Gowy & Mersey Washlands - A Living Landscape

Cheshire's first Living Landscape


The Gowy and Mersey Washlands is our first Living Landscapes project. The project area follows the course of the River Gowy from its source on the Sandstone Ridge to where is joins the River Mersey, then extending up the Mersey corridor to include Frodsham marsh and on through Runcorn and into Warrington (Map 1). Our vision is to create a resilient network of wetland habitats which benefit local wildlife as well as people and the economy.

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We have secured funding from WREN, Environment Agency, Wetland Vision and an ongoing members appeal totalling £220,000. With this funding we will be striving to create a wetland landscape by 2015 benefitting a number of Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats:

TABLE

*Phase 2 figures include phase 1 figures

Key species such as curlew, snipe, lapwing, redshank, water vole, otter, great crested newt, lesser silver water beetle and mud snail will also benefit from having larger and less fragmented wetlands in which to thrive.


Our targets are ambitious and achieving them will be challenging

Our starting point for this project is to analyse a series of reports and mapping models showing where the potential opportunities to create or restore wetland habitats exist along the Gowy and Mersey river corridors based on the physical features of the land.

We have also identified a number of key issues affecting the way land is managed within the project area by talking to landowners and their advisors. Building on this background research we have divided the project into three main work programmes:

Programme 1: Wetland Landscape Creation
Programme 2: Site Management
Programme 3: Community Engagement


Programme 1: Wetland Landscape Creation
This long-term programme, with initial funding up to 2011 from Natural England through Wetland Vision, will address many of the barriers to creating a landscape scale wetland. Along the River Gowy corridor a whole host of social, economic and environmental issues have been identified. For example, some local landowners are struggling to make a profit on land adjacent to the river which frequently floods whilst in other areas farms already in wetland restoration schemes are failing to reach their full potential because the land is too dry. At present there is little effective cooperative working between land owners.

Ecologically, species such as the otter, are currently struggling to move along the river corridors due to habitat fragmentation such as discontinuous river bank cover. Other issues such as intensive grazing, pollution caused by agricultural run-off and inappropriate ditch management all limit the biodiversity value of the area, whilst the ever increasing threat of climate change means that the frequency of uncontrolled flooding is likely to increase.

The funding from Wetland Vision means we can now employ a Living Landscapes Project Manager. The Project Managers role will be to carry out extensive consultation with landowners and lead the way in cooperative working between neighbours. Concentrating on areas where the greatest potential for wetland habitat restoration and creation exists, the Project Manager will devise detailed plans that will inform the practical action needed to improve the conservation value of their land. The Project Manager, working with FWAG, Natural England and the Environment Agency will then support the landowner through implementing the recommendations, either through an agri-environment scheme such as Higher Level Stewardship or by seeking alternative funding.

Some landowners along the River Gowy corridor are already doing their bit towards creating a wetland landscape. One example of this is The Grange, a family farm managed by Huw Rowlands. With the help of the RSPB and using Higher Level Stewardship Huw has made changes to encourage wetland birds, such as Lapwing and snipe, on his land.


Programme 2: Site Management
Conservation grazing is now well recognised as one of the best methods for managing wet grassland. Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s growing herd of Longhorn and Dexter cattle, thanks to funding from the WREN Biodiversity Action Fund and the Environment Agency, will now be put to work managing six sites in the Gowy and Mersey Washlands Area over the next three years. The six sites, including Gowy Meadows, cover over 260 hectares of floodplain grazing marsh currently in need of sympathetic management or restoration. This funding enables us to employ a Conservation Grazing Assistant to support our existing Grazing Officer in managing these sites. We will also carry out baseline botanical surveys at each site, helping us to measure our progress, and create a detailed management plan for Gowy Meadows

These six sites, along with other land nearby already managed for nature conservation provide the ecological stepping-stones on which we can build a much more ambitious project. By managing these sites, we will demonstrate to other landowners the benefits of conservation grazing for biodiversity and the viability of traditional breeds as an alternative to intensive beef or dairy farming.


Programme 3: Community Engagement
We want everyone who lives or works in or near the Gowy and Mersey Washlands Living Landscape to feel part of the project. We are currently developing a project known as ‘My Living Landscape’ for which we hope to have secured funding by the end of the year. My Living Landscapes will launch a roadshow that will tour schools, community groups, nature reserves and public buildings around Chester, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Widnes and Warrington. The project will create lots of opportunities for local people to become involved in the project through events and practical volunteering tasks and will provide information through on-site interpretation boards and leaflets.


Why bother?
To make real progress for nature conservation we need to think at the landscape scale. By creating a wetland landscape within the Gowy and Mersey Washlands we not only create space for wildlife to thrive and disperse but also provide essential ecosystem services such as flood water storage, carbon capture and tranquil places for local people to visit and enjoy. This approach will help us gain recognition as an organisation who can work in partnership to help tackle fundamental environmental issues such as climate change. Tackling a Living Landscape project is a new way of working for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and we have a lot to learn but we believe that through these three complementary work programmes we will be well on our way to achieving our vision.