The River Till Wetland Restoration Project was an exciting, and pioneering project working with farmers and land managers to reconnect the River Till with its natural floodplain.
Floodplains are those low lying, seemingly flat areas of land adjacent to our rivers and streams. The inundation of these areas by floodwater is a natural phenomenon, which gives parts of the countryside its unique character. These areas are rich in wildlife, supported by a range of wetland habitat from pools and ponds, to reedbeds and swamps, wet grassland and woodland.
From the early hunter/gathers to modern agriculture, people have always been attracted to live and work in these areas. As our floodplains have been settled and cultivated, the land has been drained and defended. This practice has gone on for centuries but has accelerated rapidly in the post-war years. Within a rural catchment like the Till the majority of the 30 km of flood defences protect agricultural land. All these structures are privately owned, however, the Environment Agency and its predecessors have undertaken maintenance and management activities.
As a nation, our attitude towards, and management of, floodplains is changing and the spectre of global warming makes it inevitable that this will continue into the future. Changes in Government thinking, with regards to flood risk management, suggest that future funding is more likely to be directed towards protecting homes and infrastructure. The challenge is how to adapt and plan ahead for these changes.
The River Till Wetland Restoration Project was set up to demonstrate that there are now real opportunities and financial benefits for farmers and land managers to restore wetland habitats along the River Till. The Project was a partnership between Tweed Forum, Environment Agency, Natural England, the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, and the Farm and Wildlife Advisory Group. Initial funding for the project was from the Northumbria Regional Flood Defence Committee, and the Environment Agency.
Over the course of 30 months the aim was to restore or create a range of nationally threatened wetland habitats that reflected the true richness of our floodplains. Wetlands in their various guises can make beneficial contributions to:
• Diffuse pollution reduction
• Flood management
• Carbon sequestration
• Tourism and recreation
• Education and research
• Local economy
It was a voluntary scheme with absolutely no obligation to become involved. However, there were distinct advantages and financial incentives to do so. Farmers and land managers were reimbursed capital costs, Higher Level Stewardship application process and fees associated with the organisation design and implementation of the works. Those wishing to become involved had a real opportunity to plan for inevitable change and gained access to free professional help relating to hydrology, flood risk, engineering solutions etc.