The Welland for People and Wildlife project began in 2011 with half a million pound funding from the Catchment Restoration Fund. After extensive design and engineering calculations, including detailed modelling of the river, planning permission and flood defence consents were obtained in 2013. Construction works then began February 2014, pausing April to August to allow for the breeding season, recommencing in September to end November 2014.
The focus of the improvements was to improve ecology and water quality by energising the low flow characteristics without affecting the high flow operation of the water body. The design to achieve this involved removal of 6 weirs, construction of berms to create a narrow meandering pattern, deep pooled sections dug and shallow riffles created with gravels.
With the removal of the weir barriers, the fish and eels are much freer to move throughout the Town. There are plenty of deep spaces for fish to hide, along with quality shallows ideal for spawning on the riffles. There has been a large amount of stickleback mating activity over the riffles, with the river boasting 3 species, including one rare. The populations have been able to integrate without the weir barriers, with a decrease in bacterial and parasitically infected individuals in sample catches.
During low flows, the river now has a much more varied pattern with the faster flowing shallows and slower deep sections. This provides unique conditions to form a variety of different habitats
and dissuades single types of vegetation from overgrowing and choking the channel.
The marginal habitat space provided by the berms has flourished now boasting over 25 prominent species including marsh marigolds, water mint, veronica, yellow flag iris, water cress and many types of reed grass and sedges. Some of these were planted by the Trust and volunteers; however the majority have sprouted naturally indicating that the environment is now more favourable for wildlife to thrive. This is having a positive impact towards the water quality, with clearer, cleaner and better oxygenated water.
Reintroduction of habitats previously missing through Market Harborough has also encouraged a greater diversity of aquatic wildlife. Already, we are seeing more species of aquatic invertebrates, particularly damselfly and dragonfly, which will continue to establish as the river settles into its new form.
Future work for the Trust involves a 5 year ecological monitoring plan with the University of Leicester.
The partners to this project were the Environment Agency, the University of Leicester and Harborough District Council. There has also been significant involvement from community groups, notably Market Harborough in Bloom, Harborough Environment Group and Sustainable Harborough.
The project has since received a commendation in the East Midlands Merit Awards 2015 for the fish passage and restoration work from the Institution of Civil Engineers and also a commendation from the UK Rivers Habitat Prize.