How we’re breathing new life into the River Trent at Staffordshire University

Current issues

Staffordshire University Nature Reserve lies on the banks of the River Trent just off the A52 Leek road. The site includes a variety of habitats such as grassland, a large pool, some woodland and a section of the Trent itself.

The grassland area is not managed intensively, and as a result of this there is a selection of wildflowers growing, including Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra). Most of the grassland is, however, dominated by grass species such as Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata) and False Oat-grass (Arrhenatherum elatius). A wider diversity of wildlife and a more abundant food source for pollinating insects could be created by spreading ‘green hay’ or supplementary seed across the grassland.

Green hay is the vegetation collected from a species-rich grassland immediately after it has been cut. These fresh ‘cuttings’ contain an abundance of wildflower and grass seeds. The cuttings, while still fresh, are then quickly transported to the less species-diverse grassland and spread over the site, resulting in the transfer of seeds to the new site. It is a very effective way of creating ‘new’ wildflower grasslands and is often used in conservation work.

Around the large pool, some invasive plants such as Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), and scrubby plants such as Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) are starting to dominate. These plants are very vigorous and tend to outcompete other species.  There is a narrow strip of woodland surrounding approximately 75% of the pool. Some of the trees here have recently been thinned, allowing more light to reach the woodland floor and enabling woodland wildflowers and plants to thrive.

The north-eastern end of the pool graduates into a swamp/inundation type habitat with a small area of reedbed. The pool is not directly connected to the river, although it may connect in times of high water flow.

Improving the River Trent through Staffordshire University for wildlife

The river at this site is heavily modified, it has been extensively straightened and lies in an armoured channel lined with stones to prevent any natural meandering, the flow diversity is poor and sediments are poorly sorted with the majority of the bed dominated by fine sediments. Riparian habitat is largely unmanaged aside from a few short stretches alongside paths which appear to be regularly cut. Himalayan Balsam is also present. A MoRPH survey was conducted which highlights the above issues.

Original Work Plan:

      • Possibly re-meander the river channel to diversify pool and riffle flow structure. Digging out new channels and backfilling existing sections, further creation of backwaters and seasonal inundation areas will provide increased water storage capacity in times of high flow as well as providing increased habitat diversity.
      • If the option above is not feasible then implementation of soft engineering techniques such as installation of in stream structures (woody debris, engineered log jams etc.) to sort substrates and diversify flow patterns at several locations throughout the length of the watercourse. Possible removal of the armoured stone toe of the riverbank to allow the river to increase erosion and deposition rates leading to a more ‘natural’ channel.
      • In conjunction with the above, rotational tree management through coppicing and thinning will improve light shade regime for the watercourse, as well as provide material for which to create in stream habitat improvement structures. Some scrub clearance may be beneficial around the pool to fit in with thinning which appears to have been carried out recently.
      • Invasive species control.

Work Carried out to date:

    • Plans to re-meander the river channel to diversify pool and riffle flow structure have been designed and will go ahead.(2020)
    • A survey has been carried out to assess invasive species along the channel (Summer 2019), a community volunteer event is planned to help remove said species.