Phase Three of a major project to turn Swindon’s River Ray into a hotspot for wildlife and people gets underway on Monday 30 July when the diggers return to put a sweeping bend into the river at Rivermead and install a beach where people can sit and enjoy nature.
The work will tackle the stretch of the Ray from where the raised cycle bridge at the end of Barnfield Road spans the Ray as far as the weir pool near the Great Western Way.
“Whereas Phase Two was really about helping wildlife, this next phase will encourage people to connect with the river and the natural environment on their doorsteps. At the moment in some places the river is so overgrown that people can’t even see it,” says Jo Sayers, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Water for Wildlife Project Officer, pictured at the River Ray.
“This big sweeping bend will provide a shallow, graded gravel beach which will provide a community focus in the area where people can come and enjoy the river, sit and contemplate, or dip their dogs. Surfaced footpaths will be installed to make sure disabled members of the community can enjoy it too,” she says.
At the same time a fish pass will be installed at the weir to allow fish to move up and down the Ray, something they cannot do at present because of the weir’s height. This will be constructed out of a metal basket full of boulders placed under the lip of the weir to raise the riverbed. It will act like a ramp and take the power out of the water so that the fish can swim upstream.
Also the diggers will put more stony riffles into the river to add variety to the riverbed, and will create more pools in the river’s floodplain.
“The floodplain has been swamped with wildlife since we did the work last year,” says Jo. “I’ve seen snipe, teal, a pair of little egrets, green sandpipers and lots of herons. When the water spills out of the river into the plain in the winter, I’ve practically stepped on mallards and moorhens as I’ve walked through the grass.”
Over the winter volunteers worked with Swindon Borough Council tree surgeons to clear unwanted trees to make way for the new channel. The total project length is 1.2km and stretches from the sludge beds of the Swindon sewage works to the Great Western Way bridge at the Mannington recreation ground.
Jo manages the project, which is a partnership between the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and its funders the Environment Agency, Sitatrust, Biffaward and Swindon Borough Council.
She is pictured right, enjoying the completion of the second phase of the project in June 2006.