The project
Focusing on a stretch of the Western
Rother that extends 4.5km upstream
from Coultershaw bridge, this project
began as a series of informal
discussions with the landowner
Leconfield Estate about how best to
improve both the river and the
surrounding floodplain meadows.
Habitat quality on this part of the
Rother is degraded for a number of
reasons, including:
historic channel modifications,
bed-lowering for navigation,
extensive 20th century land
drainage works, including a
rolling programme of channel
dredging and
intensive arable agriculture on
the valley sides, where friable
sandy soils are easily eroded.
The legacy of bank-top bunds also
means that in many places the river is
no longer effectively connected to its
adjacent flood plain. The river will still
spillover its banks, but only at flow
rates much greater than prior to the
bed being lowered; as a result, bank-full
water velocities are high, exacerbating
erosion, increasing sediment load and
further reducing in-channel habitat
The poor ecological quality of the river
was confirmed by the Environment
Agency’s Water Framework Directive
assessment, which concludes that the
river only meets moderate status. The
challenge then was to find a cost-
effective and simple intervention to
improve this situation.
The project was undertaken in partnership with the Wild Trout Trust and the
Leconfield Estate, and was funded by a £5,000 grant from the Sussex Lund
Charitable Trust and a £2,280 contribution from the South Downs National Park
Authority (SDNPA). Work for the project was divided into four main parts:
1. Lowering the river bank. This was done in a strategic location to improve
the river’s connection with its floodplain, reduce flood risk downstream and
create valuable wetland habitat. It will also allow the river to spill onto the flood
plain earlier, reducing sediment loads in the channel itself and promoting sediment
deposition at an earlier stage as opposed to allowing it to wash downstream.
2. Narrowing the river channel & creating a wide shelf. Using material
from the bank lowering work, a wide shelf was built out into the channel.
Contained within a framework of locally-sourced hazel faggots, the shelf will not
only narrow the river of benefit to spawning wild trout and inverts but also
create a large and diverse habitat of bankside wetland plants.
3. Adding large woody debris. Selected bankside alders were hinged into the
water in a similar fashion to hedge laying. Other trees were felled and the butt
ends secured to the trunk of a live tree using flexible galvanised cable. This will
allow them to move in the current and creates what’s known as a floating
“kicker”. Both methods are quick and easy ways of creating valuable marginal
cover for fish and invertebrates, and help buffer the banks.
4. Tree planting. With the help of volunteers, a variety of trees were planted
along a 4.5km stretch of floodplain. This included over 30 rare black poplars
(supplied by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as part of a project to conserve the
species) and several varieties of disease resistant elms. The trees will provide
valuable habitat and boost bank resilience, as well as limiting rising water
temperatures, caused by climate change, leading to increased fish mortality.
Also include general financial information, e.g. overall project cost, SDNPA
Case Study
Rother Revival Project