The Princess Royal opens underwater view of the River Severn

The Princess Royal officially opened a unique underwater wild fish viewing gallery on the River Severn at Diglis in Worcester as part of the biggest conservation project of its kind in Europe.

Woman talking to young people Her Royal Highness Princess Royal meets Unlocking The Severn conservation project volunteers. Photo credits to Aaron Scott Richards

Her Royal Highness was hosted by Richard Parry, chief executive the lead delivery partner of the Unlocking the Severn project to improve the UK’s longest river for people and wildlife.

Opening our underwater viewing

She entered the viewing gallery built below the water level of the river where a huge five square metre window gives a unique opportunity to spot wild fish navigating the fish pass on their way to important spawning grounds up the river.

The Princess Royal’s visit marks the official opening of this underwater viewing gallery for local school groups and bookable public tours. Her Royal Highness was shown how visitors will learn about the rare migratory fish on the River Severn and the fish passes that will once again give access to more than 150 miles of important spawning habitat.

The visit gave Her Royal Highness the chance to have a face-to-face encounter with the wild fish of the River Severn through the viewing window. So far, 21 species of fish have been filmed passing through the fish pass including migratory fish such as shad, salmon, eel, lamprey, small silvery fish like dace, roach and bleak, and coarse fish including chub and barbel.

The Diglis fish pass

The Diglis fish pass is a huge structure, 100 metres long, eight metres wide and five metres deep. Built over the last two years, it is the biggest deep vertical slot fish pass in England and Wales and a feat of modern civil engineering. The fish pass, one of four to be built as part of the Unlocking the Severn project, allows fish to swim past the Victorian built weirs via a series of ascending pools.

Earlier this year, the endangered twaite shad, one of the UK’s rarest fish species, were able to swim past the Diglis weir and through Worcester for the first time in nearly 180 years on their spring spawning migration. The Diglis fish pass and three others being installed at weirs further upriver will also help to secure the long-term future of many other declining and protected fish species.

As part of the royal visit, The Princess Royal unveiled a commemorative plaque and was given a tour of the manmade lock island in the middle of the River Severn, including the Victorian workshop which has been transformed into a flexible visitor space to host school groups and the start of the public tours. She met local volunteers who continue to play such an important role in this project and was introduced to representatives from all the project partners: Canal & River Trust, Severn Rivers Trust, Environment Agency, and Natural England. The National Lottery Heritage Fund and LIFE programme of the European Union, both key funders of the project, were represented.

 

Two men and a woman crossing a bridge Her Royal Highness Princess Royal crosses Diglis foot & cycle bridge. Photo credits to Aaron Scott Richards

Engaging with river wildlife

Richard Parry, our chief executive, said: “It was an honour to welcome Her Royal Highness to learn more about this impressive conservation project and officially open such a unique visitor destination. We were thrilled to start giving people the chance to glimpse the wild fish within the UK’s longest river.

"The underwater viewing gallery offers a completely new way to engage with river wildlife that are for so many people out of sight and out of mind. In addition to restoring the fortunes of the courageous twaite shad, we hope this new visitor experience will inspire people to re-engage with river wildlife for many, many years to come, after all life is better by water.” 

Unlocking the Severn

Eilish McGuinness, Executive Director of Business Delivery, The  National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are delighted that a key milestone of the Unlocking the Severn project is officially open, allowing visitors to see first-hand the important environmental impact that instating this fish pass has had. Thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to support the Canal & River Trust and their partners with a £11.4million grant to undertake this ambitious project, which will reverse impacts on the environment created during the industrial revolution.” 

“Our investment will help repair environmental damage caused in the past, when the river was made navigable by building weirs across it, so that in future people, river traffic and nature can all live in harmony and can understand the importance of the great River Severn for nature, reconnecting and protecting this precious asset.”  

Charles Crundwell, Senior Specialist in National Fisheries Services at the Environment Agency said: “We’re delighted that the viewing gallery at Diglis fish pass is now open, and Her Royal Highness joined us for the occasion. This state-of-the-art facility will open up the river to migratory species, allowing our iconic fish stocks to spawn successfully. The immersive viewing experience provides an exciting opportunity to engage with the river and the life within it.”