Conservation project at university will breathe new life into river

Work is beginning on an ambitious project to bring nature back to a stretch of river running through Staffordshire University’s campus in Stoke-on-Trent.

Work is beginning on an ambitious project to bring nature back to a stretch of river running through Staffordshire University’s campus in Stoke-on-Trent.

A 400m section of the River Trent, which currently flows through an artificially-engineered straight channel in the nature reserve area of the campus, will be able to follow a more natural path after the completion of landscaping works to create a new, gently meandering route.

The scheme is being delivered by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust with support from the Wild Trout Trust and the Environment Agency, as a component of the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) SUNRISE Project, which is led by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

SUNRISE Project Manager Richard Guy explained: “This project will create a more dynamic and diverse river habitat which will cater for a wider range of species, such as brown trout, otters and kingfishers.

“The work will not only improve the river for wildlife. Once it has established, it will be a more visually attractive feature for the university’s students, staff and visitors.”

Sally McGill, Chief Financial Officer and Executive lead for sustainability at Staffordshire University, said: “Not only is our Civic University working hard to shape a sustainable learning environment for our students, staff and local communities, but we are also committed to supporting environmental sustainability across our region. Staffordshire University has numerous green spaces that actively contribute to biodiversity, including our nature reserve, which is bordered by the River Trent.

“We are therefore delighted to see the River Trent ERDF SUNRISE project come to fruition. Initiatives such as this, which are designed to increase habitat diversity, are vital in securing and improving the conservation of our city’s biodiversity for future generations. We look forward to seeing our local river transformed through this exciting project.”

At present, the river runs through a straight, concrete channel, thought to have been created over a century ago. The lack of a natural substrate on the river bottom and the reinforced river bank currently offer limited habitat for wildlife. The new channel will include a series of meanders, gently sloping river banks and importantly, the addition of gravel, which could provide spawning sites for brown trout.

The project will also see the creation of a several small backwater pools along the river’s edge, which will provide a haven for aquatic insects such as dragonflies and damselflies.

The scheme is part of a larger programme of conservation work being carried out through the SUNRISE project on 16 urban sites across Stoke on Trent and Newcastle under Lyme, all of which are either close to the Trent or one of its tributaries. 

One of the primary aims of the £3.6million project is to improve ecological connectivity throughout the area, utilising the River Trent as a key wildlife corridor. The works include river restoration and re-naturalisation in some of the most modified sections, removal of physical barriers such as weirs, wetland creation, grassland improvements and woodland management, and control of invasive species.

The partners in the project are Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the Environment Agency, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, the Wild Trout Trust and Groundwork West Midlands.