River improvements at River Park, Winchester

Improvements to make a tributary of the River Itchen more wildlife-friendly will start this month at River Park, Winchester.

The £45,000 scheme is funded by Winchester City Council and managed by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Parts of the river near the River Park Leisure Centre will be planted with locally-grown wetland plants, recreating the feel of a naturally-meandering stream and improving the habitat for local flora and fauna.

River restoration specialists Aquascience will carefully repair sections of the riverbank that have been eroded over time, preventing further erosion of the nearby footpath, and helping the river flow to dislodge some of the silt currently covering the riverbed.

As well as diverse and colourful wetland plants, other species such as brown trout, grayling, roach, water vole, mayfly and banded demoiselle are all set to benefit too.

Work will last for approximately two weeks, followed by further work in the autumn. There will be no disruption to public access and no increased flood risk.

The works are part of a three-year project, and follow similar improvements completed two years ago in Abbey Gardens and the Friarsgate residential areas. Concrete and brick-lined channels were transformed into greener spaces, attracting a greater variety of wildlife including water voles and brown trout into the heart of the city.

This modified channel was once part of Winnall Moor’s historic water-meadow system that existed before the recreation ground was created and is linked to the internationally important River Itchen. Visitors to River Park will soon notice a big improvement to the main watercourse that passes through the recreation ground.

Martin de Retuerto, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Area Head of Conservation, said: “These channels have been modified continuously since Roman times – for milling, water meadows, flood drainage, landfill and so on and they have lost most of their ability to function naturally. Coupled with adverse effects linked to urban environments, such as pollution and neglect, many of the habitats and the wildlife we associate with the world-famous River Itchen have been drastically diminished. This work will dramatically improve what has become a degraded urban channel and will see life flowing back through the city.”

Cllr Frank Pearson, Winchester City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment, said: “We are delighted to be working together to improve this section of the River Itchen for people and for wildlife. The city is privileged to have such an important river forming a significant feature so any opportunity to enhance it for wildlife and the residents of Winchester should be taken forward.”