Sunrise Victoria Ground second channel, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

Local river restoration work attracts national award


By Sarah Davison, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Cover photo: Sunrise Victoria Ground second channel, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust (SWT) and the Environment Agency (EA) recognised for 25 years of work in the Trent Valley

This spring the duo were shortlisted for the 2023 UK River Prize by the River Restoration Centre. On Wednesday 19 April they were crowned as the winners. 

This recognition from sector experts reinforces how remarkable their achievements are. Projects were varied and included urban river ways, headwaters and floodplain rivers.

A dedicated team of experts worked together and designed, installed and tracked the interventions. Many other partners, landowners and countless volunteers also contributed. Over 22 kilometres of stream and river corridors were enhanced through the hundreds of projects in the Trent river system. 

Years of industrial and agricultural development left much of the Trent and connected waterways badly degraded. The river had been made to run straight, with steep banks, disconnected from its floodplains. This made the waters inaccessible to wildlife such as otters, and created inhospitable habitat for many other species. Weirs also prevented fish passage.

Nick Mott, River Restoration Manager at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust said: “It’s fantastic to receive national recognition for this work but most satisfying is knowing we’ve laid solid foundations for healthier rivers and streams in the county. The projects were only possible due to a strong collaborative approach and combined effort of many partners. 

“It’s taken decades to begin to undo the damage that human intervention and hard engineering caused. For years, society tried to make our rivers fit around our towns, cities and farmland. However, we now know that we need to work with nature, not against it. Healthy natural systems will accommodate the ebb and flow of water levels far better than anything we can design or engineer.

“While we now have a much healthier network of waterways, this is only the start. It will take many more decades to get where we need to be, and restoration alone isn’t enough.

“While we’re delighted the partnership has been recognised for this work, there is so much more to do. We must continue to push and campaign for better water quality.”

Much of the work has contributed to better flood prevention, protecting homes and businesses. Reconnecting the Trent with the surrounding landscape means it can accommodate increased water levels during wet weather.

The projects include three main themes, explained in more detail below.


The headwaters of the Trent run through Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The SUNRISE project, mainly funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) project included re-naturalising watercourses and creating corridors for wildlife movement. This two-year project was led by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and delivered by SWT and other partners.

SUNRISE project, Victoria Ground, Stoke. Photo: Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
SUNRISE project, Victoria Ground, Stoke. Photo: Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

At Staffordshire University an engineered section of the Trent was restored. Split channels and backwaters were added to slow the passage of water and connect it with the land. This provides a much wider area for wildlife such as otters which need riparian zones, or areas where water meets land. Near the Victoria Ground (old Stoke City football ground) a new winding channel was created, bypassing two weirs. Weirs were also removed here and at Bucknall Park and Cromer Road so wildlife can pass through and the waterways can function naturally.

Headwater streams

In the Churnet Valley and the South West Peak area, carefully selected bankside trees were dropped into watercourses. This slows the flow of water and improved the riparian zones, as the dead wood gives shelter to many species. In a UK first, engineered log jams were also used to protect roads and a railway from flooding. 

Floodplain rivers

Restoration along 18 kilometres of the Trent continues through the Transforming the Trent Valley Landscape Partnership. Techniques and achievements include:

  • River widening at Croxall
  • Floodplain lowering at Tucklesholme
  • Creation of mid-channel bars and chute channels at Ryelands
  • The UK’s largest river island (9 hectares) restoration at Cherry Holme.

The partnership is using pioneering and innovative approaches to both river restoration and land management. The work is restoring degraded rivers and floodplains. It will benefit both nature’s recovery and people in the Staffordshire Trent Valley.

Website: Staffordshire Wildlife Trust

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