THEY reckon that the River Wensum takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word for winding. But the truth is that it winds less than it used to. The reason: centuries of interference from man. But now three different bodies have come together to make this beautiful Norfolk river a bit more curvaceous again. The idea is that if modern man undoes what medieval man had to do, we’ll get more of the wildlife and fish we associate with something quiet rare – a chalk river. Here’s how they put it on the Environment Agency website (and thanks EA for letting me use the photo of your guys in action at Ringland).
“In essence the river is too wide, too deep, and too straightened, as well as being heavily impounded by mill structures. It is also disconnected from its floodplain by spoil banks resulting from historical dredging for land drainage and industrial (milling) activities. For the first time we have looked at a whole river scale to see what action needs to be taken to restore each section of the channel. The main recommendations of the strategy include a reduction in impoundment, reducing the width of the channel, restoring connectivity with the floodplain, and restoring the gravel bed of the river.”
That “whole river” bit is quite important. It shows the ambition of the River Wensum Restoration Strategy. Surviving mills and sluices are also under the spotlight for how much they interfere with a river’s normal flow. We forget how much man had to meddle in the past. The Strategy guys (EA plus Natural England and the Water Management Alliance) are very keen to tell more people what they’re doing. More details can be found here.