Major cash boost to help rivers’ wildlife

THE landscape and wildlife of the Rivers Arun and Rother in West Sussex are being lined up for major improvements following initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Development funding of £114,900 has been awarded by HLF to the Arun and Rother Connections: Linking Landscape and Community (ARC) project - a partnership made up of the RSPB, Environment Agency, Sussex Wildlife Trust, South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England, West Sussex County Council and the new Arun and Rother Rivers Trust.

This means that plans can now be developed for a full programme of work worth over £2m for three years from 2013.

This will include plans to apply for a full HLF grant of just over £900,000 for the project.

Steve Gilbert, Conservation Programme Manager for the RSPB, which led on submitting the bid, said: “This is a very exciting opportunity to enhance the environment of these wonderful rivers on a large scale. We still need to work up a lot of detail before we can ask the Lottery to make a grant towards putting our plans into practice, but if we succeed this will lead to really important improvements for the benefit of wildlife and people, both local residents and visitors.”

If successful, the project will improve river habitats for a wide variety of wetland wildlife, help the movement of fish up and down the rivers by removing obstructions such as redundant weirs and help control invasive non-native species that threaten native wildlife.

The project will also help increase people’s enjoyment of the rivers and the local environment by promoting the opportunities for recreation as well as helping people to understand the benefits river systems and their catchments provide.

A schools’ programme, improvements to visitor facilities on nature reserves at Pulborough Brooks, Burton Mill Pond and Waltham Brooks and opportunities for local people to get involved with the management of the rivers will also be part of the package.

Fran Southgate, Sussex Wildlife Trust Wetlands Officer said: “Water is an incredibly undervalued substance, yet it provides us with everything from fish to eat and rivers to boat on, to huge underground aquifers of drinking water and water to help our crops grow. We are suffering from some major problems with our watery environment at the moment – including droughts, invasions of non native species, floods, climate change and pollution. We hope this project will help bring together everyone who is involved with managing water, and that it will help them to find some inspiring local solutions to some of these bigger challenges.”

Damon Block, from the Environment Agency’s Fisheries and Biodiversity Department added:” We are excited to be working with our ARC partners to deliver this large scale project across the upper Arun & Rother catchments. Our rivers and wetland habitats are facing increasingly significant risks, including the current drought and other changes in our climate. We will work with local communities and others to identify opportunities to environmentally enhance the water environment for both people and wildlife in the Upper Arun and Rother”.

Chris Paterson, communities lead at the South Downs National Park, continued: “River catchments play an important role for the communities that live around them by providing drinking water, a place for wildlife, space for enjoyment and helping to control flooding. With the South of England now officially in drought it’s more important than ever that people respect the value of this natural resource. Through this project we will encourage people living near the Arun and Rother rivers to value this water and take an active role in safeguarding it for the future.”

Sir Sebastian Anstruther, Chairman of The Arun & Rother Rivers Trust, said: “As a partner in the ARC project, the Arun & Rother Rivers Trust (ARRT) is delighted by the success of the ARC HLF bid and looks forward to leading on river restoration projects within the Arun & Rother catchment. This is a great opportunity for real partnership working between farmers and land managers, anglers, conservation organisations and the Environment Agency, and long-lasting improvements to the rivers we all care so much about.”

James Seymour, Natural England’s Area Manager concluded: “This is a hugely important step, which will enable us to develop robust plans to protect the wildlife and habitats of the Arun and Rother rivers, and the many benefits they bring. Joint working with the local communities who live and work on the rivers, especially in a time of drought, will be vital throughout this next stage. I wish the project every success and look forward to tracking its progress.”