Thursday, November 01, 2012

Rewilding the River Welland through Market Harborough

Earlier this evening I went to a meeting held by the Welland Rivers Trust at The Angel, Market Harborough, to gain local views about its proposed £500,000 project to restore the riverscape and habitats along the River Welland through the town.

You can read more about the scheme on BBC News and on the Welland Rivers Trust website.

The project has come a long way since I went to a meeting about the Welland on the eve of the last general election, and there was a lot of support expressed this evening.

The middle reaches of the Welland suffered brutal flood prevention work from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s. As Dr David Harper said this evening, at the start of that period public policy was that we should grow enough food that we need not fear being starved by U-boats in the next world war. At the end of it we had signed up to the European Economic Community's common agricultural policy and its lakes and mountains of food.

So in rural areas the prevention work was designed so that farmers would be able to grow any crop they chose on the flood plain, even though the Welland Valley has traditionally been regarded as some of the finest grazing land in England.

And in Market Harborough the river was constrained, sometimes by concrete walls, to prevent the town flooding. Some flood prevention work here was necessary, but it would be done far more sympathetically today.

The good news is that there is much that can be done to reverse the worst excesses of that scheme. I asked about the River Jordan here in Little Bowden, which suffered at the same time, and the Trust has plans for it too.

One unlovely fact I learnt this evening is about the source of the Welland. It is somewhere near the village of Sibbertoft in Northamptonshire, but hard to find. I once spent an hour trudging around a muddy field where the Ordnance Survey map places it, but found nothing. One romantic tale had the river beginning in a spring that comes to light in the cellar of the village's vicarage.

The truth these days is that the Welland begins with the outflow from Sibbertoft's sewage treatment works. At least the forgiveness of nature means the water is a lot cleaner by the time it reaches Market Harborough.

I took the title of this post from a Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust leaflet about "Rewilding the Soar Valley". I like the idea of 'rewilding' - it is a concept we could extend to many areas of life. However, the man from the trust said that everything is being rewilded these days, so maybe I am a bit late with this bandwagon.

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