The construction work on a half-a-million-pound river conservation project in Market Harborough is to be launched this week.
The ‘Welland for People and Wildlife’ river restoration works project aims to turn eyesores into central cultural features by putting nature back in the river and give the river back to Market Harborough.
University of Leicester biologist Professor David Harper, whose career has been devoted to conservation, is leading the project.
He is Professor of Limnology & Catchment Sciences in the Department of Biology & at the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research.
He said: “The river, once a major obstacle to cross on the route between northern and southern England when travel was by foot or horseback, with ancient towns such as Market Harborough and Stamford on its banks where all-weather crossing places existed, has lost almost all of its importance over the past 50 years. Deepened, straightened and polluted, its value to people and to wildlife is a just fraction of what it once was.
“The recent severe flooding of major rivers like the Severn and the Thames – far from telling us that we need to have rivers better dredged – actually tells us the exact opposite. The widespread dredging of rivers through the 1960s up to the 1980s together with the continued drainage of farmland, means that water runs rapidly off the catchments and down into the main rivers where it is blocked by our many old and much loved bridges in towns – as well as by high tides – and then floods them. If we managed our river catchments sensibly, we would pay farmers to store and hold back rainwater, not get rid of it as fast as possible, so that heavy rainstorms result in slow release of water down into river channels, so the high flood peaks are avoided.”
The Welland and its tributaries now also fail to meet a new legal standard, called, ‘Good Ecological Status’.
This is because when the river was turned into a large drain from Market Harborough to the sea in the 1960s by engineering schemes, they almost totally removed the wildlife and hence ecological value of the river.
“Over the past 75 years in addition, all houses no matter how remote, have benefitted from running water and flush toilets. The unplanned consequence of that is that phosphorus – a valuable fertiliser and essential compound for human health when it is in the right place – widely pollutes our watercourses from treated sewage or septic tank effluents. With the river turned into a drain instead of a natural river, its wildlife – particularly the smallest microscopic forms at the base of the food chain – can no longer purify the water so effectively because it flows too fast and they don’t have time.”
The “Welland for People and Wildlife” partnership project will restore the River Welland throughout the town. In it upper part, it runs for through Welland Park with a riverside walk upgraded as a Millennium Path.
University of Leicester, February 19, 2014