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River restoration project awarded Green Recovery Challenge Funding

Published on Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Part of Saffron Brook in Leicester which will be improved

A MAJOR project to protect and restore a major tributary of the River Soar in Leicester has been given more than £800,000 of Government money.

The “Saving the Saffron Brook River Restoration Scheme” hopes to improve the heavily-degraded river ecosystems along the whole course of the Saffron/Wash Brook, which runs through the south of the city from neighbouring Oadby and Wigston, through a programme of conservation, restoration and repair works, as well as community engagement designed to get local people involved.

The Saffron Brook and surrounding catchment area act as a key wildlife corridor in the region, linking the centre of Leicester to rural Leicestershire and beyond.

Leicester City Council will work in partnership with Trent Rivers Trust, on a programme of works to improve river banks and drainage, use natural flood management measures and encourage local wildlife by creating more green areas.

In total it will improve and restore around 2,300 metres of river habitat and over 500m of riverbank, as well as planting around two hectares of woodland, creating 1.3 hectares of wetland and two hectares of species-rich grassland to boost local biodiversity.

The project will also create or improve up to 2,000 metres of footpaths, improving access along the river and bringing communities closer to nature.

Initially it will focus on key areas around Knighton Park, Overdale School, the Washbrook Nature Area and Hughenden Drive, but will also be expanded to connect to numerous existing Local Nature Reserves and Local Wildlife Sites located to support vulnerable species of wildlife.

A programme of outdoor education sessions is planned, involving 10 schools and colleges located along the river. Weekly volunteering sessions are planned to get people involved in practical conservation tasks, access improvements and recording/monitoring wildlife.

Two new litter booms will be installed at pollution hotspots to keep the river clear of floating rubbish, while monthly outdoor skills training events for 16-24 year olds are due to be delivered by local special interest groups.

The £807,800 project builds on earlier work including the 2021 Leicester Biodiversity Action Plan and 2019 Leicester Riverside Environmental Strategy, which supported the need for investing in work to restore the area.

Leicester deputy city mayor for environment and transportation, Cllr Adam Clarke, said: “ Leicester’s rivers and surrounding areas are vital to its wildlife and biodiversity, as well as being peaceful havens away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

“This restoration scheme will help us to ensure Saffron Brook, the Wash Brook and the nearby areas have a secure future as important parts of the city’s natural environment, and also that local people can get involved in projects to help and take responsibility for these precious natural resources.”

Saving the Saffron Brook River Restoration Scheme is one of 90 nature-based projects across the UK to benefit from the second round of the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Funding, designed to boost green jobs and nature recovery.

Alongside Leicester City Council and the Trent Rivers Trust, partners in the project include Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, NatureSpot, Knighton Wild, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and many others.

CEO of Trent Rivers Trust, Matt Easter, added: “The Trent Rivers Trust has been working to improve and restore the Saffron Brook for a number of years and is delighted to have this opportunity to get involved in the delivery of projects that will improve the brook for wildlife and for people.”

The Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund was developed by Defra and its arm's-length bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission, and is expected to support about 2,500 jobs in England.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive, National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “From wetland restoration, to creating wildlife-rich habitat for bees, it is vital that we value, protect and rebuild our natural heritage.

“This new funding will not only allow projects to carry out direct conservation which is essential in protecting our biodiversity, but it will increase awareness of how and why we need to change our behaviours in order to protect our future.” 

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, added: “By supporting jobs from Northumberland to Somerset, the Green Recovery Challenge Fund will help deliver a nature positive future. The fund supports young people to develop skills needed to protect nature, build back greener and prepare for climate impacts, like floods and heatwaves.”

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Picture: A section of the Saffron Brook in Leicester which will benefit from improvement work.