A restoration project was carried out at Barton Court in around 2009 by the then owners in conjunction with the Environment Agency. The Estate is now working to build on that restoration across the fishery and indeed the wider estate with the aim to create some of the best fishing on the River Kennet.
Using almost exclusively natural materials, the focus of restoration is to improve habitat for fish to breed and hold, whilst improving access to the river for anglers and creating a more natural feel to the fishery.
The Kennet has suffered from low and slow flows exacerbated by abstraction upstream and years of dredging of the river channel for perceived flood protection. The aim is to narrow the channel, sometimes up to a quarter of the width to squeeze the flow and allow a faster channel which in turn scours the riverbed and removes silt. Channel narrowing is usually carried out either “hard”, using timber or faggots (bunched wood) or by reforming the bank edges using chalk, or “soft” by simply allowing or encouraging fallen vegetation or woody debris to lie across the channel.
A slow, straight channel slows current and allows sediment to drop. By forming a meander in the channel, the turbulence caused by a disrupted flow helps the water to oxygenate, improving the ability for plants and other river life to grow. This method also helps to introduce energy into the water and helps to stir and clear sediment for a cleaner riverbed. Channel forming is carried out in much the same way as narrowing, but using carefully installed timber or stone to encourage a meander.
Much the same principle as channel narrowing, adding a riffle brings the riverbed up, pinching the flow vertically and helping to increase energy and turbidity. This is usually done by adding a layer of gravel or timber/stone to the riverbed.
After years of dredging, where material was removed from the channel and deposited on banks, in many areas, the banks are high above water level and these can be prone to collapse, especially where crayfish burrow into the banks, destabilising them. Inevitably, this also presents challenges for anglers trying to land fish. Often, banks can be stabilised using brushwood, coir or reed-pack, but in some areas, the banks can be reprofiled to bring the height down and reintroduce some of the material into the river to create a pinched channel and a new bank edge which is safe and accessible.
The river weed Ranunculus is an indicator of good water quality and it can act as a very useful tool for oxygenating water, increasing the turbidity of water as well as providing cover for fish. Historic dredging of the channel has in many cases, removed all trace of this valuable weed which can form a healthy river with little intervention. Strategic replanting, using nearby stocks can quickly establish a new bed of Ranunculus, although this is favourite snack for grazing swans!
In addition to in-stream planting, tree cover is vital to add shade to areas of the river, but may also need to be thinned in over-shaded areas.
The restoration work to be carried out at Barton Court is a long-term project. There are elements that we can achieve relatively quickly and some which will require longer term establishment. We do not feel that the disruption that would be caused by major invasive works is for the best of the fishery and so we hope to nurture the river and help it improve over the coming years. We will endeavour to record the process and report on progress.