A national programme for enhancing river SSSIs is underway. The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Tweed Forum have agreed a strategy for improving the Till SAC/SSSIs - this is the River Till Restoration Strategy (RTRS).
The River Till and it's main tributaries the Bowmont-Glen, Breamish and Wooler Water are of high conservation and ecological importance. About 130km of these rivers is designated as SSSI and as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The 'condition' of these designated rivers is not as it should be. Using national criteria, the SSSI is classed as being in 'unfavourable condition'; in some areas the condition is 'declining'. The principal reason for the SSSI being in unfavourable condition is the physical state of the river channel.
Actions to deliver the RTRS
Efforts are underway to begin to implement some of the recommended measures within the RTRS, with a view to completing works which will assist the natural recovery of the river system across the catchment, with the long term goal of moving the seven SSSI units towards favourable condition.
The implementation phase is running for 3 years initially, from 2014 – 2017, managed as a three way partnership between Tweed Forum, Environment Agency and Natural England.
The implementation phase of the RTRS is currently working on a number of projects to achieve restoration measures for the benefit of key river reaches. This work includes:
Haugh Head Ford
This structure remains the final significant artificial barrier to upstream fish passage on the Till system and as such is a high priority for resolution through the RTRS. We are working in partnership with all interested parties (landowners, land managers, local communities) to identify the way forward to address the problems at the site whilst balancing the needs of all stakeholders. Following specialist surveying and modelling work, identifying the impact of various scenarios upon the movement of sediment, flood risk and erosion pressure throughout the Lower Wooler Water, we are now narrowing the options for resolving this barrier to fish passage.
Floodplain fencing at West Fenton
This capital works project was completed in autumn 2014 and represents an innovative approach to fencing in a floodplain location. The Clipex fencing solution has been used as a retractable boundary which can be removed from flow paths when flood waters rise, and clipped back into place once waters recede. The project is allowing a change in the way that livestock are managed on the site, to the benefit of the riverbanks and the farm business.
Erosion management on the lower Wooler Water
'Engineered Log Jam' bank protection and associated channel diversion is now in place at Wooler. In partnership with the landowner, this will provide a great example of how a 'green' bank solution can combat infrastructure-threatening erosion. The site will be closely monitored to assess the effectiveness of the technique and how quickly the new channel provides meaningful habitat.
River environment guidance
One of the key roles of the RTRS is to balance the interests of the designated site and its natural processes with the needs of land owners and managers, particularly agricultural management of the riparian and floodplain land adjacent to the watercourses. We have created a guidance note which is aimed at assisting land managers to understand the requirements for consenting works in and around rivers, and the process to be followed to secure consents.
Artificial structure removal options
Artificial structures can pose a barrier to migratory fish and restrict the natural functioning of a river system through the creation of slower, deeper sections where they would not naturally occur. Working in partnership with many local organisations, we have now successfully removed weirs on both the River Glen and the Lilburn. Other ongoing work includes the removal of a redundant bridge apron and the setting-back of flood embankments.