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Collaboration makes Mease better for fish, otters and people

Our new water quality project on the River Mease which will slash levels of dangerous pollutants has already created valuable wetland habitats for loach, bullhead, crayfish and even otters.

Four acres of formerly scrub-covered farmland have been transformed by the wetland sediment trapping scheme, a kilometre from Measham, Leicestershire, to help address the high levels of phosphates in the Mease.

The river, which encompasses a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation, has suffered because of the build-up of pollutants from many sources and from urban development. High levels of phosphates cause algae to bloom and reduce the levels of oxygen in the water, creating an environment where fish and other species can no longer survive.

But new ponds, wetland channels and riffles which make up a wetland sediment trap are already making a noticeable difference to the water quality and reducing phosphates.

Woodland and vegetation, including nine glorious old oaks, willow trees and hawthorns have also been protected and can thrive once more because of the works on the site.

Aerial view of the site

Aerial view of the site

The £200,000 project, funded through a planning levy paid by developers, was only feasible because of “unprecedented” collaboration and co-operation.

We worked with farmers whose land borders the River Mease and the Gilwiskaw Brook, and building products manufacturer Forterra.

The sediment trapping scheme, where the Gilwiskaw Brook joins the River Mease, has created valuable new wetland habitat for nesting birds and invertebrates. Beyond phosphate entrapment it will reduce the severity of any future flooding downstream.

Major groundworks on the site started in the middle of July and were completed at the start of September. Emma Smail, our River Mease Project Manager, has been finalising the details for the work over the past 18 months.

“It was an unusual one for the contractors because they normally work with trapezoid channels and straight lines,” said Emma. “We showed them that wonky is good, and they got the measure of doing curves rather than sharp angles really well. We can already see how much algae has developed in some of the channels in just a few days.”

The algae shows just how high the levels of phosphate coming from upstream are, according to TRT’s Ruth Needham:

“It’s bad, because it confirms the poor water quality coming onto site. But it’s good in that what we’re doing is helping to trap the phosphate as we planned. And when the levels come up and the whole site is inundated with water, which it’s designed to be, and then the phosphate drops out in the sediment, it will catch a lot of phosphate, which is what it’s all about.”

Phosphate levels will be monitored independently by TH Environmental, a specialist in on- site river pollution sampling. A baseline report, based on samples before the project began, showed how the excessive phosphorus levels “are affecting the River Mease ecology and contributing to the failure of the river’s WFD (Water Framework Directive) target.”

TH Environmental has developed a bespoke sampling plan to enable Trent Rivers Trust to assess the performance of the scheme, which is designed to reduce phosphorus levels in the River Mease and the Gilwiskaw Brook. “The bespoke sampling plan is designed to gather evidence to quantify the phosphorous load prevented from entering the river catchment,” said TH Environmental director, Tim Harris.

Funding via Developer Contribution Scheme

Funding for the project is through a “Developer Contribution Scheme” (DCS) administered by North West Leicestershire District Council and delivered for the council by The Trent Rivers Trust. The DCS seeks to mitigate the negative impacts of any developments which contribute wastewater to sewage treatment works which discharge into the catchment of the River Mease Special Area of Conservation. The DCS has been operational since 2012 and supports the River Mease Water Quality Management Plan.

Councillor Keith Merrie, Portfolio Holder for Planning at North West Leicestershire District Council, said: “As the planning authority, we have a balancing act to play. People need homes and jobs, so it’s important that development goes ahead, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of our natural environment; particularly special sites like the River Mease. It’s important that developers contribute to schemes like this to mitigate for the impact of housing and other developments. It’s good to get to this stage and see the sediment trapping already working – we look forward to seeing it make a real difference downstream.”

Strategic location to boost river water quality

The site, where two significant watercourses meet, is particularly well-located, according to Ruth Needham: “it’s downstream of significant pollution sources towards Ashby de-la-Zouch but high enough within the catchment to improve the quality of fifteen kilometres of the Mease.”

“It’s been an intense window of work,” adds Needham, “and it’s involved extensive collaboration and co-operation.

“We are working with all the partners in the Mease to restore the river back to favourable condition to get the species of interest returning, functioning and thriving. Poor water quality has been a key barrier to that. We’ve got a lot of nutrients getting into the watercourse from a whole range of different sources. Plus the habitat has been damaged in the past for decades.

“So, we are working with several different organisations to reverse some of that damage. We became aware of this site because of our other works in the catchment and we saw an opportunity to create a major silt trap, to trap water in the flood plain, trap the pollution, which will reduce the phosphate downstream. It’s great for the species of interest: fish, invertebrates and plants. But it’s great for the landowner too, as it was difficult to farm and too easily flooded.”

The farmer who owns the land reported that it was always an awkward area to manage, access was difficult and it often gets flooded. The farmer suggested there could be a better use for it, other than trying to continually farm it. A wetland is a good option.

Can we fill three swimming pools? No – but we can thank Forterra

It was crucial, according to Needham, to find somewhere nearby which could take all the surplus materials created by carving out the wetland sediment trap and reducing the level of the site – all while minimising any disturbance to the SSSI and SAC. Fortunately for TRT, brick-maker Forterra offered to receive all 7,500 cubic metres of material from the site – enough to fill three Olympic swimming pools – and the material will be used in the future as part of their clay quarry’s progressive wetland restoration.

“One of the issues in delivering the project was to drop the level so the site floods better, meaning we had a load of material that needed to move to a receptor site,” added Needham. “Because we’ve been walking the river for years, looking for invasive species, we talk with many farmers and other businesses. So we got to know Forterra, whose Measham plant is one of the most efficient and sustainable brick manufacturing facilities in the United Kingdom and has an adjacent quarrying excavation perfect for this project.

left to right: Ian Loftus, Forterra, Robert Burbidge, Forterra, Ruth Needham, Trent Rivers Trust

Left to right: Ian Loftus, Forterra, Robert Burbidge, Forterra, Ruth Needham, Trent Rivers Trust

“So it was instrumental to the success of this project that Forterra could take the significant amount of material. Despite the funding from the DCS, we quite simply would not have been able to afford to complete the project without Forterra’s agreement to receive the material in their quarry.”

It’s been a positive working relationship according to Ian Loftus, Forterra’s Measham Plant Manager. “We’ve always worked together to iron out any problems and figure out solutions. I’ve enjoyed that.”

Colleague Robert Burbidge agrees. “Compared to the scale of our quarry excavations, these materials are very minor. We were happy to be able to offer our quarry to the rivers project and use the materials in our own site restoration in years to come.”

Forterra often works with conservation and environmental charities, according to Loftus: “Yes, we dig big holes, but we always have an end plan that once we’ve finished quarrying they tend to be returned at least in part to nature. This project has been a great example, working with the Trent Rivers Trust to come up with what they think is best for a particular area.”

GPS technology ensured accuracy

The next stage of the project is to plant wet wildflower meadow seeds and plug plants, Smail commented. “Our contractor EDR used excavators and earthmovers equipped with GPS technology in their cabs. Without this the job would have been more complicated, longer, more difficult and needed more people.”

Aaron Turner, EDR’s commercial director

Aaron Turner, EDR’s commercial director (second from left)

Aaron Turner, EDR’s commercial director, says the GPS technology “talks to satellites in the sky, and gives us levels and contour details. So when we are cutting in riffles and new river channels, we can do it with great accuracy and do it first time rather than having an engineer come out and tell the driver where more needs to be cut off or put on.”

This sort of accuracy makes it easier to cut channels which work for wildlife, says TRT’s Ruth Needham: “There are lots of shallows, gently sloping banks and softer-shaped channels – a real improvement for biodiversity. There are wet, dry and semi-dry areas for the invertebrates. There are spaces for the fish to spawn and for wildlife to take refuge when the site floods.

“It’s already transformed the site and will make a positive impact on the river for years to come. And with fish spawning season starting in October, we’re delighted to have completed these major works on time and without disruptions or inconveniences to the landowners or Forterra, who have been absolutely instrumental in making it work.”

More photos:

River Mease and Gilwiskaw Brook Wetland Project

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How Natural Flood Management in Southwell improved flood-risk resilience

During its three-year lifespan Southwell’s FRAMES project improved flood-risk resilience in the present day and for the future. Here are some of the project’s successes, impacts, and lessons learned.

Multi-layered approach

FRAMES involved pilot projects collaborating across five countries and aimed to integrate the Multi-Layered Safety Approach (MLSA) into future flood risk policy.

MLSA combines flood-prevention engineering methods with spatial planning and measures to boost community resilience and recovery. Combined, these four “layers” (see diagram, right) improve overall flood-risk resilience.

All 16 FRAMES pilots have demonstrated the success of this modern, integrated approach.

The Southwell FRAMES Pilot

Trent Rivers Trust (TRT) led the Southwell Pilot project, which sought to improve flood resilience in Southwell through natural flood management (NFM) intervention and community engagement.

The Southwell catchment is 6km2 and features clay soils with steep topography. The town itself has a history of floods including two recent events, a 2007 winter flood, and the 2013 summer flood at which 107.6mm of rain fell in 75 minutes; around 250 properties were flooded and the main road out of Southwell collapsed.

TRT worked with Southwell Flood Forum, the National Flood Forum and Nottinghamshire County Council to deliver this FRAMES project, “Improving Flood Resilience in Southwell.”

Dr. Josh Wells, project manager, says three key lessons were learned during Southwell FRAMES:

  • Communication is vital: with landowners and stakeholders,
  • Collaborate and involve all stakeholders, which means cutting across both geographical and political boundaries,
  • Monitoring: we must monitor and document the impact of the project and pass this knowledge on and leave a lasting legacy.

IMPACT: NFM interventions can help to store water and reduce flood risk

A corner of the field bund

Southwell FRAMES demonstrated that natural flood management (NFM) interventions within the upper catchment of the river can help to store water and reduce flood risk.

Working closely with landowners, Trent Rivers Trust installed 43 NFM measures across 12 landholdings. These now provide around 4000m3 of water storage within the upper catchment.

TRT installed a number of different NFM interventions to achieve this volume of water storage:

Corner of the field bunds within agricultural land, to reduce overland flow during high intensity rainfall events. These were monitored using time lapse cameras with data showing that they fill during intense rainfall and drain once high flows have passed.

A leaky barrier in Southwell

Leaky barriers within farm ditches and watercourses. They reduce the speed of any flood waves into the town and provide further storage and floodplain re-connection.

Raised cross drains along farm tracks where overland flow was documented. Previously, water was flowing onto the main road during high rainfall events; the cross drains now divert this water into constructed bunds and have improved safety and resilience locally.

IMPACT: Tree planting creates new woodland

The project created a new 0.1ha area of cross slope woodland, with 190 trees planted within a field in the upper catchment by TRT and Nottingham Trent University postgraduate students.

The woodland will increase soil infiltration rates and evapotranspiration whilst increasing the local biodiversity value of the area.

IMPACT: Building social capital and community resilience

The flood preparedness and awareness of the Southwell community has increased. Residents are more resilient and have taken on some responsibilities to manage flood risks. This was accomplished through physical and digital communication, community events and working closely with business owners and the Southwell Flood Forum.

IMPACT: Wetland scrapes add water storage capacity and create new wetland habitats

We constructed wetland scrapes along the River Greet, connecting them to the watercourse to increase floodplain storage capacity and to create additional wetland habitats.

A wetland scrape (photo CMB Contracting)

This work included the removal of a dredging bank to increase floodplain inundation frequency upstream of the town. The scrapes create an extra 1000m3 of water storage which become active during high flows.

Ponds were also constructed within the catchment to hold water whilst providing additional habitat.

Again, time lapse imagery demonstrated that they fill during high flow events and then drain once peak flow has passed and so a positive benefit of the storage ponds has been recorded.

IMPACT: students get SuDS appeal with runoff cutoff

Several sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) measures were piloted in Southwell through the project.
Rain garden planters were installed on the Nottingham Trent University campus and planted by student volunteers.

The planters temporarily attenuate runoff from buildings which would otherwise enter the drainage system. They look great too, so improve the visual appeal of the student accommodation.

PROJECT DISSEMINATION AND COMMUNICATION

Trent Rivers Trust worked with stakeholders throughout this project, building their capacity to address flood risk and their knowledge about the Multi-Layered Safety approach.

Our communication and dissemination activities sought to:

  • Increase stakeholders’, policymakers’ and decision makers’ knowledge and understanding of the use of NFM within flood risk management projects,
  • Increase their knowledge and understanding of the Multi-Layered Safety approach,
  • Facilitate knowledge-exchange between flood risk and resilience practitioners,
  • Collect and share data and evidence to inform future flood risk management policy.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION

A total of 178 organisations were informed about the successes and lessons learnt during the project. We have given presentations, talks and lectures to:

  • The Trent Regional Flood and Coast Committee.
  • The Nottinghamshire Strategic Flood Risk Management Board.
  • The Nottinghamshire Biodiversity Action Group (a presentation and demonstration site visit, which increased the knowledge of local practitioners on the use of NFM and its ability to enhance the environment).
  • The Nottingham Open Spaces summit and during the East Midlands Council’s Planners conference – these presentations enhanced the knowledge of local practitioners of the spatial application of NFM.
  • Our Senior Catchment Manager, Kim Jennings, gave a lecture to the Fluvial Geomorphology and River Management students at Nottingham Trent University to further build the NFM knowledge capacity of early career river managers.
  • The River Restoration Conference and the Westminster Insight Conference, to promote the project at a national scale, with both talks well received and generating plenty of discussion.

We hosted many site visits during the project, including by scholars from Beijing’s Institute of Water Research which promoted the project at an international level.

PACKED EVENT AND WIDESPREAD MEDIA COVERAGE SHOWCASES LEARNING

Towards the end of the Southwell FRAMES project TRT convened the Flood Risk Management for the Next Decade conference, in Newark in February 2020. This showcased Southwell’s MLS approach to a wide range of national practitioners. The event also highlighted successful examples of collaboration, effective communication, use of public-domain data, partnership-building, community engagement and empowerment, and the importance of multiple, integrated measures for flood risk management.

This fully-booked event developed practitioner understanding of NFM whilst allowing for discussion of future flood risk management policy.

It was covered in the media by national UK magazine, Environment Journal and the BBC, which broadcast interviews with TRT’s Kim Jennings and Josh Wells every hour on its afternoon and evening news bulletins.

A series of short video interviews with event participants also contributed to our dissemination and communication activities. The interviews, posted to TRT’s website and YouTube channel, also demonstrate how the MLS approach integrates engineered measures for flood risk management with spatial planning, emergency response and resilient recovery.

Through this substantive media coverage and video interviews, the evidence of Southwell FRAMES’ impact reached thousands more members of the public at a time of great interest in policy and practice relating to flood risk and resilience.

WHAT NEXT?

TRT continues to advocate for an integrated approach to flood risk management and resilience. We are now delivering other NFM projects across Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. TRT is recognised for the excellence our team bring to all stages of the process including feasibility studies, landowner liaison, design, construction and monitoring.

Thanks for your interest in our Southwell FRAMES project. Please do contact TRT if you would like to know more about TRT’s NFM projects.

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Integrated approaches to improve Flood Risk Management: interviews from our FRAMES event

Video interviews from TRT’s Flood Risk Management for the Next Decade – a Multi-Layered Safety Approach event in February 2020.

The Multi-layered safety (MLS) approach integrates engineered measures for flood risk management with spatial planning, emergency response and resilient recovery. The concept has been applied to pilots around the North Sea region under the EU INTERREG FRAMES project, which includes sites within the UK.

Could the MLS concept be applied wider within the UK and inform sustainable Flood Risk Management?

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TRT Welcomes New Chief Executive, Matt Easter

Matt Easter is the new Chief Executive of The Trent Rivers Trust. He takes up the role on 6 May 2020.

Joining the Trust Matt continues a career of over 20 years working in environmental sustainability. Most recently Sustrans’ Midlands and East Director he has considerable experience working and leading in the charitable sector.

The appointment of The Trent Rivers Trust’s first full time CEO reflects our recent growth and successes. Outgoing CEO Chloe Palmer led the Trust for nearly 8 years, expanding our work, impact and team, bringing huge benefits for the Trent’s rivers, streams and wetlands.

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TRT welcomes Gail Pickles as Engagement Officer

The Trent Rivers Trust has appointed Gail Pickles to a newly-created role of Engagement Officer.

Gail, a water ecologist and health and wellbeing practitioner, will support TRT’s work to improve water quality by working with local people and businesses to think and engage with their rivers differently.

The aim is to help foster valuable connections with the urban river environment to ultimately improve the rivers and bring wellbeing benefits too.

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