River restoration may see return of water’s wildlife

The sweeping meanders and reed beds of a Norfolk river are being restored to improve the protected habitat for aquatic wildlife – and the public's enjoyment.

Work began this week at three sites along the River Nar near Swaffham at Narborough, Castle Acre and West Lexham.

Diggers have been brought in to restore natural features like pools, riffles, meanders and shallow areas of gravel in the river channel and along the banks.

Dilapidated weirs will also be removed to allow more dynamic water flows and reduce the build up of silt in the river. It is hoped the work will benefit fish such as eels, brown trout and sea trout, as well as water voles, rare dragonflies and otters which live in the river, most of which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The River Nar Restoration Strategy is the result of a partnership between the Norfolk Rivers Internal Drainage Board (IDB), the Environment Agency (EA), Natural England (NE) and local landowners.

Chris Bell, technical officer for the EA, said: 'Over the generations there has been significant deterioration to some areas of the river, but I am delighted that we are now at the beginning of a focused effort to reverse this decline and bring life back to the whole of the River Nar.

'We are using some exciting low-cost techniques for maximum value – it's a great example of anglers' rod licence money contributing back to local fisheries and the wildlife they support as well as providing better amenity value for the public.'

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The work is being carried out by EA staff and local contractors, guided by environmental scientist Dr Nigel Holmes and the River Restoration Centre.

The Nar is one of the few remaining rivers in East Anglia which supports a run of rare sea trout. Its banks provide a sanctuary for water voles and a valuable hunting ground for otters. The nationally-important wildlife hotspot also supports more than 78 river plants, 12 different dragonflies and birds including kingfisher, grey wagtail, reed warblers and willow and marsh tits.

Jen Small, NE's SSSI adviser for the River Nar, said: 'The River Nar is recognised as a SSSI because it is a rare combination of a chalk stream and a fenland river.

'These practical projects give us the opportunity to showcase techniques for restoring river features such as pools and riffles which improve the habitat for plants and animals living along the river, enhancing the wonderful natural setting for the Nar Valley Way and providing opportunities for good fishing.'

Tony Goodwin, engineer for the Norfolk Rivers IDB, said: 'The implementation of parts of the Whole River Restoration Plan is an important step towards the development of a dynamic river, without compromising flood protection.'

chris.hill@archant.co.uk