Author: Nick Hale, Project Officer
An Environment Agency assessment of the Teise and Lesser Teise, two tributaries of the Medway in Kent, indicated there is a problem with wild fish stocks in the river. Generally there is an absence and/or low abundance of key expected species such as brown trout, chub, predatory perch and pike, roach and stone loach.
In fact, the situation is probably even worse than this assessment indicates as a large proportion of the fish caught here are derived from artificial stocking, masking the figures of the wild population.
So what can be done about it?
One major contributing factor to these poor wild fish populations is the presence of barriers to fish migration: weirs. Weirs fragment the available habitat, prevent fish from reaching spawning grounds and change the geomorphology of the river channel as well. (For a reminder about the pros and cons of weirs, our very own Dr Chris Gardner wrote an excellent article recently on how weirs affect fish communities).
The Medway Catchment Partnership have been looking at barriers to fish migration in a bid to address this on a catchment scale. As a start, last year we successfully removed Harper’s Weir, restoring fish passage to a 3.5 km stretch of the River Teise. However, if you travel downstream, you are confronted by more and more weirs.
The Three Weirs Project looked to tackle a set of three weirs on the Lesser Teise, continuing this great work.
Where are the Three Weirs?
The Three Weirs, named Gatehouse (1), New Lodge (2) and Dairyhouse (3) are located on a 1.2 km stretch of the Lesser Teise near Chainhurst, Kent. All three are concrete weirs, likely originally installed in the mid-20th century for the purposes of agricultural land management.
What ecological benefits will result from removing the weirs?
The presence of a weir creates an impounding effect whereby the upstream water levels are much higher than normal. This drowns out any natural features within the channel making it more like a canal than a river.
Removing the 3 weirs will increase the hydromorphological diversity (flow and river bed structure) of this stretch of river. Natural processes such as sediment transport and gravel mobilisation will return, exposing a range of original channel features like gravel berms and meanders. For example, the removal of Harpers Weir revealed 16 new riffles.
Ecological benefits will be seen both upstream and downstream of the existing weirs with salmonid and coarse fish being able to migrate through this previously unpassable stretch, improving their ability to carry out their full life cycle and ultimately increasing their chances of survival.
Localised improvements in water quality through faster, low flow conditions will reduce the build-up of ammonia and phosphates and increase dissolved oxygen to support a wider range of invertebrates. To capture these changes, an invertebrate survey has been undertaken by Robert Aquilina at specific locations along the proposed works area. This process will be repeated in September 2017 to record any changes in diversity and abundance of the invertebrate community living within the channel.
In preparation for full removal, the wooden boards that were fixed to the crest of all 3 weirs were removed in 2015 with help of the Environment Agency. This reduced some of the impounding effect and allowed the channel upstream to adjust and stabilise prior to a complete removal of the structures in the future.
The next step now is to remove the weirs, but you’ll have to wait for part 2 to find out all about that!