A major new UK wildlife project has just secured £19.4 million funding, including £10.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £6 million from the European Union LIFE programme.
The project will re-open the mighty River Severn and its major tributary for fish and wildlife whilst reconnecting millions of people and local communities with the lost natural, cultural and industrial heritage of this magical river.
The £19.4 million project, the largest of its kind ever attempted in Europe, will re-open the UK’s longest river to all fish species, many of which became extinct in the upper reaches following the installation of weirs required to power the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The work will address the blockages and secure the long-term future of many of the UK’s declining and protected fish species by substantially increasing access to the critical spawning grounds fish require to complete their complex and fascinating lifecycles. This includes historically economically vital species such as the now threatened twaite and allis shad - a species favoured in the court of Henry III, once abundant and famed all across Europe for its taste and quality. The project will also benefit other critically declining species such as salmon and the European eel – all species on which the communities along the banks of the River Severn were historically built.
Today, over 6 million people live near the River Severn, and the project will build upon the wide economic and social benefits to local communities the River brings. Recreational and commercial fishing activities contribute >£15 million to the river each year with a further £4.4 million per annum from recreational activities such as walking and cycling the Severn Way. Boating accounts for 17,000 visits per year with an additional 25,000 from unpowered boats. The project will build on this by restoring the fish populations to bring additional economic benefits, as well as enhancing the recreational and tourism opportunities along the River.
With the £10.8 million received from HLF and £6 million from the European Union LIFE programme, the exciting project will also work closely with local communities and schools in order to reconnect millions of people with the natural, cultural and industrial heritage on the rivers. Along with the UK’s first Shad Fest and England’s only fish viewing gallery at Diglis Weir in Worcester, a major citizen science program will also get people involved in the preservation of this lesser known UK fish. In reconnecting people with the River, the project will raise awareness of the value of our UK river systems, not only for enhancing biodiversity, tourism and fishing, but ensuring the River Severn system is protected for our future generations to enjoy as part of our natural and historic heritage, and an important piece of what made Britain the economic powerhouse it is today.
The project was developed as part of a three year long collaborative partnership between the Severn Rivers Trust, the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England.
Work to install the first of seven state-of-the-art fish passes will begin in 2017, and will take around five years to complete.