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County School upgrade begins

The long awaited County School improvement scheme has finally begun. Following a two year marathon negotiating all the bureaucratic hurdles involved, BMTF finally received official permission to carry out the upgrade work on the County School beat. The beat has been underperforming for years, being a stretch of slow, over-straightened, over-deepened water created when the river channel was moved to accommodate a nearby railway line, which is now defunct. The improvement scheme is designed to make the beat more trout-friendly and provide new spawning areas, improve angler access to the water and stop bank erosion by grazing cattle. Damage due to grazing cattle (or poaching, as it is known) has been a major factor in adding silt into the river over the years, and already, within days, the stretch of river bed downstream of the newly created riffles has begun to be scoured of its silt blanket and show clean gravel.


The new sections are just the first phase of the planned improvement work on this beat. Additional work includes new fencing, bank reconstruction and levelling of a large area of swampy bank below the bridge.


Almost 400 tonnes of gravel and large stone have been put into the river, raising the bed by up to a metre in some places. Next winter’s floods will do the rest.


The new gravel areas should provide excellent spawning ground for the local wild trout population. They have also dramatically increased flow and oxygenation. Large numbers of minnows and fry have already colonised the area.


The day after the work was completed a (very) small wild trout was seen on the gravel and it has already been colonised by large numbers of minnows and fry, with pike chasing them, so the new area is obviously of some interest to the local fish population.


This is what the river looked like before the introduction of the new gravel. Note the extensive bank erosion due to grazing cattle. Once work is completed the bank will be fenced along its entire length and the banks will be reinforced and allowed to regenerate naturally. We expect a significant increase in the bank vole population, which is currently almost non-existent, for obvious reasons.
Phase 2

The next stage of the restoration programme has already begun, with infill work on the low marshy section just downstream of County School bridge being carried out by volunteer work parties. Once the bank has been staked and reinforced, sections of the bank of old dredging spoil which runs along the river bank will be levelled out to form a solid, firm bank. This should significantly increase access to the river and re-connect the channel with its natural flood plain.


The low lying marshy area just downstream of County School Bridge is mainly deep, treacherous silt and the river channel is well over six feet deep at this point. The area will be raised to form a solid, firm bank with an inset area for a fry refuge. Hopefully it will be complete before the summer.


The marshy area seen from above. The river here is narrow, deep and slow, we may try and do some bed raising here as well in the future.


Phase 3

The final phase of this round of improvements will be to fence off the river to stop any further erosion of the bank by grazing cattle and begin the long job of repairing the bank and creating a firm base for new vegetation and improving safe access for anglers.

Much of the true right hand bank is badly eroded and this has caused large amounts of silt to be deposited in the channel. The entire stretch of bank will be fenced off to keep out grazing cattle.

We are hopeful that this work will improve the natural habitat for our growing wild trout population and help them increase their numbers. It will also enhance the environment for other wildlife and certainly the local herons, bank voles and egrets have already begun moving in.