Do Not Resuscitate!
“Choose a week in August”, they said, “and bring your sun-block”, they said,“come to BBQs after work”, they said. Week beginning the 20th August seemed like a good bet to deliver ‘back-to-back’ Practical Visits (PV) in Norfolk. Practical Visits typically comprise a 1-3 day visit where the Wild Trout Trust (WTT) will complete a demonstration plot on the river or stream where habitat is to be restored. This will enable project leaders and teams to obtain on-the ground training regarding the appropriate use of conservation techniques and materials, including Health & Safety equipment and requirements. This will then give projects the strongest possible start leading to successful completion of aims and objectives.
The WTT will fund the cost of a ‘Wet-Work Team’ and materials. Recipients are will be expected to meet the travel and accommodation expenses of the WTT team. The Trust has been fortunate to secure £5000 of corporate sponsorship from Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd which has paid for a 12ft ‘PV Trailer’, equipment, tools and protective gear. All much needed to get the job done properly. The Norfolk PV was to be the sun-bathed inaugural visit for the new trailer and equipment.
Week beginning 20th August arrived, so did the WTT, and so some did of the wettest and windiest conditions on record. The weather on the drive down to Norfolk from East Yorkshire, via the Fens on the Sunday night was getting worse the nearer we got to Holkham. The plan was to start work with the Holkham Fishing Club to help them improve in-stream habitat on the River Stiffkey, near Warham.
We were greeted on Monday morning with conditions that felt like we were in November, rather than the week before an August Bank Holiday Weekend. The plan was to clear excessive tree growth which was over-shading the channel on the nearby River Burn and use this to narrow the Stiffkey to improve flows and habitat complexity.
This re-use of local materials is central to the sustainability ethos of WTT. Very quickly it became apparent that the river was rising at an alarming rate which was making working conditions almost impossible.We finally gave in after both our Landrovers and trailers became bogged down and had to be towed out by JCB!??
WTT Practical Visits are undertaken with Five Rivers Environmental Contracting which is run by Jason Lovering and his team. Jason is not a man to give up easily (he’s a rugby forward!) but no matter which way we turned and whatever contingency plan we came up with the conditions were one step ahead of us......aaaaarrgghh! With the agreement of the Holkham Estate we reluctantly agreed the best way forward was to postpone the planned works on the Stiffkey until the spring... we will be back... and it will be dry! With our tails between our legs I suggested that we go and have a look at our next planned site on the River Glaven, approximately 10 miles to the east of the Stiffkey. Although it would be in flood, I felt it was worth a look for Jason to familiarise himself with the site before a return trip. On arriving at the Glaven we came upon a river that was only six inches higher than normal summer level and which was running clear.
We quickly bumped into Ian Shepard of the River Glaven Conservation Group and asked if we could start two days earlier than planned. Ian is a remarkable character and accepted our ‘change of plan’ in his stride. Over coffee he made a series of ’phone calls to volunteers and suppliers and made the necessary arrangements. We were back in business. To celebrate our recovery we all went out to the Globe pub in Wells-next-the-Sea and consumed far too much of that fine Norfolk ale, Nelson’s Revenge. The next morning Horatio’s brew had indeed had its revenge on us as we made our way somewhat delicately along the coast road to start work.We had had rain overnight but we were still within safe and workable limits... just. *Over three days we had several tasks ahead of us:
- Two sections of river narrowing ?
- Installation of three new riffles?
- Enhancement of two existing riffles
- Train volunteers in gravel jetting
At this point it is worth mentioning that the stretch we were working on had some major improvement works carried out last October. As part of the WTT’s Cinderella Chalk Rivers Project we granted £9500 towards a highly ambitious project to restore riparian and in-channel habitat. The project came to fruition as a result of a WTT Advisory Visit in 2003.
- The works in October included:
- Introduction of woody debris
- Installation of cattle crossing points
- Installation of in-stream islands
- Removal of a flood bank River narrowing
The project in October has been incredibly successful with many fisheries and biodiversity benefits. Soon after the project was completed, brook lamprey were seen spawning on new gravels, native crayfish were surveyed near woody habitat and over 50 species of plants have been recorded where nettle-dominated flood banks once stood. Numbers of wild trout also appear to be increasing. (see www.riverglaven.org.uk/cinderella-project)
Quite simply, the lifeblood of the river has started to return!
The works we were undertaking were to help the River Glaven Conservation Group finish off the project. The funding necessary to complete the works was provided by Patagonia Inc, under the umbrella of the 1% for the planet initiative... The first day saw both sections of river narrowing completed using a combination of felled alders and chestnut stakes and weaved alder brash. The weather again started to take a turn for the worse with high winds and driving rain, interspaced with even heavier showers. With even more rain the river was again rising, and by the time we left on the first day it had risen two feet and was running the colour of hot chocolate. We couldn’t believe our luck; day one on a new job and yet again it looked like we would be having an early trip home. That night, conditions became even worse, and the only way to console ourselves was by consuming more of old Nelson’s potent brew.
The next morning, dark grey skies, rain and 30mph winds did little to lift our spirits. Arrival at the river was depressing. However, we pressed on with the transportation of gravel to the banks ready for the creation of the riffles. Ground conditions became worse and worse throughout the day until there was a danger we would be turning the banks into something that resembled the trenches of the Somme. This looked like it really was a terminal situation.
However, the weather forecast gave us a glimmer of hope and we were assured that if it stopped raining river levels would drop quickly. That night we all prayed for dry condition and consumed yet more Nelson’s Revenge. Norfolk’s ‘oldest boy that made good ’must have been smiling down on us, for the next morning we were greeted with dry conditions and no significant rain had fallen over night. We were back in business alive and kicking once more!
It was now our last day and bankside activity was frantic, but it had a new sense of direction and purpose. Despite some problems with machinery bogging down, we finished off all the riffle work, and by close of play on the Friday the sun had even made an appearance to celebrate our completion of the job. Five Rivers did a tremendous job and the River Glaven Conservation Group all pitched in at various points to ensure we achieved our objectives. I stayed on for the Saturday morning to conduct a ‘jetting surgery’ to demonstrate the use of water pump equipment to clean gravel riffles of the silt that had accumulated in the river over many years. Wild trout and myriads of plants and invertebrates require clean gravel habitat to flourish. What a week! On more than one occasion we thought we had a ‘dead in the water’ project that should really have had ‘DNR’ hung over its bed. However, despite several ‘flatliner’ moments, we revived the patient each time, using a mixture of determination, skill and luck. I can now happily report that this section of the Glaven looks like it will make a full recovery, as will the Stiffkey next Spring.
The WTT would like to acknowledge the kind support of Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd, Patagonia Inc, The Environment Agency, Natural England, Lord Coke of the Holkham Estate, Nick Zoll, Five Rivers Environmental Contracting, The River Glaven Conservation Group and Norfolk Wildlife Trust, without whose assistance the projects would not have happened..
For more information on the work of the WTT and how you can start a wild trout conservation project, visit: www.wildtrout.org