Work on the Mottisfont estate shortlisted for Conservation Award

A stretch of the River Test at the Oakley Beat, on the estate at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Vital conservation work carried out on Mottisfont’s wider estate to restore one of Hampshire’s world-famous chalk streams was shortlisted for an award.

The project, which focused on a section of the River Test known as the Oakley Beat, aimed to reverse the negative impact of historical human influence and return it to a classic chalk stream habitat.

This specialist conservation work was shortlisted for a Large-Scale Habitat Enhancement Scheme Award by the Wild Trout Trust.

1600 tonnes of gravel were used to raise the river bed in a historically dredged area, and a small artificial weir was removed, both in order to improve a severely reduced flow rate.

Gravel was used to raise the river bed in a historically dredged area
A digger carries out work on gravel at the Oakley Beat, on the estate of Mottisfont, Hampshire
Gravel was used to raise the river bed in a historically dredged area

Now, nearly a year on from the project, the banks have recovered fantastically well from the works carried out, and the conditions of the Beat have improved dramatically. The Oakley will continue to develop over the coming seasons and the team expect positive results in the near future.

1600 acres of woodland and tenanted farmland are cared for by our countryside team, which includes large stretches of the River Test. Four fishing 'beats' are managed and conserved by the National Trust’s only specialist River Keeper, Neil Swift. 

Our river keeper can be found in the water during weed cut season
River Keeper at Mottisfont, Hampshire
Our river keeper can be found in the water during weed cut season

The Wild Trout Trust Conservation Awards, supported by Thames Water and the River Restoration Centre, seek to recognise and encourage excellence in wild trout habitat management and conservation and celebrate the efforts, ingenuity and imagination of all those involved.

The awards evening was held at the Saville Club on 18 October. 

Why is the River Test so special?

With only around two hundred on earth – 85% of which are in England – chalk streams like the Test are extremely rare, so it’s vital that the National Trust carries out careful conservation work to protect the stretches in its care.

Rain water filters through the surrounding chalk hills, before emerging through springs to form a chalk stream. This gives the water its characteristic clarity and excellent chemical properties, and means that chalk stream water maintains a relatively stable temperature and flow rate throughout the year. 

When in good condition, this means they provide wonderful habitat for a huge variety of species, as well as trout. Endangered species such as water voles and the southern damselfly are both present on the Oakley Beat.

As well as its significance as a natural habitat, the Oakley Beat is one of the most famous stretches of the River Test, due to its association with Fredric Halford. Halford is regarded by many as the grandfather of modern fly fishing, and is responsible for perfecting and popularising the technique known as ‘upstream dry fly’.

Now, the Oakley Beat is managed by the National Trust and fished by patrons of the Mottisfont Fly Fishing Club, who work together to create a fishery where world-class fishing and the highest ecological standards go hand-in-hand.