River project set for spring start

An ambitious long-term river restoration project will start this spring on a north Norfolk country estate.A stretch of chalk river on the Stody estate near Holt that contains some of the country's most valued wildlife and plant species will be returned to its natural, unimproved condition.

An ambitious long-term river restoration project will start this spring on a north Norfolk country estate.

A stretch of chalk river on the Stody estate near Holt that contains some of the country's most valued wildlife and plant species will be returned to its natural, unimproved condition.

Years of debate involving experts and members of the River Glaven Conservation Group have gone into forging a clear strategy for the project.

But, without the enthusiastic leadership of landowner Adel MacNicol and estate manager Ross Haddow, it would not have possible.


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The conservation group, which has almost 150 members, includes Steve Henson, of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and Lisa Turner, of

the Envir-onment Agency.

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With so many voices around the table, it has not always been easy to reach a consensus. With a single landowner it has been possible to make decisions.

'It has taken 10 years to get the energy, understanding and to get a group of people who could agree,' said Mr Haddow.

The group is run largely by the secretary, Ian Shepherd, who lives nearby, and the chairman is Robin Combe, of Bayfield Hall, near Holt.

'The conservation group has achieved great success and even won a national award for improving a stretch at Letheringsett. It is fairly unique to have a river conservation group. I think Robin Combe and Ian Shepherd can take the credit for that because they formed it and we were a founder-member,' said Mr Haddow.

'I guess we were slightly worried that it might be a threat to start with. Now, we see it as a help.'

The project aims to enhance the range of species thriving along 340 metres of the Glaven downstream of Hunworth railway bridge.

Crucially, said Mr Haddow, it would be able to measure progress because of the exhaustive recording of flora and fauna.

The 'before and after' monitoring has been designed by a member of the Glaven group, Carl Sayer, of University College London.

It involves graduates studying the plants, wildlife and aquatic life for masters' degrees, So the populations of everything from voles, stone loach and brook lampreys to white-clawed crayfish have been recorded, as well as more than 108 plant species.

The river's conservation value in this area could not be much higher, according to Dr Sayer, who lectures in freshwater ecology.

Invasive alien species common in other Norfolk rivers, such as signal crayfish and Himalayan balsam, were not found in this part of the Glaven, he said.

Mr Haddow said the project had also enlisted respected advisers, including Prof Richard Hey, of the University of East Anglia, a world authority on river flows. He advised the estate on its original application for an abstraction licence to irrigate crops. The Environment Agency installed a gauging station by Hunworth railway bridge seven or eight years ago to monitor river flows, and this has provided data on potential water availability.

And, because the estate's cropping needs water for irrigation, this has helped to make more informed decisions on potential future extraction.

Mr Haddow said that by having a genuine partnership between all interested parties, it might be possible to cease summer abstraction. 'That's the bit that was felt might be impinging on the river,' he added.

'We're going to re-profile the river banks back to a more natural shape, and we're going to narrow the river again.'

Mr Haddow said efforts in the 1960s and 1970s to drain the low-lying grazing meadows had not really helped.

'We're still looking to have grazed meadows and we don't want to have it flooded. By over-digging and over-widening, it has slowed the river down, thus getting siltation in the river,' he added.

'They took the silt out, widened and deepened the river, which left the grass drier, but it had a bad impact for the wildlife and disconnected the river and the meadow.'

The late Ian MacNicol was enthusiastic about blending environment and farming on the estate, and Stody was an early applicant for countryside stewardship.

'We applied in 1994 and it was heavily over-subscribed and we were

accepted the following year,' said Mr Haddow.

There is at least 13km of managed access at Stody and a further 3km at Hindringham, as well as a popular fenced area for off-lead dog walking near Edgefield.

'We've entered a very large higher level stewardship scheme. I think it was looked on favourably because we were in this River Glaven priority area,' said Mr Haddow.

The project has made the estate engage with conservation groups. 'We grew to trust each other and found common ground, but we did start by seeing them as a threat and worrying about the constraints.

'They were looking for genuine partnership and it has just grown,' he said.

But it has not always been easy.

Mr Haddow explained: 'When we get three experts together, sometimes we get four solutions!

'On the same day, one expert wanted the river to be fenced and another environmental adviser from the same organisation didn't.'

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