Canoe Access & Biodiversity

 The River Waveney Trust has recently launched a new project that will bring together and engage river users by improving biodiversity, canoe access and water quality. 

The project will:

  • Improve paddle access on the River Waveney through actively managing the sections of the river which are obstructed due to natural obstacles, whilst retaining natural woody material in the main river channel to enhance biodiversity and river restoration and improve natural flood management.
  • Create a voluntary 'river wardens' scheme to monitor the river for access and biodiversity while encouraging the community to connect with nature.
  • Carry out regular paddle surveys of the river leading to the identification of project sites for the improvement of water quality and riverside habitats.
  • Build positive relationships and engage with rivers users: paddlers, anglers, farmers, landowners and communities.

It will take place on the River Waveney, from Scole in Diss, downstream to Geldeston Locks.

So, why are we doing this project?

To manage the River Waveney for paddle access: Some stretches of the river are managed by the Environment Agency (EA) for flood risk, but some low flood risk areas of the river can be unmanaged and there can be obstacles for river users.

This project will carry out a paddle survey of the river to look for fallen trees that are obstructing paddle access. Fallen trees will be carefully managed but left in the river where they do not present a flood risk and often a boat sized passageway is all that will be needed.  

To increase diversity in the main river channel: The River Waveney has little diversity in some stretches as it has been over-widened and deepened due to people’s needs over the years. It is also a naturally a slow flowing river with very little gradient. This lack of diversity means fewer habitats for fish and invertebrates and the lack of gradient means there is little fast flowing water to clean gravels, which have now become overloaded with sediment from farming activities.

One of the easiest ways to improve diversity and river habitats is to increase the amount of fallen trees or wood in the river. When trees fall into the river, normally either the entire tree is removed or sometimes it is not removed it at all. Removing the entire tree benefits paddle access but does not increase diversity in the river. Leaving the tree in the river can benefit structural diversity, but in some cases can also cause low flow situations to become worse in dry weather when the entire river channel is blocked. 

Removing a small boat sized passageway is an innovative approach, and one which has many benefits as wood in the channel increases habitats for biodiversity, creates changes in the river flow, protects eroded banks and can decrease flood risk downstream. 

To engage with local communities on river restoration: This project will educate and empower communities to understand their river better and looks at ways it can be restored. The ‘Slow the Flow’ message will be shared, looking at ways to reduce flooding through natural flood management, including measures such as planting trees, reconnecting floodplains and adding or keeping wood in the river channel.

To carry out habitat enhancement projects on the river bank abnd improve water quality: Much of the main River Waveney channel runs through grazing marsh, which can suffer from erosion on the banks due to grazing cattle. The Waveney can also suffer from low oxygen levels in the summer months and run-off from farming activities. Planting bankside trees and creating 'buffers' would help to stabilise banks, provide new habitat, provide shade which lowers water temperatures therefore increasing oxygen levels and buffer the river from potentially harmful activities.

This project will use river wardens to survey and identify sites which would benefit from tree planting and other habitat projects. It will also look for signs of water voles and suggest projects to help this endangered species.

To create long term volunteering opportunities in rural Suffolk and Norfolk: This project will bring canoeists/kayakers and conservation into partnership, empowering volunteers to take action for nature. We will provide the opportunities for paddlers to take shared leadership on a long-term ‘river wardens’ voluntary scheme.

To make sure that the river is safe to paddle: Some of the portage points and structures need some research into current safety and access. This project would progress these issues, for example liaising with landowners on safe portage.

To ensure all paddle users are using the river responsibly: The project will educate paddle users on how to paddle responsibly and provide new signage on doing so. 

What about the recent flooding on the Waveney?

 So why are we recommending leaving fallen trees in a river that recently flooded?

The answer is that fallen trees can actually slow the flow down and can help with flooding in some situations. Each location will be carefully modelled and if any increase in flooding is suspected then the tree will be fully removed. A specially designed permit will give us permission to manage trees in a way which will not cause an increase in flood risk.

 A Rivers Project Officer will soon be in post and contact details will be posted here.

This project is funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund was developed by Defra and its Arm's-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

 This project is also delivered in partnership with Essex & Suffolk Water through their Water Environment Improvements project that aims to enhance areas of water environment where its accessible to customers and visitors.

This is a tree that has fallen naturally into the river channel. You can see the new habitats that have formed. Here rare plant species were seen sheltered by the fallen branches. More invertebrates are also found where trees have fallen, feeding more fish, bringing with them animals such as kingfishers. These fallen trees also provide the perfect refuges for young fish to hide from predators and floodwaters. Where the channel is narrower it speeds the water through the gap, cleaning sediments from gravel and if the flow is fast enough, mixing oxygen from the air into the water and improving oxygenation for everything living under the water. You can also see that that paddle access is obstructed and where it would be possible to cut a canoe/kayak sized channel into the fallen tree by removing some of the branches.