Transforming the Trent Valley

Our April meeting welcomed Louise Morris from the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to tell us about the new multi-million pound project to improve the Trent Valley. Three years in the planning, the scheme grew out of the long established Central Rivers Initiative, which was centred on Burton on Trent. Its aim was to tackle some of the environmental problems associated with the River Trent and its wider floodplain. The new project embraces a much wider area and more comprehensive objectives. Stretching from Rugeley to Tamworth, thence to Burton and Shardlow near Derby, it will encompass environmental, social and cultural objectives. Besides the River Trent, it includes parts of the Rivers Dove and Tame (as far as Tamworth). For us, over a quarter of the 200 square kilometre area is situated in Lichfield District.

Why spend time, money and effort on this project? Louise explained that the Trent Valley has a long history of human interaction. Engineered with weirs and embankments, worked for its sand and gravel deposits, intensively farmed and developed, it is one of the longest English rivers and flows through our history and culture. As well as a channel of communication, it has also been a boundary, originally between Mercia and Danelaw, between the English and the Vikings. Even as late as World War Two, it was seen as a possible line of defence if invasion took place. Hence, over 200 pill boxes are extant in its vicinity. Mention should also be made of its links to brewing. Burton became a pre-eminent brewing centre because of the characteristics of its spring water, but the River Trent facilitated the easy movement of beer further afield until the arrival of the railways.

Whilst the project is led by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, it is partnered by neighbouring County Wildlife Trusts and local councils as well as the Canals and Rivers Trust. A total of eighteen partners are supported by other organisations, including sand and gravel companies, the Environment Agency and The National Forest Company. The 4.75m budget includes a 2.66m grant from the National Lottery to be spent over 5 years starting from this month. Louise and her staff are currently planning seventeen projects (excluding those undertaken independently by supporting organisations). These projects fall into three broad categories. Firstly, there are those which aim to promote local community engagement within the area. This includes education projects, especially for children, volunteering for environmental improvement schemes and oral history projects. Louise will be encouraging communities to get involved and supporting ideas with small grants.

Second comes "River Valley Connections". This scheme will promote access to the countryside associated with the Trent Valley. Work is already underway to identify, create and promote a Trent Valley Way for walkers and riders. A long distance footpath already connects Shardlow with the Humber Estuary. This new work will ensure that the Trent Valley is better connected to the longer route. However, it is appreciated that most of its use will be for local walks. Plans are also afoot for a Trent Valley Cycleway, with Louise's staff currently tackling the challenging issue of how to cross the A38. It is also proposed to link the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal into the wider, improved footpath network.

Third comes "Transforming the Landscape", with the fourth strand, "The Living Floodplain". We need to both protect what we've got and also enhance it. The worked out sand and gravel workings are already an important habitat for wildlife; but more can be done. Volunteers are needed to survey our habitats to assess what we've already got. Work needs to be done to improve some areas in partnership with landowners, so that we can provide a wider variety of habitats to encourage colonisation by new species. For example, restored water areas offer potential for new species like the Bittern, which is re-establishing in the Norfolk Broads. Why not here? Louise's ambition extends to the promotion and support of the Trent's built heritage. Are there historic buildings and structures that contribute to the special character of the area that need renovation?

The project is indeed substantial and Louise with her staff will need much volunteer support to make it happen. The money is available; let's hope that the communities of the Trent Valley and its tributaries can rise to the challenge. For more information, visit the Trent Valley Initiative pages on the Staffs Wildlife Trust website at:   https://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk or, to have your name included on the Trent Valley Newsletter circulation list, simply e/mail Louise.

Roger Hockney
April, 2019