Upper Medway Catchment Enhancement Project

The health of the Upper Medway catchment is integral to key sites within its boundaries, many of which are of great cultural, ecological or societal importance. These sites include the High Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) where it rises, the Ashdown Forest, a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Weirwood Reservoir.

Up until now, the Medway Catchment Partnership has delivered limited strategic work in the Upper Medway catchment. This multi-year project, running from 2022-2024, is a fantastic opportunity to expand partnership working into the wider Medway catchment, to deliver catchment-scale restoration projects that improve the health of the River Medway for wildlife and people.

Background to the Upper Medway

Like with many English rivers, man-made changes have altered the shape and the course of the Upper Medway’s channel in the past few centuries.

Industry, the transportation of goods, and draining the land for agriculture have resulted in the river being straightened, over-deepened and over-widened. This has exacerbated high and low flows in the Upper Medway and has created a much less diverse riverine habitat, making it poorer for wildlife.

The two target sub-catchments (Pippingford Brook and Medway at Weirwood) do not meet good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive.

Furthermore, rivers will face increasing pressures as we continue into the 21st century, threatening the resilience of rivers. Population growth will increase demand for water – increasing water scarcity issues already prevalent in the south east of England. Increased populations will also adversely affect water quality, negatively impacting wildlife. Climate change will further exacerbate high and low flow issues, by increasing flood risk in winter through more intense rainfall events and worsening water scarcity in the summer, through drier summers.

All these factors make it crucial to increase the river’s resilience to external pressures and safeguard it for wildlife, as an amenity space for people to enjoy and as a source of domestic water supply.

Map of Medway at Weir Wood and Pippingford Brook

What is the project about?

Part-funded by the Environment Agency, the project will work with key partners and stakeholders – including landowners – to assess the problems faced by the river and to scope plans to improve its health.

The project aims to use desk-based research and river walkovers to compile a list of enhancements that will restore the river to a more natural state. The project will fund the implementation of some of these enhancements.

Nature-Based Solutions are often our preferred option for restore rivers – they are designed to imitate natural forms or processes.

Walkovers will assess the catchment's health and priorities

How will Nature-Based Solutions be used here?

The four broad aims of river restoration are: to improve water quality; increase water availability, enhance habitat and/or manage flood risk.

When the river landscape has been assessed and its issues charted, Nature-Based Solutions likely to be considered to improve the river include:

  • leaky woody structures: to provide a diversity of flows and habitat that are currently lacking because of the historical modifications to the river
  • restoring wetlands: to create more habitat and increase resilience to low flows
  • tree planting: to create more natural and more complex habitat along the banks of the river and to shade rivers in hotter summers

Other methods of restoring the river to a more natural state include:

  • removing weirs or making them passable for fish migration
  • restoring backwater habitats (small off-shoots from the main channel that provide excellent habitat for juvenile fish and where fish can shelter from high flows without being washed downstream)
  • re-introducing a meandering flow to a previously straightened river to reinstate a more natural flow and provide more diverse habitat for wildlife
A leaky wooden structure built elsewhere on the Medway

Project vision

This project aims to deliver a jigsaw of restoration schemes across the catchment that work together to benefit the catchment as a whole and become greater than the sum of their parts.

Through building new relationships, as well as drawing on the expertise of those within the Medway Catchment Partnership, this project aims to deliver demonstrable improvements for the benefit of wildlife and the local community.

The Upper Medway is an integral part of the landscape

Thanks to our supporters

Environment Agency