Landscape recovery & river restoration in the Evenlode

November 2022

Eoghan Concannon, Evenlode Catchment Partnership Project Officer

The North- East Cotswold Farming cluster, the Evenlode Catchment Partnership (ECP)and other partners are delighted to announce the success of theEvenlode Landscape Recovery pilot project proposal, submitted last May. Steered by a formidable team of Just Farm, Blenheim, Dunthrop, Atkins and others, Defra and the Environment Agency have told us we were one of the highest scoring and largest of the successful projects. We received excellent contributions from a large range of farmers and organisations, so thank you. Farming in Protected Landscape (FiPL), Smarter Water Catchment, and membership funds enabled us to submit the application, so another thank you.

45 of our farms in the Dorn, Glyme and Evenlode valley will receive 2 years of support for Landscape Recovery project development.

Out of the 20,000+ha under management by those 45 farms, we entered a combined total of 3,271ha of land parcels into the bid - i.e., only a proportion of the total landholding were entered. The project aims to restore the river and stream environment across the Evenlode catchment through collaborative working across landholdings. It will draw public funding (similar to higher tier stewardship); however, uniquely, Landscape Recovery will also stack/blend (combine with) sources of private funding e.g., derived from flood prevention, water quality improvement, biodiversity net gain and carbon markets.

The project development funding will be spent on:

  • Preparing/consolidating environmental baseline data across the 3,271ha
  • Habitat design and management for 20 years of implementation
  • Establishing blended finance (e.g., value, secure and manage public and private finance) for capital and revenue payments
  • Agreeing a governance structure (including Legal, tax implications, contracts etc)

Assuming we achieve the above over the next two years, those farmer participants wishing to proceed (we hope all 45 plus a few more!) will then enter into an agreement and we will implement the project over the next 20+ years

In addition to Landscape Recovery, we also have three other projects underway or about to start to consider:

  • The NEIRF funded project, for those transitioning to regenerative techniques or investing to build natural capital on farm.
  • The supplementary feeding project, for those wanting bird surveys and free/subsidised winter bird feed to scatter.
  • A newly funded provision of agronomy advice (a half-day visit with follow-up report) for those wanting to transition from conventional tillage to reduced/conservation tillage in an arable system. More details to come soon.

This ambitious scheme led by farmers and landowners to restore nature and reduce flooding while still producing food, will be supported by the government in 22 locations across England, with the Cotswoldbeing one. The landscape recovery scheme is being hailed by land managers and conservationists as the most “exciting and important” step in a generation to restore lost biodiversity. Projects on the Evenlode Landscape programme will include reducing diffuse pollution entering water courses, recreating water meadows, instream river restoration to deal with flood risk and the adverse ecological impact of historic river drainage. The target species of this project will include reviving eel-rich waterways and restoring water vole populations.

Here's coverage in the Guardian:

Pond creation on a grey day (AB)

Why river restoration is important

River restoration is an important measure to mitigate against the effects river degradationwhich mainly come from pollution, manmade modifications (dams, weirs and channelisation), weather extremes and invasive species. In carrying out river restoration you are rehabilitating wildlife, and the invaluable services people get from rivers. For example, when in their most natural and healthiest condition rivers have the ability to; clean themselves of excess materials and sediments which can promote healthy vegetation andwildlife along floodplains and improve water quality; offer safe haven for species like juvenile fish and over wintering birds; protect communities from flood risk; and provide an outdoor space for people to enjoy and learn about the water environment and its importance.

Pollution is the number one issue for rivers and waterways throughout the UK. Up to 80% of pollution on the Evenlode comes from Sewage Treatment works with the rest coming from the way we manage our land for agriculture. A polluted river will hold back the recovery of a river system. Water quality is the medium that sustains all biodiversity in the ecosystem, therefore its degradation will lead to a decline in macrophytes(water plants), river insects, fish, birds, and mammals. Aquatic biodiversity is the key indicator of the health of a river ecosystem. A wide variety of aquatic species will cope better with threats than a limited number of them in large populations. Good water quality is a significant factor for river restoration hence the ECP is working actively to address and eliminate declines in water quality.

Leaky, woody dam at Charlbury

The ELR programme will be working collaboratively with landowners to improve water quality to reduce sediment entering rivers through initiatives like regenerative agriculture and minimum/ no till, as well as installing buffer strips and creating wetlands to intercept sediment entering watercourses. In terms of sewage pollution, the Evenlode Catchment Partnership are having various workshops with Thames Water to discuss and decide what level of sewage treatment works upgrades will be delivered on the Evenlode catchment in the next 10 years. Currently many of the sewage treatment works on the Evenlode catchment are dysfunctional which has been causing frequent and chronic untreated sewage entering the river system.

Heavily modified rivers, like the Evenlode are often less resilient and have lost their ability to hold water, leading to both droughts and floods. These modifications occurred extensively throughout the late 19th and the mid to late-20th century on the Evenlode in the form of, in -river weir constructions to create power, and river dredging/ drainage as wetlands and floodplains are often drained to make way for increased or more efficient agricultural production (LA McCauley 2015). Modified waterbodies become incised and deepened leading to a loss of wetlands and floodplains which has an adverse effect on water wildlife (IWT 2021) and causes loss to ecosystems services such as flood risk protection. Surveys have shown little physical recovery of the natural form of channels even 60 years after drainage (O’Grady 2006). O Grady (2006) describes that arterial drainage programmes have served to create a very uniform physical regime in rivers with a consequential loss of ecological diversity at all levels. There has been up to a 93% decline in migratory fish such as Salmonids and Eels in the UK since the 1970s (Duncan 2022).

To tackle the problem of weather extremes (flooding and droughts) and the effect of modifications on the river’s biodiversity, the ELR will implement schemes to do instream channel restoration at strategic locations in the catchment. This will be done to slow riverflows to decrease flood risk, reconnect the Evenlode to its floodplain, remove barriers to species migration (fish and insects) and bring the Evenlode back to its original function and historic flow regime. This has the potential to bring long lasting benefits to wildlife and people. The targeted species/ outcomes of this project will be eels, which can control invasive signal crayfish populations (Musseau et al 2015) and water voles which were both once a centrepiece of the Evenlode.

If you would like to help, we are inviting local people and interested individuals to help the ECP gather data and evidence for its river restoration work. The Environment Agency have had significant cutbacks in theirfunding and resources which means there has been a dearth of monitoring on the Evenlode over the last decade. Since 2017 the frequency of monitoring by citizen scientists is much higher than that of the EA. The ECP can offer technical and financial support for monitoring that includes chemical, riverfly sampling and river habitatsurveys. This will inform river restoration projects and help to measure their effectiveness.The ECP can also offer catchment sensitive farming advice for local landowners, through Natural England who are an active partner of the ECP. To help our campaign to improvewater quality we are asking people to write to Thames Water to demand sewage treatment work upgrades, prioritise water quality restoration with your local MP, and shout about water quality declines through your social networks.

Learn about local Evenlode water quality

Adult Mayfly


- Duncan, R. (2022), River restoration holds the key to a sustainable future for fishing. PR and events coordinator UK Rivers Trust. Report published at 00:01 13/01/2022

- Irish Wildlife Trust (2021), “the war on rivers”, articleMcCauley, L.A., Anteau, M.J., van der Burg, M.P. and Wiltermuth, M.T., (2015). Land use and wetland drainage affect water levels and dynamics of remaining wetlands. Ecosphere, 6(6), pp.1-22.

- Musseau, C., Boulenger, C., Crivelli, A.J., Lebel, I., Pascal, M., Boulêtreau, S. and Santoul, F., (2015). Native European eels as a potential biological control for invasive crayfish. Freshwater Biology, 60(4), pp.636-645.

- O Grady, M. F, (2006). “Channels and Challenges. Enchancing Salmonid Rivers.” Irish freshwater FisheriesEcology & Management Series: Number 4. Central Fisheries Board, Dublin, Irelan

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