Whether it’s the January sales, reduced items at the supermarket or the free Bombay mix you occasionally get when you go to pick-up your Indian takeaway, everybody likes value. This is especially true of river managers, and particularly those working for public sector organisations, charities or trusts.
In river restoration parlance (particularly in the Environment Agency!) these opportunities are sometimes referred to as ‘quick-wins’, and they are surprisingly common. ‘Quick-wins’ are cost-effective, easily implemented and, hopefully, appropriate techniques that minimise your capital outlay but produce the results you want. They are often small-scale and work on a very basic understanding of how rivers work.
I’ve already discussed on this blog the DO’s and DONT’s of river restoration, but what can you do simply and effectively with a spade? (and the appropriate consents from the Environment Agency, Natural England and any other relevant local/national authority, of course)
Involve volunteers and stakeholders: The benefits of engaging local communities in river restoration work are often understated, and there’s far more to it than getting free labour. By educating volunteers and enabling them to be physically involved they learn about rivers and why they are important. Long-term this approach creates a society that not only understands rivers, but also respects and looks after them.
If it’s straight, deep and wide then you probably can’t make it much worse: Many of our rivers are knackered and the biggest problems are homogeneity and uniformity. By changing the river shape, exposing some hard bed substrate or removing an embankment you can add some diversity. You don’t want to be too careless in sensitive areas, but if you’ve got a trapezoidal, 50m drainage ditch that you want to improve then whether you shallow the banks, narrow the channel or add some gravel, you’re likely to make an improvement.
Get wood: Adding some large pieces of wood to your river is a cheap and easy method of enhancing habitat diversity. Wood increases local roughness, can provide shelter from predation for fish, may regulate water temperature and can kick-start geomorphological processes (e.g. bed scour). Trees can be sourced locally, although shouldn’t be removed from areas already lacking riparian shading.
Don’t be afraid to do something small: Whilst ideally river restoration should be holistic and catchment-scale, everything has to start somewhere. If you don’t have the manpower, money or time to do the most amazing river restoration project ever then don’t worry. Something simple, based on sound scientific principles, can be just as worthwhile and effective as a large, multi-million pound scheme.
Of course all of this isn’t to detract from the vital role that fluvial geomorphologists play in conceptualising, designing, implementing and quality assuring river restoration schemes – else I’d be out of a job! What I’m trying to get at with this post is that there are lots of opportunities out there to make a real difference without breaking the bank. And if you do ever feel out of your depth, you know where the experts are!