Forestry England (previously the Forestry Commission) is responsible for managing a large part of the area and is working with partners to restore streams and wetlands to a more natural state.
This includes a 4km stretch of the Avon Water through Wootton Riverine Woodland near Sway that had been artificially straightened and embanked in Victorian times. Returning it to its natural meandering course is vital to help restore and rebalance the ecological richness of the area, which forms part of the New Forest site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
Much of the New Forest itself is protected by the SSSI designation. These areas are divided into units based on their habitat type, unique ecological features, management regime and geographical location. Several of the SSSI units were found to be in an ‘unfavourable’ condition, including Wootton Riverine Woodland.
We were appointed to the Wootton Riverine Woodland wetland restoration scheme to prepare and submit a planning application with supporting specialist environmental reports for the restoration of the stream. The overall aim of the project was to increase biodiversity and aid natural flood management by slowing down the flow, creating a more stable main channel and increasing connectivity with the floodplain.
To support the planning submission, we carried out several studies, including flood risk and archaeological assessments, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) surveys, and a biological records review. We also developed a construction environment management plan. These studies flagged several issues we were able to resolve early on, such as identifying the correct flood model to use during the works.
The area is subject to strict environmental constraints, including the New Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA) designations. We carried out close engagement with statutory stakeholders, including the Environment Agency, Natural England, the New Forest National Park Authority and the local parish council, to resolve any pre-commencement issues and ensure work could start on time.
This early stakeholder engagement, including a consultation workshop with statutory and non-statutory consultees, helped ensure that key ecological, hydrological, archaeological and traffic issues were identified and addressed. Our project team was formed of specialists from a range of sectors, including heritage, ecology, hydrology, community engagement and town planning.
The re-meandering of the stream has been a major ecological project in the New Forest, working to increase biodiversity throughout the wetland area, and enhance grazing sites for wildlife along the river’s banks.
A long-term monitoring programme is assessing how the site is responding, including the fish, invertebrates and rare plants in the area. Early results suggest that the floodplain is acting as a water storage facility during heavy rainfall events and has a greater diversity of plants.
The success of wetland restoration work in the New Forest was recognised in 2019 when it won the prestigious UK River Prize.