The Wellow Brook Flyfishers have leased a three mile stretch of the Wellow since 1979. In that time we have seen many challenges to the river, with the most serious being the water pollution caused by the waste treatment plant upstream, or the 2013 slurry pollution incident which wiped out life in the Brook.
The Wellow now seems to be recovering well, and the WBFFS has an active core of members who are keen to improve the habitat on the Wellow, both for the brown trout and the wider ecosystem. We have worked closely with Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, and in October 2018 they won the Award for best Medium-Scale Habitat Enhancement Scheme for its Wellow and Cam Initative, in Somerset.
We have conducted 3 habitat reports in the last decade, and all have recommended strategic coppicing of the overgrown alders on the river banks. As a club we practice catch and release and the only trout in the river are wild brown trout. Working with nature is important to us to produce an even better environment, and for a long time throughout the country waterways have been neglected.
It is our intention to strategically target short sections of old overgrown Alder and to restore it to the coppice. This will not only allow more light into the river, but also extend the life of the Alders. Many of them infected by a fungus called Phytophthora, which will kill them, however coppicing can greatly extend their lifespan.
Historically Alder would have been regularly coppiced along the riverbanks. But with the low value of Alder, this has not happened for at least 70 years. Bankside trees play very important roles for both terrestrial and in-river life. The Alders will in the coming years recover well from the coppice work, and regrow. It will then be more easy for club members to manage, as currently many of them are outgrown, top heavy and at risk of subsiding into the river, from where extraction requires a machine, and likely damage to the riverbank itself.
We will only be coppicing trees on the South bank, as this is the key side for allowing light into the river, and any standing deadwood will be left. We also will only be doing alternate sections leaving stretches untouched, where those trees are identified as providing important shelter, shade and habitat. This diversity is very important for a healthy river. Any veteran trees will be left, and we will only be targeting two species – Alder and Hazel – both of which respond really well to coppicing.
With the timber generated we hope to strategically place some of it back into the river to create woody debris and pinch points in the channel. This will have the effect of creating a diversity of flow speeds, which will benefit many aquatic species including invertebrates and trout. Other pieces of timber and brash might be used to create habitat piles on the bank of the river for invertebrates and small mammals, and we are investigating a water vole re-introduction project for the Wellow.
The club has previously done some coppicing work on our middle section approx 15 years ago, and have noticed excellent results, for the brook and wildlife that lives in and around it. We will be taking photos of the work before during and afterwards, and will be monitoring it.
One of the ways we do this, is by monthly Riverfly sampling of the river. You can view our results here: http://www.riverflies.org/open-data simply select the river as the Wellow Brook, our site is Brownie Pool, and we started recording data in October 2018.
I hope this helps to give a bit of information on our current work on the Wellow, and the holistic approach we are taking. We hope to build on this habitat work throughout the coming years. There are other areas that we will also be focusing on in due course, such as reducing sediment inflow, removal of Himalayan Balsam, reintroducing woody debris to protect the banks and add features and bends to sections that have previously been straightened. If you have any queries please contact Rod: 07775 907542. Very happy to talk about our plans, or share the habitat improvement reports we have.