Downstream of Stamford, one of our catchment’s main tributaries, the River Gwash, flows into the Welland. Historically, the two rivers followed a shallow, meandering course that was well connected with the surrounding floodplain. However, extensive engineering works were undertaken in the 1960s and 70s that straightened and deepened these rivers, cutting off the meandering channels, damaging their natural function and degrading their value for wildlife.
When the landowner, Burghley Estates, joined the Welland Valley Partnership in 2019, their land management team were keen to play a role in the improvement of their local watercourses and kindly offered the land at the confluence for a restoration project.
With funding from the Environment Agency, The Wild Trout Trust and South Kesteven District Council, WRT has now been able to design and deliver an exciting project that has reconnected stretches of the old channels as wetland habitats and undertaken a suite of in-channel improvement works!
The first stage carried out in 2020 involved a comprehensive modelling and optioneering assessment with external consultants, AquaUoS, which enabled WRT, the landowner and the Welland Valley Partnership to develop the best set of interventions for the location whilst ensuring that no additional flooding would take place as a result of the project.
The physical work to deliver the project finally took place over three weeks in October 2021 using Five Rivers Environmental Contracting, with access to the field kindly provided by South Kesteven District Council through the cricket club grounds.
Due to the highly incised nature of both the Gwash and the Welland, it was necessary to locally raise the water level in one of the rivers to reconnect it with the old channels. It was deemed more feasible to do this in the lower Gwash as this would require less imported material and would create additional benefits in the process. With the installation of almost 600 tonnes of limestone, water levels in the Gwash were locally increased by one metre, and all that was required to flood the old channels was the creation of a connecting channel and some subtle scraping in the field!
In the Gwash, the shallow, fast flowing cascade created by the limestone fill will now oxygenate and energise the pool at the confluence with the Welland, encouraging migrating sea trout to more frequently explore the tributary and visit the headwater habitat that is being carefully managed by volunteers of the Guash Fishing Club.
Additional improvements to the River Welland upstream of the confluence were also achieved, serving to restore elements of naturalness in an overwide and overdeep channel.
The legacy of the historic modification in this area is most extreme in the Welland, where it has been confined to an extremely deep channel, with steep sides and very slow flowing water.
Two sections of bank regrading were undertaken, which has allowed the creation of a “two-stage channel”, where low summer flows will be sped up, cleansing the bed through reduced siltation and increasing oxygenation. Coir bank protection was installed to protect the new bare banks from erosion and will act as a nursery ground for young marginal plants. The local community will also be able to safely access the river in this location, where historically it’s been to steep to do so.
For the people and wildlife of Stamford – community access and engagement is a key part of this project.
An existing public right of way crosses the field that the works were undertaken in, allowing everyone to watch the new wetland develop and colonise with a variety of native species.
In 2022, volunteers from the Stamford area will take part in planting activities to give the wetland a botanical boost. They will be establishing areas of reedbed, introducing colourful and fragrant natives such as flag iris and water mint and planting small areas of woodland. If you’d like to get involved, please keep an eye on our Facebook page for announcements!
These side by side photos are taken in the same place just three weeks apart – the water environment responds very quickly to positive interventions.
Take in some aerial views of the site before the project took place. Look out for future updates to see how things have changed!
The Gwash Welland Confluence Project was funded by a Partnership Grant from the Environment Agency, a cash contribution from the Wild Trout Trust and South Kesteven District Council’s Community Fund.