Down to the Coast Wetland Restoration
As part of the Down to the Coast project, we're reconnecting fragmented habitats and restoring them for wildlife.
History of a unique river
Many of our rivers have seen major changes over the years, and the River Yar on the Isle of Wight is no exception. The Yar has some incredible history and hydrology. The valley of the eastern Yar contains some of the deepest peat beds in southern England. This peat – compressed plant material which cannot rot because there is no oxygen – not only acts like a sponge to hold water but also stores large amounts of carbon.
Peat systems such as in the Yar are like time-capsules. They hold pollen from the vegetation in the area since the last ice age. This makes the Yar an important resource when looking at the history of farming and land management since the first people made their homes there in the Bronze Age.
Today the Eastern Yar valley is an important area for wildlife, which needs our help to thrive. This includes kingfishers, water voles, marsh cinquefoil, Cetti's warblers, cuckoos and barn owls.
Over time the river has been highly engineered by humans, creating deep, steep-sided channels and concrete weirs among other infrastructure. These prevent the river acting more naturally, cutting it off from its own floodplain and resulting in loss of habitat for wildlife.
Restoring the Eastern Yar
Over the course of four years, we're working with local landowners, conservation organisations and others to restore over 30 hectares of wetland in the East Wight.
This includes work on the Blackbridge Brook, which flows into the millpond at Wootton. It's overgrown and heavily shaded along much of the riverbank, preventing natural vegetation from getting the light it needs to flourish. We're opening up a section of the brook so that sunlight can reach the river bed and banks, and encourage insects like dragonflies and damselflies to thrive.
Elsewhere we've been undoing past engineering and creating a more natural river bank, allowing it to meander and providing passes for migratory fish like brown trout, under bridges and over weirs. This means aquatic species such as these can use the Eastern Yar as a corridor to other wildlife habitats like reedbeds and fens.
We're also working with the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary to improve a meadow and section of the river for wildlife and people - creating rich habitat for species like water vole, while also helping visitors learn more about our native wildlife through new information and walking routes.
Thanks to the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we've also expanded our Sandown Meadows nature reserve by 10 hectares at Adgestone. This is the final piece in the jigsaw of the River Yar, meaning an unbroken stretch of 8km from Bembridge Harbour to Alverstone is now managed better for wildlife.
Working together we'll be able to restore these wetlands to their former glory, and protect some of our most fragile habitats and heritage on the Isle of Wight and beyond.