Environment Agency deserve praise for Wensum work

John Bailey inspects a great river management scheme on the Glaven.

John Bailey inspects a great river management scheme on the Glaven. - Credit: Archant

I like to think that I've known for 30 years or more that dredging rivers is bad and letting them live naturally is good.

That's why I've been so excited and so supportive of the Environment Agency over the last years. Their attitude to river management has changed 360° from the bad days of the deep dredging we used to see on a continual basis up and down all our rivers. However, what I hadn't got until just a few days ago was the scale of what the Environment Agency has done, so much of it under the radar. Our Wensum always has and always will define my life in some ways, so I jumped at the chance to see what Environment Agency project managers, Rob Dryden and Adam Thurtle, had to show me. What a privilege to enjoy a day out with men who know rivers from source to sea, from surface to bed. I was not disappointed in my expectations.

Our day focused on the very top of the Wensum, from Ryburgh upstream, taking in that delightful little tributary, the Tat.

What I had never quite taken on board until this riverside revelation is the full extent of the work that has taken place. Previously, I had a vision of stretches of river worked upon but disconnected, a piecemeal scheme that would never really work in practice. The reality is something quite different. What Rob and Adam showed me is that the EA are reviving our entire upper river systems and that includes the complete catchment area. This is epic, game-changing stuff. What the two showed me is an entire river system that is being resuscitated, branch certainly, hopefully to root. This is not an example of amateurish exploration.

Adam, Rob and their teams have this developing sensitivity to how rivers like the Wensum work, flow and breathe. I was shown mile after mile of what can only be called exquisite river architecture. What they have done is help tributaries like the Tat and the main river itself, mould themselves back into the way nature would want them to be formed. It's half art and it's half science. It's a beguiling mix of experience and intuition. A bit of bank shaved here, a groyne placed here, a tree trunk pegged in over there. Woody debris, weir creation, silt removed and sand, gravel and chalk returned. This work has turned drains into streams.

Where the Wensum was once little more than a canalised ditch, it has now been transformed back into a sinuous river. This is environmental science with enormous soul.

This is a fishing column. What's the message here for fishermen? First up, the licence fee is worth paying if only because we might be getting our rivers back. What Adam and Rob showed me is a work in progress and through the coming years, mile after mile of our riverine habitat will be put back to rights. This is truly and absolutely worth paying for. I believe that as a result we will see our roach, dace, chub and even barbel stocks benefit. Already, wild brown trout are proving to be massively on the increase on the restored stretches of river.

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I'm not in the pay of the Environment Agency, I wish I were. Like you, I detest paying taxes of any sort for no other reason than oiling the wheels of the gravy train. In this particular instance, though, I see dedicated civil servants working in a way that transcends tight financial restrictions. On a miserly budget, guys like Rob and Adam are working wonders for our river fishing future.