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Riverlands project at Porlock Vale

Sweeping view of Bossington and Porlock
Sweeping view of Bossington and Porlock | © National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

The Riverlands project at Porlock Vale on Exmoor aims to create river and catchment areas that are clean, healthy and rich in wildlife. Find out how we’re reverting river courses to their natural path to help stop flash flooding. Discover how beavers and water voles are being re-introduced and how they help create a diverse habitat for plants and other wildlife.

The Riverlands project

Currently only 14% of England’s rivers are in good health, with 13% of freshwater and wetland species now threatened with extinction in the UK. We're setting out to reverse this trend through the Riverlands project.

Working with the Environment Agency we’re reviving the Porlock Vale streams which is part of a first phase of work at six catchments.

Working with partners

The Porlock project is part of the Interreg 2 Seas Co-Adapt programme. We’ve been working with European partners since 2019 to restore natural processes that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change and provides benefits for people and nature. The project is well under way and will continue until 2023.

Rationale for Riverlands work

Over hundreds of years many rivers have been simplified and concentrated into straight channels that have become disconnected from the land around them. These modified rivers move water and sediment rapidly through the river catchment, providing no buffer against flooding or droughts.

Beaver enclosure 18 months after beavers were introduced, Holnicote Estate, Somerset
Beaver enclosure at Holnicote Estate 18 months after beavers were introduced | © National Trust Images/Nick Upton

A natural route for rivers

We piloted a pioneering project to revert rivers to their natural path before any human involvement, called Stage 0. The plan reverted a tributary of the Aller river to its original course before human intervention. The work is now being developed over 33 acres (13 hectares) on the main River Aller. The first stage of the project is underway with careful earthworks creating shallowly skimmed areas to reset the valley bottom and natural river flow.

Developing ecological diversity

Earthmoving equipment is being used to allow a more natural flow to connect a stream and wetland system. After this work is complete habitat restoration will be ‘fast tracked’ by using woody debris and key plant species to help develop more hydrological and ecological diversity on the site. This creates the kind of conditions that might have existed before – prior to the river system being heavily managed, with the river itself modified into a single channel. The work also allows for more water to be stored in the water table to help in times of drought.

Floodplain wildflower seeds such as ragged robin, devil’s-bit scabious and meadowsweet have been sown during the autumn. And next spring, further work will enrich the habitat, including the planting of about 25,000 native trees such as willow, bird cherry and black poplar.

Latest project updates

Autumn 2023

Stage Zero is completed

in September the groundbreaking Stage Zero river restoration project was completed after three years. Part of the River Aller was reconnected to its floodplain using an innovative technique first pioneered in America. The new seven hectare wetland will slow the flow of water through the landscape, combat flooding and become a haven for wildlife.

Our partners

Fundraising Regulator

The independent regulator of charitable fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Green Recovery Challenge Fund

This project is funded by the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Interreg 2 Seas Co-Adapt programme

Riverlands is part funded by Interreg. This programme aims to increase awareness on the potential consequences of climate change and to enable stakeholders to develop a collective approach to be integrated in spatial planning and innovative solutions for environmental and economic resilience and integrated management of coastal zones.

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Environment Agency

Environmental Agency is a public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, working to create better places for people and wildlife, and support sustainable development.

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