Had it not flooded so dramatically in 1979 and 2007, people might be forgiven for overlooking the fact that there’s a river in Cheltenham. Love Your River Chelt was an initiative to help bring the river back to it's former glory and connect local communities with this previously iconic feature.
A number of derelict corn mills in the west of the town are testament to the fact that it once was a more central feature, but these days the River Chelt flows largely forgotten underneath the town - sadly neglected and increasingly polluted.
Through a series of events, volunteering and practical work, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trusts' staff worked with local communities and schools to reconnect people with the river, created a survey and monitoring programme and began the long journey of restoring the river to a healthy state.
What Love Your River Chelt looks to achieve
The Chelt is an iconic river and the source of the name of our town. The Environment Agency has identified ‘hot spots’ of domestic water pollution which are largely caused by simple plumbing misconnections which may be simply and inexpensively rectified. Love Your River Chelt aimed to dramatically improve the water quality of this local river.
Access to natural spaces is crucial for emotional wellbeing and reduced stress levels. Through this work we hoped to have a positive effect on the wildlife that depends on the river, as well as increasing access to nature for many local people.
School groups and local communities had the opportunity to learn about their local river. Training sessions on river surveying techniques helped to increase understanding of local wildlife and invasive species and increase their awareness about pollution and how they could help prevent it by doing simple things at home. We also undertook invasive species removal sessions to help control the spread of certain detrimental species such as Himalayan balsam.
As well as increasing peoples understanding and enjoyment of the river, they will be playing an active role in helping to safeguard their local environment by gaining valuable records which will be submitted to Gloucestershire Centre of Environmental Records (GCER). These records will further contribute to the scientific understanding of the state of the River Chelt, and help shape future environmental action and contribute evidence to national statistics.
By helping restore the Chelt to a healthy river system and reducing pollution, the benefit will be seen not only within local communities and environment, but also downstream of the project area.
Few rivers in the UK (particularly England and Wales) show fully functioning natural processes. They’ve been modified for centuries through human use, including water impoundment for mills, waste disposal and energy creation schemes. Rivers have been deepened, straightened and embanked to improve boat access and increase the water flow. This has cut rivers off from their floodplains and stopped them from creating the mix of habitats that so much wildlife depends on.
Recognition of these issues has led to the development of catchment-scale management plans to reduce pollution and restore natural habitats. This includes reinstating river meanders, allowing woody debris to be left in the water, and providing routes around barriers that stop migrating fish.