As a rule rivers should be allowed to do their own thing, they move naturally around their flood plains and the only thing that gets in the way are humans. We like to control rivers, make them do what we want, and as part of this we want to get water away from one place as fast as possible (thus making floods worse further downstream). One of the results of the increasingly rapid run-off is flash flooding which erodes river banks even faster than before and helps silt and mud get into the river. This silt in turn smothers the river bed making it less valuable for the invertebrates in the river and the fish lose spawning grounds.
One method of reducing the effect (if not the cause) is to shore up our river banks, something that has typically been done using stone and concrete, hard engineering with little value to wildlife. More recently there has been a move back away from this to ‘softer’ solutions which include targeted action in areas of particular concern. Willow spiling is one such option, essentially it is a living fence along the river bank which will grow and the roots will further stabilise the bank.
Willow spiling is a winter job; done while the willow is dormant. That introduces its own problems as it is also a time of increased flooding, and snow too, which has made it hard to get on with the list of 5 projects being undertaken over this winter by EcoNorth, the consultancy arm of Northumberland Wildlife Trust. The latest, carried out over the past few days, has been a small section of eroding bank on the River Pont in Northumberland. Despite some wintry weather the work was completed quickly, if a little later than planned due to snow and flood. One of the previous jobs, undertaken on the River Glen is explained in more detail on the project profile.
Of course the cause of flooding isn’t solved by this work, for this we need to be able to keep water out of the rivers for a little longer. This is something that natural uplands and wetlands can help with but which also needs our river floodplains to work properly (i.e. be allowed to flood) and for wetlands to be allowed to be wetlands again rather than being drained as fast as possible.