River wildlife to be restored
A town centre river could be teeming with fish once again if an imaginative environmental scheme is given the go-ahead.
Experts from the University of Leicester and volunteers from Market Harborough are working on plans to revitalise the River Welland.
Ecological specialist Dr David Harper, from the university, believes man-made changes to the river are the key cause of a dramatic drop in fish numbers in the past 50 years.
He said: "Flood-prevention work has created a situation in which shallow areas where fish can feed and deeper pools where they can avoid predators have been removed. We want to work with people so they can claim back the river and improve the numbers of fish and other wildlife by making physical changes to the river."
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Work will concentrate on a stretch downstream, from the western edge of Welland Park to the eastern side of the railway station.
It will also include part of the River Jordan, where it flows into the Welland.
Dr Harper spoke about the issue after a public meeting attended by about 50 people at the Angel Hotel, in Market Harborough, on Thursday.
Speaking on behalf of the Welland Rivers Trust, Dr Harper said: "We were encouraged by the number of people who attended.
"Many were surprised to hear that the river could be altered without increasing the risk of flooding."
Dr Harper said at least £500,000 would be spent over the next few years "to put nature back in the river and give the river back to Market Harborough".
A meeting outlining proposals will be held in January and work – subject to approval from Harborough District Council and the Environment Agency – should begin during the summer next year.
Dr Harper said: "The Welland and its tributaries largely fail to meet a legal standard, called Good Ecological Status.
"This is because the river was turned into a large drain from Market Harborough to the sea in the 1960s, by engineering schemes which almost totally removed the wildlife habitats.
"Over the past 50 years, it has deepened, straightened and become more polluted.
"Its value to people and to wildlife is a just fraction of what it once was.
"I am convinced that if we create a better environment for fish and other animals in the food chain, it will increase the range of wildlife along the river."
County councillor Dr Sarah Hill, who is a member of the Harborough Improvement Team environment group, said: "I fully support the proposals, which will enrich the flora and fauna of the River Welland.
"There is a real need to increase the number of fish and other wildlife.
"There is a kingfisher seen along the river in the town. I would hope, with the improvements, that we will see many more animals."