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Fiddlers Hill Meadow – 5 Hectares of Wetland Creation

Flooding at Fiddlers Hill on the River Colne, Essex
Date: 2023
Project Lead: Andy Went

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Project Partners: Environment Agency, Woodland Trust, Essex Wildlife Trust, Essex County Council
Funding: WEIF

The project at Fiddlers Hill meadow will create a new wetland environment within the floodplain of the River Colne that spans over five hectares and doubles the size of the existing fen.

It will use nature-based solutions, like flood water scrapes, to help reduce unwanted flooding and create habitats where wildlife and wetland species can thrive.

The scrapes will retain floodwater for longer and allow water to enter the meadow sooner which should ease downstream flooding and reduce pressure on the section of the river at Mill Road.

Alongside the wetland habitats, plans include establishing a permanent pond, installing new bat and bird boxes, and planting additional trees and scrub. Information boards around this site will tell visitors about the project and the diverse species that can already be found here. It will be an ideal rest area for users of the Essex Way, with a permissive path guiding them into the meadow to discover the wildlife, and delve into the history.

This is a collaborative project involving the Woodland Trust, Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust, Environment Agency, Essex Wildlife Trust, and Essex County Council. Following the construction phase, the Woodland Trust will oversee the site’s daily management and create a comprehensive long-term management strategy once the project is completed.

Click here for the Woodland Trust’s site.

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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.