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The diggers have gone, and new backwaters, ponds and reedbeds by the River Thames mark the completion of the first phase of the Earth Trust's River of Life Project. And now the work has achieved national recognition with the presentation of an Environmental Award.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) presents a series of awards each year to recognise achievements in the fields of ecology and environmental management.

The River of Life project was nominated in all four Best Practice categories and was the joint winner of the Best Practice Award for Practical Nature Conservation; it was also highly commended in the other three categories: Innovation, Knowledge Sharing, and Stakeholder Engagement.

“River of Life is such an ambitious and exciting project so we’re really pleased that our achievements so far have been recognised. The project is transforming riverbank habitats along the iconic River Thames, and will help save threatened species, improve water quality, and help people reconnect with wetlands and wildlife,” said Chris Parker, Head of Land Management at the Earth Trust.

Thanks to funding from the Environment Agency, the first phase of the project launched in October 2013 with several months of digging along the riverbanks to create wetland features such as ponds, backwaters, and scrapes. The hard landscaping was completed in December and earlier this year the second phase began; this involves planting up reedbeds, restoring wet woodland, and creating wildflower meadows.The aim is to create a wetland nature reserve alongside 2.5 km of the River Thames.

The project aims ultimately to create extensive wild areas, with wet woodland, fen, reed beds, ponds and backwaters bound by species-rich wildflower grassland, and to change the relationship that society has with wetlands and wildlife. Creating these habitats will provide new areas that could support threatened wildlife, improve river water quality and provide a valuable resource for the farm at the same time (the land is part of the Earth Trust’s farm that demonstrates wildlife-friendly farming). It is expected to take several years to complete, involving approximately 50 hectares of Earth Trust land, much of which will be converted from species poor pasture to productive habitats are good for wildlife. The project’s wetlands will also provide better protection against flooding.

Wetland habitats are considered to be amongst some of the most biologically significant in the world, yet they are decreasing at a rapid rate, causing many species to suffer. This new habitat will include areas suitable for a wide range of wetland and woodland species, including mammals such as water vole, bats and otters; priority bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer and corn bunting; and a vast range of invertebrates and amphibians. The new habitat will link directly to an existing area of international significance for wildlife - Little Wittenham Wood, a breeding site for great crested newts and a designated SSSI* and SAC* site.

The River of Life project will also open up a new permissive path through the Earth Trust land during phase 3 of the project. Visitors will be able to see views over the new wetland habitats created by the project as well as the river. The project aims to engage with local communities and provide recreational and educational opportunities once the construction work and habitat creation is complete.

The first phase of the River of Life was funded by the Environment Agency, Earth Trust supporters, members of the public and grant-making trusts. The Earth Trust is now seeking additional funding for phase 2 of the project – see the Earth Trust website for details. Overall the project is likely to take several years to complete and will cost almost £1 million, including access, engagement and learning features. << Go Back
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