Restoration projects are bringing East Anglia’s rivers back to former glories

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Picture

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Pictured: Work in progress on the Riiver Whitewater. Picture: Water Management Alliance. - Credit: Water Management Alliance

Landowners have been encouraged to suggest neglected waterways which could benefit from an ongoing project which has already restored the natural characteristics of several East Anglian rivers.

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Picture

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Pictured: The Riiver Whitewater, before the work. Picture: Water Management Alliance. - Credit: Water Management Alliance

Despite the challenging weather conditions throughout the winter, internal drainage boards (IDBs) in Norfolk and Suffolk have been working on river restoration schemes with the help of the Integrated Main River Maintenance (IMRM) Programme.

The Water Management Alliance is working with the Environment Agency (EA) on the three-year programme, which is reinvesting up to £350,000 a year made available to enable IDBs to carry out maintenance activities on 'Main River' stretches which would normally be within the remit of the EA.

They are targeting locations where the EA has withdrawn from routine maintenance activities due to low flood risk to people and properties, but where there will be tangible benefits to water management and wildlife habitats in the drainage districts for which IDBs are responsible.

The programme can carry out traditional maintenance such as blockage removal and vegetation management but is also employing restoration techniques including channel re-profiling, importing gravels and timber to create berms, glides and deflectors, and planting trees along river banks.

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Picture

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Pictured: The Riiver Whitewater, after completion. Picture: Water Management Alliance. - Credit: Water Management Alliance


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Individual projects so far include:

• East Suffolk IDB has delivered a 2km restoration scheme on the River Wang at Henham, near Southwold, which combined the removal of in-channel blockages with the installation of 20 flow deflectors supported by Water Framework Directive funding.

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• The Broads IDB has received landowner approval to develop a scheme at Hassingham Beck to construct lagoons to reduce the impact of sediment and high volumes of runoff on the downstream Broad.

• Norfolk Rivers IDB has undertaken vegetation management on the Upper Yare at Barford and has started a five-week restoration scheme to return a 1.1km stretch of the River Whitewater to 'a more naturally-functioning, self-maintaining state'.

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Picture

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Pictured: The River Yare, before the start of the project. Picture: Water Management Alliance. - Credit: Water Management Alliance

A WMA spokesman said: 'The strengths of the IMRM programme are well demonstrated in the above examples, enabling the IDBs to deliver schemes on watercourses where the EA have reduced or withdrawn from maintenance, bringing real benefits to land drainage, habitat and reducing future maintenance costs.

'Locations continue to be scoped and consultation undertaken with landowners and partners with a view implementing sustainable maintenance techniques as part of this programme to the benefit of watercourses beyond the value and duration of this programme. Work carried out so far has delivered significant benefits to conveyance, lowering water levels, restoring the operation of land drains and reducing the wear and tear on IDB pumps.'

• Landowners who wish to discuss potential Main River locations for inclusion in the programme can contact info@wlma.org.uk.

• Locations are currently limited to the drainage districts of Norfolk Rivers IDB, Waveney Lower Yare & Lothingland IDB, Broads IDB and East Suffolk IDB. Details of the EA Main River Network can be found online on the gov.uk website.

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Picture

River restoration work in East Anglia under the Integrated Main River Maintenance Programme. Pictured: The River Yare, after completion. Picture: Water Management Alliance. - Credit: Water Management Alliance

RESTORATION CASE STUDY: SCARROW BECK

An 800m stretch of a north Norfolk chalk stream has been restored to its natural state to improve water quality, reduce flood risk and encourage more aquatic wildlife.

Scarrow Beck flows through the villages of Aldborough, Calthorpe and Erpingham before joining the River Bure upstream of Aylsham.

River restoration work at Scarrow Beck. Picture: Water Management Alliance.

River restoration work at Scarrow Beck. Picture: Water Management Alliance. - Credit: Water Management Alliance

Like many East Anglian watercourses, it had been significantly modified over the course of time, partly due to changes in agricultural practices, resulting in the deepening and widening of the channel, slowing the flow of water.

Drainage and ecology experts said this once dynamic and fast-flowing headwater – rich in clean gravels, starworts and trout – had become a deep and sluggish ditch environment, choked with burr reeds and silts.

But now the original characteristics of an 800m section of Scarrow Beck south of Erpingham have been restored following a partnership project involving the Norfolk Rivers Internal Drainage Board (IDB), and the Environment Agency (EA).

The project has re-profiled the steep eroding banks, improved bankside vegetation for water voles, used locally-sourced trees to construct berms, and imported 200 tonnes of gravel to reinstate a more uniform river bed as a spawning habitat for trout, chub and dace.

The improvements also help make the river a 'more self-sustaining, higher energy system', which contributes to improved water quality and flood risk management potential.

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