Work on a major wildlife project to reopen 150 miles of river to protected and endangered species has begun in Worcester.
‘Unlocking the Severn’ is one of the biggest river restorations of its kind in Europe. It aims to re-establish little known members of the herring family – the twaite and allis shad. These anadromous fish spend the majority of their adult lives at sea, only returning to freshwater in spring to spawn. Currently the Bristol Channel – into which the Severn flows – has the only viable breeding population of twaite shad in Britain.
The £19.4m project will create four fish passes, or ladders. These will allow shad to travel past the blockages in Worcestershire, open up the River Teme to fish at two locations (near Worcester) and improve access at a weir on the Severn (near Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire).
Shad are reputed to have been a particular favourite of King Henry III . Records show that in 1257 a supply of these herrings saw him through Lent. The species was abundant and celebrated across Europe for its taste and quality. But the Victorian introduction of weirs frustrated the shads’ migration, stopping them from reaching their historic spawning grounds in Shropshire.
Work has started at Diglis Island, in Worcester, to build a fish pass and a two-storey public viewing gallery. An educational space is also being created for schools and community centres to learn about the migrating shad.
To help the shad spawn again, the present-day project – supported in 2016 by the European Union LIFE Nature Programme and the Heritage Lottery Fund – is due to be completed at the end of 2019 ready for the public. The scheme’s partners: Severn Rivers Trust, Canal & River Trust, Environment Agency and Natural England are already looking for volunteers. People will be able to help monitor the progress and movement of the fish; counting the shad as they climb the fish pass before swimming freely again, back upstream, to their ancestral spawning grounds.