Work on the five-year project is set to begin in 2017, and will see fish passes installed at weirs in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire to encourage fish species return to the river, including the now threatened species twaite shad and allis shad – once favoured by Henry III. The installation of weirs was required to power the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
Twaite shad/Credit: Wye and Usk Foundation
The work will address the blockages and secure the long-term future of many of the UK’s declining and protected fish species by increasing access to the critical spawning grounds fish require to complete their complex lifecycles.
The project will also benefit other critically declining species, such as salmon and the European eel – all species on which the communities along the banks of the River Severn were historically built.
The project will also work closely with local communities and schools in order to reconnect millions of people with the natural, cultural and industrial heritage on the rivers.
Along with the UK’s first Shad Fest and England’s only fish viewing gallery at Diglis Weir in Worcester, a science programme will also enable people to get involved in the preservation of this lesser known UK fish.
Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “After considerable investment, rivers in England are the healthiest for 20 years. This is down to more than a decade of hard work. But there is more to do and ambitious projects, such as the Unlocking the River Severn, to remove weirs and help fish migrate are a crucial part of this.
“But this isn’t just about fish – we want this project to reconnect millions of people with this beautiful river. This is a great example of working with partners in order to play to different organisations’ strengths, make our money go further and deliver more.”
The project was developed as part of a three year long collaborative partnership between the Severn Rivers Trust, the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England.
Tom Tew, Heritage Lottery Fund Trustee, said: “Unlocking the Severn is a very rare opportunity to right 150 years of wrongs. It will save a wonderful, but endangered, migratory fish and hugely benefit the River Severn’s wider environmental health.
“The Severn has played a key role in our nation’s industrial development and our natural heritage; now is the perfect moment to share that story. Whilst complex and costly, this project will decisively return over 200km of spawning habitat to the shad enabling them to run up the river in May, as they used to in Medieval times, in their tens of thousands. We know that people care deeply about the natural world around them. We are pleased to be using National Lottery money to solve an enduring problem on the UK’s longest river.”
Funding for the project to restore the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the river has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Union LIFE programme.