The wonderful world of WEF

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Photograph of a fish jumping out of riverWorld Rivers Day takes place on the last Sunday of September every year. It’s described as “a celebration of the world’s waterways” designed to highlight the many values, and encourage the improved stewardship, of rivers around the world. To mark this we’re looking at the work of the Water Environment Fund (WEF) and how it helps Scotland improve its rivers by removing historic problems and helping return them to a healthier, more natural state.

The United Nations launched World Rivers Day in 2005 to help create a better understanding about the vital role that rivers play, to communities across the world. Most people understand the impact that waste from industry, agriculture and households can have on the water environment and that even in Scotland we need to ensure that too much water is not taken from our rivers and lochs. But what about the form of the river itself?

Throughout human history we’ve changed our rivers to suit our needs, moving them, piping them or building structures in them such as dams and weirs. Many of these changes have had a negative impact on our rivers and have affected how they function in a variety of ways, these include blocking the passage of migratory fish such as salmon, altering habitats in and around rivers and increasing flood risk.

Photograph shows before and after shots of a river weir

An old culvert on the Western Isles which is being removed to enable fish migration. Channel work is ongoing.

How WEF helps

In Scotland, the condition of the beds, banks and shores of 14% of our water bodies are below good status because of historic engineering pressures such as reinforced banks, embankments, culverts and straightening, and 12% are below good status because instream barriers, such as redundant weirs, are preventing access for migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout, lampreys and eels.

WEF provides funding from the Scottish Government for river restoration projects in Scotland. It focuses on improvements to the river beds and banks and the removal of barriers to fish migration. Managed by a team of river restoration specialists within SEPA, the fund works in partnership with organisations like fisheries trusts, local authorities and other stakeholders.

Since 2013 over £4.6 million has been provided by WEF for the restoration of fish passage, improvement of urban rivers and work removing invasive plant species across Scotland’s rivers.

Photograph shows digger removing an old weir

Removal of the old creamery weir on the Tarff Water in Dumfries and Galloway

How important is this work?

Migratory fish species, such as salmon and trout require different environments for the main phases of their life cycle. Without access to the upper reaches of a river they can’t spawn and breed. By removing barriers to fish passage and improving natural river processes, we can help fish return upstream to their spawning grounds, and build fish populations in Scottish rivers.

Photographs show weirs on the Avon Water

Fernegair Weir and Millheugh weir on the Avon Water in South Lanarkshire. Fish passes are being installed to enable the passage of migratory fish as part of a WEF project.

Of course it’s not just about fish. Improving our rivers also benefits the people of Scotland. Healthier rivers with plentiful fish stocks bring many economic and social benefits. Our country is home to some of the finest salmon rivers in the world and these contribute significantly to the Scottish economy as a visitor attraction, a source of jobs and income in remote Scottish communities, and the provider of high quality world renowned salmon food products. WEF also works in urban river settings improving community amenity and contributing to urban green space creation. By improving access to rivers we can have a positive impact on the health & wellbeing of the people around them.

Photograph of a river restricted into a concrete channel, and a garden planted with flowers

Stane Gardens in North Lanarkshire where restoration of the river (which was in a concrete channel) has been part of a wider project to create an attractive area of parkland for the local community to enjoy

WEF has helped to secure additional funds and contributions in kind from key partners. By working in partnership with local authorities, land managers, contractors, local communities and volunteers, we are helping to build a greater understanding of the benefits of river restoration in Scotland and the techniques available to achieve it.

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