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Protecting a Norfolk oasis – the rare River Nar


World Water Day 2012 marked the start of our freshwater partnership with Coca-Cola. Our work together focusses on delivering the objectives of the Water Framework Directive to get our rivers – particularly the globally rare English chalk stream – back into good health.

Coke and WWF at the newly restored river. © Simon Rawles / WWF-UK

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time in Norfolk, as one of the rivers that we’re working on is the River Nar in north-west of the county. The Nar is an inspiring little river; it’s a globally rare chalk stream that’s home to an abundance of wildlife and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Last year on a short walk along a healthy stretch of the Nar last year I saw water vole burrows, otter spraint, a brown trout topping the water surface – and I even came face to face with a barn owl out hunting!

But the Nar is an oasis in a desert. A short drive through the area will show why – Norfolk is densely farmed and its rivers have been modified to make more room for agriculture and carry away rainwater as quickly as possible.

Straight and sterile – the River Nar before any work was done. © Simon Rawles / WWF-UK

Some rivers are so modified that you need to climb up steep embankments to see them perched above ground level. This creates a very alien environment that leaves little space for natural wetlands and rivers and the wildlife that relies on them. So the Nar really is an oasis in the desert!

But the Nar isn’t perfect. It’s not in good ecological health because many of its channels have also been modified, it suffers from pollution from agriculture and it’s over-exploited to provide drinking water for surrounding communities.

Through our partnership with Coca-Cola we’ve joined forces with the Norfolk Rivers Trust to devise a plan to improve the Nar, one step at a time.

Work starts on the Nar improvements, bringing back a more natural river – and preserving this rare chalk stream. © Simon Rawles / WWF-UK

Firstly a ‘River Nar Catchment Plan’ was created, which set out everything that needs to be done to improve the river and help reach its conservation targets.

We’ve also started working with the local farmers to help them reduce their impact on the water environment. And last autumn we restored one kilometre of straightened and deepened channel of the river back to its natural condition.

The Nar is representative of so many rivers around the country and because we can’t fix them one river at a time, we’ve also started working with government and other organisations to ensure that rivers all over England are improved.

Out of all of this work, the absolute highlight for me last year was seeing a video of trout spawning on the River Wandle in South London. We’ve worked with the Wandle Trust for a number of years now. Shortly after they restored some of the river habitat last year, the local brown trout showed their approval and decided to spawn in their newly improved habitat. It doesn’t get better than that!

My own hope is that we see activity such as this on the newly improved sections of the River Nar in the not too distant future.

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