We have been busy this summer undertaking Phase 2 of a large floodplain restoration project that has transformed an area of low diversity floodplain meadow into a large wetland complex. The area was designed specifically to enhance biodiversity and it incorporates a new backwater to increase resilience in the local fish population. This was a partnership project, undertaken with Freshwater Habitats Trust and Waddesdon Estate. Thanks also to the local Environment Agency (EA) officers and EA Biodiversity team in particular for their support throughout the project.
You can watch a summary video of the project here
You may remember that last year we carried out Phase 1 of the project , which included stripping the area of topsoil and creating test pits. The test pits were created first so we could monitor whether the area would 1) hold enough water and 2) hold clean water – we didn’t want it to only hold river water from flooding, but also to fill with low nutrient rain water during the year. This is important to encourage colonization by pollution sensitive plants and invertebrates.
Monitoring showed that that the ponds did hold water even in prolonged dry weather, and the water across the various ponds was mostly clean when compared to the river.
When we were gearing up for delivery the heavens opened, and we ended up with the wetland area and the backwater full to the brim and overflowing. Not ideal when machines were due on site in a week’s time! We overcame this by bringing in a pump to de-water the site and allow us to dig the wetland complex.
Work commenced with a topsoil strip in the non-floodplain field allocated to receive the spoil. We also installed a temporary bridge across a channel, at 10m long by 6m wide this proved a very useful bit of kit that made spoil removal a lot easier.
At the peak of the dig we had four 22tonne dump trucks, a bulldozer and two excavators (22tonne and 13tonne) working constantly. It was quite a sight to behold and great to finally see things underway.
The work continued six days a week to make the most of the dry weather and once the bulk of the work was finished. Under the guidance of Pascale from Freshwater Habitats Trust, several smaller features were created to give microtopographical variation (small dips and hollows) and maximise the microhabitats and wetness gradients. This is key to provide more diverse opportunities for a greater range of plant and invertebrate species.
The backwater was then dug out and we were excited to reach the stage where we could ‘pull the plug’ and watch it fill up by digging through to the river! Fish were seen in the backwater the next day – build it and they will come!
With the main dig now complete it was time to demobilize and make good the site, ready for the autumn’s planting in the spoil disposal field. Now comes the exciting part – watching the site develop and monitoring what utilizes the site over the coming years.
We have had some very wet weather since the project completed, and our volunteer bird watching experts have reported a whole host of birds utilizing the site including large numbers of Wigeon, Teal, and Lapwing, alongside other notable species such as Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Gadwall, Shoveler, Little Egret, Snipe, Pintail, and even a couple of large bats flying around late one morning! This is great news, and a clear demonstration of the wildlife benefits such wetland complexes can bring!
We would like to thank all involved in the project including:
Waddesdon Estate, our contractors, White Horse Contracting Ltd. for all their hard work in making the project a reality, our joint project partners Freshwater Habitats Trust for the design and input throughout the project, the Environment Agency for their help and guidance throughout the design and development phase and our funders the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development