Positive signs ‘Stage 0’ river project at Holnicote

Pioneering project, inspired by similar scheme in Oregon in the US, liberated a stretch of the river River Aller allowing the water to branch out, creating smaller streams, more pools and boggy areas.


The aim of the new waterscape is to slow the river flow and hold water in the landscape to help combat flooding and drought, as well as increasing the diversity of wildlife and tackling the impacts of climate change – the wetland can store more carbon over time. Additional trees and scrub provide shade to create a cooler microclimate in the restored area.

Since the project completed at the end of July, a new complex waterscape was formed with channels, pools, wetlands and marshes. According to a recent update from the Trust, “A deluge of rain fell on Exmoor recently, but the new waterscape held as planned. Helping to prevent flooding elsewhere.”

The three-year project on the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Somerset is the first full approach of a river reset attempted on a main river on this scale in the UK. ‘Stage Zero’ is an approach to river restoration that can reverse centuries of historical drainage, to develop rich and abundant refuges for nature that also benefits people.

Ben Eardley, project manager for the National Trust said: “At last the river can flow as it was always meant to. After years of research, planning and a successful pilot project, we can finally watch as the river evolves to find its own course, spilling out into the floodplain to create a rich mosaic of a wetland landscape. This is a hugely important moment – greatly increasing the health of our river catchments and helping them and the whole ecology of the wetlands recover and thrive.

He continued: “In the UK, we’ve sadly lost over 90 per cent of our wetland habitat. They are vitally important and can be likened to rainforests in terms of their ability to store carbon, their diversity of wildlife and the food sources they offer and their cooling effect on the landscape. This wetland will also hold more water during floods or drought ensuring it’s better able to cope with extreme weather events or changes in climate helping local communities and protecting farm businesses. It will also help improve the quality of the water by capturing and filtering the water as it runs through the landscape. Everything combined will rejuvenate the surrounding landscape. It’s a win-win situation.”

The project is part of the National Trust’s Riverlands project announced in 2018, supporting four river catchment schemes around England and Wales.