channel and store water to allow the wetting up of the woodland. Excavate a 280 metre back channel, divert one existing drain and move some 3000 cubic metres of spoil which will be re-spread and reseeded on a nearby currently floristically uninteresting field, re-profile 200 metres of riverbank and install some woody debris.

The next obvious question is why are we doing this? Well, this is part of a drive to improve the condition of the rivers under the Water Framework Directive, this is covered in more detail elsewhere on this website but this if you will, is the sharp end of the directive. A drive by conservations and other stakeholders to bring every river in the country up to “good” condition. Currently, the Chelmer is in poor condition, whilst it is a shame this one project won’t achieve the step up needed. The reality is it will be many marginal gains which will make bring our rivers up to where we want them to be.

So moving on, how will this project help us to bring the river up to better condition? Well, by diverting an existing land drain through our new back channel many pollutants will be filtered out by reed and other vegetation. This back channel will also offer new habitat for fish, especially in times of high flow. The enhanced wet woodland will offer better habitat for specialist plants and insects and allow further filtering of pollutants and finally, the woody debris will trap silt and create pools and riffles for fish and insects.  

It’s important to note that due to the scope and size of the project, there will be some disruption with the site resembling a building site for around 4 weeks, needless to say we will work with our contractors to keep the disruption to users to a minimum.

Keep your eyes peeled for more news and photographs, either here or on the Little Waltham project page on this website for photos and further news about this exciting project. This project is a part of a larger multi-strand project that forms the Catchment Restoration fund project “Healthy Headwaters” that takes in other engineer works on the Chelmer and the Pant/Blackwater Rivers in Essex. As well as working with landowners and introducing the Yellow Fish scheme to local schools. These are exciting times for the Rivers in Essex.

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The topics below represent the pressures that many waterbodies in the Combined Essex catchment face. They have been divided into six main categories, but it is quite often that these categories can overlap as pressures relate to each other.

Diffuse pollution occurs as water moves across the land or through the ground and picks pollutants. These pollutants can come from a variety of places, including urban and field run off. The pollutants that enter the river can range from sediment to toxins to excess nutrients, meaning that diffuse pollution can cause a whole range of different issues. The variety in these pressure groups means that it is something that can be quite difficult to tackle. It requires groups of people, business and stakeholders to work together in order to solve this problem.

Fish should be able to travel up and down a river freely, allowing them to move and breed in the most suitable habitats for them. It is important that fish populations do not become isolated, as this makes them more susceptible to disease and puts pressure on their survival. Unfortunately, there are often many barriers along rivers that prevent fish from being able to migrate up and down stream. Where barriers have been identified, they will be seen as a ‘pressure’ on a waterbody. Thankfully, there are many solutions now that can be put in place to aid fish passage, even over large barriers.

The flow in a river can vary greatly throughout the year as rainfall and run off can have an effect. This is a natural process. It is when flow is impacted by non-natural processes that it can cause problems. Sometimes, water can be intercepted or removed from a system; this will reduce the flow, therefore changing the habitat conditions. Some species are happy in high energy rivers. This means that when flow is reduced, these species will no longer survive. The opposite of this can occur when excess water is entering a river, for example through increased runoff. Low energy systems then become high energy and displace the species that live there.

A species that is not meant to be found in a particular area is known as an invasive species. Invasive species can be from a different habitat or a different country altogether. Most of the invasive species that we find on our rivers have come from other countries – plants that people have imported for their gardens or animals that have been released for food or by animal rights activists. Control of invasive species requires a lot of time and effort. We are fortunate that we do have a range of methods to manage most of the invasive species that cause havoc on our rivers, but there are still some which we are still struggling to control.

Many of our rivers have been heavily modified over the years as rivers have been used for a wide range of purposes. Physical modification is one of the biggest factors that causes our rivers to be unhealthy. The issues that it can cause range from reducing habitat, preventing migration of mobile species, and even have an effect on the water quality. Where structures and modifications are no longer in use or necessary, they should be removed to allow the river to regain its natural state. Unfortunately, this action is not always taken which means that many of our rivers are over straightened and contain redundant structures. It is possible to return a lot of our rivers to their natural state, through one off projects, but in other cases it is not possible as the river has been changed to protect assets or manage flooding. It is recognised that some modifications cannot be removed without having severe negative impacts both socially and economically.

This is pollution that comes from a single identifiable source. The pollution entering the river could include a whole range of pollutants. Some point source pollution is known about and licences, for example sewage treatment works. Other sources are not licensed, and therefore work needs to be done with landowners to fix the problems that are allowing the pollution to enter the river. Point source pollution is more easily controlled than diffuse pollution as it often only takes one management approach to solve the issue.