Unearthing rivers

Posted: Monday 7th January 2008

Many urban rivers exist insubterranean obscurity, contained in underground culverts that reduce theecological and recreational value of an area. CIWEM believes that returningour waterways to a more natural conditionwould bring environmental, social and economic benefits.

In the past, engineers met urban development needs and dealt with flood issues by building artificial channels or burying rivers underground. However culverts disconnect communities from their natural surroundings, adversely affect wildlife and can increase the risk of flooding.

De-culverting, or opening up these artificial channels, can provide valuable wetland habitat, offer educational and recreational opportunities, enhance urban regeneration programmes, reduce costs through natural bioengineering techniques, reduce flood risk and help to give a place a sense of identity.

CIWEM believes that burying watercourses is rarely the optimum solution, so calls for active identification of opportunities for de-culverting. CIWEM believes that development or regeneration proposals should better integrate and enhance natural watercourses, and where de-culverting is not possible, enhancement or mitigation work should be implemented.

CIWEM recognises that there are challenges to successful de-culverting, including expense, heavy development over the watercourses, lack of awareness and maintenance. CIWEM believes that Government should promote de-culverting as an option amongst the local authorities and ensure that the public are aware of buried watercourses in urban areas, the reasons why they are buried and the benefits of restoring them where possible.

A recent de-culverting success is the award winning River Quaggy, where a more natural river profile has been restored to allow more natural flood storage in Sutcliffe Park, London. This flood alleviation scheme won the prestigious RSPB/CIWEM Living Wetlands Award in 2007.

CIWEM Executive Director Nick Reeves said: “There are countless stretches of watercourse which are buried beneath the ground or contained in concrete channels, and in many cases they do not need to be. It is even common for these watercourses to have become forgotten, with local people not being aware of their existence. We are more aware nowadays of the wider benefits that natural watercourses and a healthy local environment bring to people’s lives. The restoration of rivers could help re-establish a lost relationship with the natural world, so CIWEM supports de-culverting watercourses wherever possible.”

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