Wycombe Retail Park
Transformation of the Wye at the site of the new Wycombe Retail Park between 2000 and 2002 was one of the first projects in recent years to improve the river through its urban surroundings by naturalising its route through a previous industrial mill site. It was an early demonstration of what can be achieved by close co-operation with developers.
Although this project preceded the formation of the Revive the Wye Partnership, it focussed local minds on the potential benefits of re-establishing Wycombe’s relationship with the River Wye and provided inspiration for the Revive the Wye Partners. In recent years, RTW volunteers have helped to maintain this stretch of the river and clear it of litter with the permission of the site landowners and operators.
Desborough Recreation Ground
The River Wye and one of its former millstreams run either side of Desborough Recreation Ground. The area is also a flood plain, which means the grassed areas can be subject to flooding.
The project, identified by an RTW team in 2009, was scoped in 2012 with a feasibility study commissioned by the Wild Trout Trust aimed at exploring how to meet the river improvement requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive. The funding necessary to launch the project was provided by Wycombe District Council, the Wild Trout Trust and the Revive the Wye Partnership. RTW obtained £24,000 to contribute to the project cost (about 30% of the total). The project partnership was extended to include the Environment Agency and the Chiltern Chalk Streams Project.
The objectives of the project were to:
- Remove the concrete revetments to the banks of both channels, a weir and other obstructions that prevented fish migration and to re-grade the banks to provide shallow sloping edges and a wet margin.
- Reshape the course of the highly modified river channels to introduce some more natural variety in the channel width and to increase the heterogeneity of flow and habitat.
The works were carried out in 2013/14. RTW volunteers worked on some of the soft engineering tasks (e.g. removing unwanted plant species, cutting back excessive growth, replanting). They were assisted by 25 volunteers from DEFRA’s London offices working on an environmental leave day.
As a result of the restoration being carried out the following outcomes have been met:
- Improved habitat diversity within the channel and along the river banks.
- Increased spawning opportunities for fish, which has helped to improve fish populations and contributed towards achieving good ecological status as required by the EU Water Framework Directive.
- Improved amenity value to the benefit of park users.
Species monitoring and conservation work has been carried out by RTW volunteers following the restoration project. Wycombe District Council has arranged for three interpretation boards to be installed. See photos in our Projects Album
Funges Meadow Nature Reserve
Funges Meadow is a small urban nature reserve owned by Wycombe District Council. It is leased to (and managed by) the Chiltern Rangers and is being developed with support from the Revive the Wye partners as a community-focused centre for environmental awareness, engagement and education. The reserve borders the main back stream to the River Wye, which itself passes within 30m. It is a valuable site for some of the training and education work conducted for RTW with assistance from the Chiltern Rangers.
A key feature of the reserve used to be a small lake, the ecological value of which had been declining, primarily due to the introduction of fish and illegal fishing. This led to a number of wider problems that needed to be addressed by some major restoration work.
The RTW partnership was successful in obtaining £12,000 worth of funding which enabled the Chiltern Rangers to engage a contractor in 2015/16 to re-landscape the lake to create gently sloping edges which enables wildlife easier access to the water. The lake was divided into several smaller ponds to maximise the diversity of the site and therefore the range of species which can live there. This cornerstone project enabled the Chiltern Rangers to then conduct a series of smaller restoration projects that led to a significant reduction in the number of non-native species, giving the native species chance to recover. The rangers and volunteers sowed wildflower seeds and made other improvements to enhance both the ecological and educational value of the reserve.
Swan Theatre frontage
The River Wye provides an important part of setting the Swan Theatre right in the centre of High Wycombe. However, this stretch of the Wye, where trout can nearly always be seen, is in a straight channel with a concrete bed, making it very difficult and costly to conduct any major river naturalisation works.
In 2016 Wycombe District Council provided funding from its local Community Infrastructure Levy scheme to carry out works on this section of river to improve its ecological value and its visual attractiveness. The aim was to create a series of berms to form a meandering course for the main river flow and to provide structures that could accommodate more natural and biodiverse planting. Most of the berms were edged with pre-planted coirs. Heavy boulders were placed into the river by contractors to act as flow deflectors. The design had to ensure that any increased risk of flooding was prevented.
Over five days in August, this section of the river went through a dramatic transformation, from a bland wildlife-poor channel, to a much more visually interesting attractive area of river habitat which is far more of an amenity asset for the town. The majority of the enhancement – creating berms, building the walls, backfilling and planting them – was carried out by a large workforce of volunteers under the direction of the RTW Steering Group representing Wycombe District Council, Chiltern Rangers and the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project. The volunteers included men and women from the adjacent police and fire stations, the Chairman of the Council and a lot of young people under the direction and guidance of the Chiltern Rangers.
The river wildlife rapidly adjusted to its new environment. Over time, fish will benefit from the variety of flow created by the new structures and the new planting will grow to help screen the channel’s hard walls and further improve the attractiveness of this town centre site. See photos in our Projects Album.
Town Centre Deculverting
Over the years during which High Wycombe was developing rapidly, the decision was taken to culvert about 830m of the River Wye through the town centre so that more development could take place. A section of the Hughenden Stream, including its connection to the River Wye, also disappeared under new development. Sadly this short-sighted decision under-valued the importance of the Wye in terms of the town’s heritage and the river’s potential wildlife and amenity value.
However, Wycombe District Council’s Draft New Local Plan now includes the aim of ‘opening up’ the River Wye as part of its strategy for improving the quality of the town centre and its sense of place. A key strategy in the Council’s new High Wycombe Town Centre Master Plan will see major changes to the town centre road structure with the consequent redirection of significant traffic flows. A stretch of approximately 150m of dual carriage has already been narrowed along West Wycombe Road between the new Westbourne Street Junction and Bellfield Road and it is intended that a further stretch of approximately 200m way will be narrowed to a single carriageway along Oxford road leading up to the Archway roundabout. This narrowing will provide the opportunity to open up a significant stretch the river which runs in twin culverts beneath the road.
Feasibility studies and preliminary design work have been carried out. The priority now is to find the sources of funding that will enable the deculverting project to proceed in phase with the timescale for the relevant stage of the road reconstruction project. If sufficient funding cannot be found in time, there is the risk that this rare opportunity to reconnect the town with its River Wye will be lost for the foreseeable future. The Revive the Wye Steering Group is working with the Council and other parties to help secure this project for the benefit of future generations.
Waterside Development Grafton Street
As part of a redevelopment of the Grafton Street site for residential homes, the developers were required, under the guidance of the EA to renaturalise and regrade a section of reveted (stone faced) river bank adjacent to Desborough Recreation Ground and carry out a number of instream habitat enhancements including gravel reintroduction and the creation of instream islands. The work was completed in 2014
Rye bank improvements
A successful project in 2012/13, managed by Wycombe District Council, was the regrading of the banks of the Wye along the northern edge of the Rye in High Wycombe. This replaced the old hard concrete edges and wooden supports with a softer edging that will encourage more natural bankside vegetation with wildlife benefits, without impacting on public enjoyment of the riverside. Similar improvements were made to the banks on both the north and south sides of Holywell Mead.
Waterfall improvements at Holywell Mead
Another 2012/13 project involved re-landscaping the waterfall and adjacent area just downstream of the Dyke to make it more a natural area. A small area of the stream that has traditionally been used for paddling by children was retained and made safer.
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