River Itchen Habitat Restoration


Written by: Isobella Ash

We as human beings not only appreciate nature but also depend on its resources to sustain us. However, it is easy to forget that it is a two-way street, As our CEO Perk Perkins said “If we are to benefit from the use of our natural resources, we must be willing to act to preserve them.”

At Orvis, we dedicate ourselves to the restoration, enhancement, and the long-term protection of these last great wild places. Over 32 years, Orvis raised and donated more than $20 million to organizations and projects dedicated to the preservation of fish, wildlife habitats, and canine health and well-being. We commit 5% of pre-tax profits to protecting and sustaining the natural world. Recently this has included some habitat improvement works on our short section of the river Itchen just downstream of where the M3 crosses the river just above Abbots Worthy.

In one area, the river bed needed to be raised to improve the flow of the river, so gravel was introduced to what was an unnaturally deep and overly-silted up section with a 360-machine sitting in the water, carefully distributing gravel as it arrived by large dumper trucks. This included repairing a large scour hole and badly eroded take off channel, providing a variety of depths and types of habitat for the fish. Almost immediately, wild trout were seen sitting over the newly introduced gravel, so they obviously are enjoying their new home.

By removing the silt and raising the bed it allows the river to self-clean, preventing the native aquatic plants from becoming smothered by fine sediment. Silt is of course part of the habit, but in a healthy chalk river should mainly be found in the slacks on the inside of bends in the channel. When it covers the full width of the river due to lack of flow caused by deep, over wide or impoundments, it rapidly degrades the habitat and severely limits the macrophyte and invertebrate life that it can support as well as trapping chemical pollutants.

The spring sunshine has now really started to have an impact on the river and both the starwort and ranunculi is coming to life, with fresh, vibrant green growths contrasting the yellow gravel of the river bed. Once the weeds really get going, we will then transplant some more to help encourage more to grow.

The parts of the river that were restored are already starting to look quite natural. Already there are several small clumps of ranunculi that have been dislodged from higher upstream that have now established themselves in the new gravel bed. What is more exciting is the fact that several groups of large Grayling are now spawning right on the spot where we filled in the deep, slack scour hole that was preventing the flow of water down the beat in front of the Island. The river is still carrying some spring colour, so observation is a little difficult on the three new riffles created below the road bridge but we’re sure the Grayling are making good use of them as well.

Jason, our River Keeper has also been busy replacing the deck of the bridge across the beat, so that it is prepared for the start of the fishing season. The old walkway over the drainage ditches to the water meadows on the left-hand bank has now been replaced making access much safer! There is now some movement of the water giving the whole section the feeling of a river as opposed to a canal.

We are now pleased to say that we are taking bookings on the Itchen beat. It is the most challenging of our pieces of water for casting and stalking, as it is clear all year round with good aquatic fly life providing plenty of hatches, including Iron Blue and Large Dark Olive in good numbers and even the rare Turkey Brown. Most of the River Itchen is a conservation area under SSSI management which is why we promote catch and release on this stretch to preserve its native brown trout. It can accommodate up to 3 rods and can be booked exclusively with a ghillie for the day. Guided days are inclusive of tackle hire if required. To book a Day Rod Letting at Abbots Worthy (Itchen), please call Orvis Sporting Adventures on 01264-349515 or email sportingadventures@orvis.co.uk

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