Restoration project aims to 'give river back to Market Harborough'
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Environment and also in Education
Dr David Harper (credit Robert Llewellyn Smith)
A conservation task force made up of University of Leicester expertise, ecologists and community members is seeking to restore the vitality of a watercourse through a historic Leicestershire market town.
The half-a-million-pound project aims to restore the River Welland at Market Harborough, led by University of Leicester biologist Dr David Harper, whose career has been devoted to conservation.
Dr Harper said: “The aim of the project is to put nature back in the river and give the river back to Market Harborough.
“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 Welland and its tributaries largely fail to meet a legal standard, called, ‘Good Ecological Status’. This is because the river was turned into a large drain from Market Harborough to the sea in the 1960s by engineering schemes, which almost totally removed the wildlife habitats 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.”
Now experts behind the project are to embark on a series of consultations with residents about the restoration project. The first meeting is on November 1 at 7pm at the Angel Hotel, Market Harborough and is free and open to the public.
The project has come about after a new charitable company was set up with the University’s help. The Welland Rivers Trust, one of over 40 such Trusts trying to bring vitality back to Britain’s rivers, seeks to make people aware of the river and its uses; to restore its lost natural value and to help people to use the river sustainably. Dr David Harper, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation Biology, is also the Trust’s Honorary Secretary.
One of the Trust’s early successes has been to mobilise different public and private groups in Stamford, bringing them together on work to restore a major public asset in the town neglected for decades – the old Mill Stream. Work groups of over 70 people regularly turn out to clear mud and rubbish, cut fallen trees and open up the watercourse. Masters students from the University’s Geography Department helped design restoration plans which will be implemented with a grant from the US engineering company Cummins, which has a production plant in the town.
Dr Harper and the Welland Rivers Trust, working with the Innovations Partnership team of the University’s Enterprise & Business Development Office, submitted the application to Defra’s Catchment Restoration Fund to win the money for the Harborough restoration project. The bid was also made in partnership with the University’s new Centre for Landscape & Climate Research, The Environment Agency and Harborough District Council.
Dr Harper said: “This is another good example of the University reaching out to the community and using its skills to benefit people and nature in the counties that surround it.”
“I have spent my career researching the Welland and using it to teach students from all over the world what ecology and conservation is all about.
“I am really happy that the results of my research findings and my skills are can be used to bring practical improvements to the wildlife and sustainable future of our countryside and its features.
Rivers in urban areas, such as the Welland as it flows through Market Harborough, have suffered even more that rural ones because, apart from containing the same pollution, the 20thCentury attitude that humankind could master nature led to neglect of the river, its wildlife and its enormous recreational potential to the community.
The Welland Rivers Trust has ideas, based on the collective experience of its leaders, about how we can achieve this without increasing the flood risk to the town. The last thing we are going to do, however, is to come in and tell Market Harborough how this is going to be done. The next 3-4 months will be spent on extensive consultations with people and organisations about what they want to see and exactly how best we can merge their vision with ours. It will be an exciting time.”
• The inaugural meeting of the River Welland restoration project takes place on November 1 at 7pm at the Angel Hotel, Market Harborough.
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