Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

New life for Dorset’s wild chalk rivers

WATER is flowing through a new Dorset chalk stream created as part of a project to restore the county’s alluring network of winterbournes.

Six hundred and fifty metres of land were dug out at Winterborne Herringston about two miles south west of Dorchester.

Dorset Wild Rivers project work at Winterborne Herringston

A new channel being created at Winterborne Herringston. Photograph by Sarah Williams.

Water flowing through new winterbourne at Winterborne Herringston, Dorset

Water flowing through the new channel at Winterborne Herringston. Doesn't it look great? Photograph by Sarah Williams.

It’s hoped it will provide a habitat for a rare water crowfoot and invertebrates such as the threatened mayfly Paraleptophlebia werneri and the rare blackfly Simulium latipes.

Brown trout are among the fish expected to use the new stream for spawning in wet winters.

Winterbournes are wild rivers that only flow during wet winters when the land can soak up no more.

They have a lovely lively swing.

The Dorset Wild Rivers project is being co-ordinated by Sarah Williams of Dorset Wildlife Trust. Areas covered include the Frome and Piddle Valleys and the chalk stream tributaries of the Stour, Allen, Tarrant and North Winterbornes.  

She said: “Winterbournes are very special, appearing and disappearing quite naturally and providing a rare environment for wildlife.

“With our partners we want to see them flourishing again in their secretive way as part of Dorset’s network of wild chalk rivers.

“We have had previous success on the South Winterbourne at Winterborne Came, with both rare mayflies and blackflies recorded in the first season, so we have great hopes for Winterborne Heringston this spring.”

The Dorset Wild Rivers project is being led by Dorset Wildlife Trust with funding from the Environment Agency and Wessex Water.

Other partners include the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), Dorset Biodiversity Partnership, the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Queen Mary University of London, Natural England and Purbeck Heritage Committee.

2 Responses to “New life for Dorset’s wild chalk rivers”

  1. Mark Fisher

    The clue is in the name – WINTERbourne. Will the artificial watercourse shown in the photo dry up at the end of winter? Seems like a large flow?

    This is an example of “gardening for nature” with heavy earth moving machinery. Why not reinstate meanders across landscapes by blocking off field drainage? That would be more natural than scraping a wavy line, but then something like this does confirm the prowess of the conservation industry in gardening for nature, and they get to use such stonking earth moving machinery.

  2. Sarah Williams

    The South Winterbourne, like many other chalk streams, have been altered over the centuries; many are in straight stone-lined channels feeding old mills, or perched above the chalk aquifer to supply old water meadows or canalized-in over deep channels no longer connected to their floodplain.
    The section of the South Winterbourne that was recently worked on was canalized into an over deep, wide (depth 1.5m, width 6 to 7m) and very straight channel and was aligned around the edge of the field, although the bottom of the valley is through the centre of the field. The field was once a water meadow, so where the water enters the field it is perched, and then dropped down into this deep channel.

    The new channel is only 1.5m wide, shallow (average depth of water is currently 20cm) and meandering, and it is connected to the floodplain. It is still a true Winterbourne and only started to flow in mid-January. This year the flow is quiet low in the winterbourne and some years the stream can flow for up to 8 months of the year and some years it doesn’t flow at all. It is dependent on the ground water recharge.

    The Dorset Wild Rivers project investigated old maps to find where the river had once flowed across the valley and had independent advice from the River Restoration Centre before plans were draw up.

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