Work begins to ensure crystal clear future for chalk streams

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A THREE-year project has been launched to breathe new life into the headwaters of River Hull.

The £370,000 “Crystal Clear” project aims to restore over eight km of chalk stream and create 70 acres of new wetland habitat.

East Yorkshire is home to the UK’s most northerly chalk streams, fragile habitats which have been damaged over the years by inappropriate management, deforestation and modern-day groundwater abstraction.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will concentrate its efforts on six sites which run through farmland near the River Hull headwaters around Driffield as well as its recently acquired site, a former commercial fish farm Humberside Fisheries, now called Skerne Wetlands.

The Trust says it is not a case of turning the clock back hundreds of years to “rewild” the area, which has farming and business uses.

They are working with natural materials including willow “mattresses” and hazel faggotts which will eventually rot down to re-engineer stretches of chalk stream.

Regional manager Jon Traill was at Eastburn Beck yesterday where willows were being chopped back and the timber used to create ponds and narrow stretches where the water flows more strongly, naturally cleaning the gravel, which fish need to successfully spawn in.

As well as improving fish stocks, they hope everything from small invertebrates to birds will benefit.

He said: “We are trying to get the river back to some sort of natural functioning process, rather than the over-managed system it is now.

“We are trying to make the river work for us.

“It is not just these small areas that will benefit – there will be knock-ons for the wider system.

“It isn’t about trying to preserve things on our nature reserves, it’s trying to encourage wildlife in the wider landscape along natural river corridors.”

Skerne Wetlands, which runs along a section of the West Beck, will also be transformed into a mosaic of wet grassland and woodland, reedbed, fen and ponds.

Now, volunteers are being sought to help with practical work, surveys and monitoring work.

Partners in the Crystal Clear project include East Yorkshire Rivers Trust, natural England, Environment Agency, Beverley & North Holderness Internal Drainage Board, West Beck Preservation Fly Fishing Society and local riparian landowners.

Funding has come from the WREN Biodiversity Action Fund, with support, the Environment Agency and Natural England’s agri-environment scheme.