Stratford Riverside scheme: Habitat creation Nick Steggall 1 March 2023

Stratford Riverside Scheme: habitat creation

At Middlemarch, we want to bring nature closer to people, especially when habitat creation works hand in hand with economic regeneration, tourism development and community benefits.

The challenge: riverside habitat creation

Habitat creation can be good for nature and good for the local economy.

The Stratford Riverside Project is a partnership between Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Stratford Town Trust. They’d secured £1.5m of grant funding from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership via the government’s Getting Building Fund.

The funding presented a chance to create new leisure and economic opportunities for the town, reduce traffic congestion, and improve air quality, while putting habitat creation at the heart of the project.

Our main challenge was that previous management methods had resulted in ruderal and scrub species becoming dominant, often entirely replacing important grasses and displacing historic flora and fauna.

Our approach: habitat creation for historic species

Our focus for habitat creation was a riverside area of about 28 hectares located along the western bank of the River Avon, running right into the town centre from the south.

The local Habitat Biodiversity Audit team undertook a survey and review in 2020 of the Local Wildlife Site known as Lench Meadows.

A key recommendation of the report was that urgent work should include restoring the northern river meadow to an MG4 flood meadow (a national priority habitat) with an annual cut and the introduction of green hay from a suitable site of special scientific interest (SSSI) donor meadow.

Working alongside contractor Stratford Town Trust and Stratford District Council as the landowners, and along with Tandem Projects and Design with Nature, Middlemarch resurveyed the site for its ecological and arboricultural value, which was utilised to compile a habitat restoration and creation plan.

During the first part of habitat creation, we set out to:

  • Restore the northern floodplain meadow back to its former MG4 floodplain meadow grassland 
  • Use the natural resource of the wet riparian areas to create and enhance specialist floodplain habitats, and 
  • Make sure that the tall ruderal and scrub colonising the grassland habitats was retained in suitable locations.

A selection of the habitat creation undertaken comprised:

  • Creating wildflower species-rich meadow areas with improved neutral and marshy grassland
  • Enhancing existing woodland and scrub habitats and creating new habitats through a mixture of supplementary planting and natural regeneration
  • Creating new reedbeds to provide a range of habitats including planting around the edges and varying the depth of the water
  • Making parts of the riverbanks shallower in profile, so the riparian edge habitats improved by encouraging inundation vegetation on the edges and swamp habitat zones, where emergent and wetland plants can flourish to replace the dominant nettle and willowherb. 
"This was a golden opportunity to create new habitats that would enhance an historically important flood meadow while supporting Stratford-upon-Avon’s economic and tourism aims.”
Dr Nick Steggall
Associate Technical Director, Middlemarch

The outcome: biodiversity gain through habitat creation

Before our habitat creation work, previous studies had shown that there were more than 200 species in Lench Meadows. Most had been lost over time because, as vegetation levels got higher, the area became drier, to the detriment of wetland flora and fauna.

We believe that many of these species will return, including wildflowers such as yellow rattle and fritillaries, and increase the numbers of fauna such as marbled white butterfly and barn owl.

A Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) assessment carried out in 2022 identified that the scheme will result in a 69.01 Biodiversity Unit net gain (i) for habitat features at the site, an increase above baseline conditions of 57.72%.

Find out more

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