A SCHEME to return New Forest rivers and wetlands to their natural state is in line for a national award – despite proving controversial.

The project has altered more than nine miles of streams by restoring their natural bends and is one of just four finalists battling it out for the 2019 UK River Prize.

The ten-year scheme, which began in 2010, aims to reverse the artificial straightening of waterways which was carried out in the Victorian era.

New Forest Post:

However, the scheme has had a chequered history.

A proposal to carry out extensive work at Pondhead, near Lyndhurst, was approved by the National Park Authority (NPA) in 2016 but a similar application relating to Latchmore Brook, near Hyde, was rejected by the same organisation later that year.

Members were told that wildlife – including the rare southern damsel fly – would be at risk if the stream was not repaired and restored.

But campaigners argued that the 96,000 tonnes of gravel needed for the restoration would spell “ecological disaster” for the area.

New Forest Post:

Despite the protests wetland restoration projects have plenty of backers.

Supporters say the straightening of channels can cause bogs to dry out, stream banks to erode and floods to occur downstream.

Returning the streams to their natural state helps ensure the habitats survive winter floods and summer droughts.

Allowing the water to meander through the landscape also slows it down during periods of high rainfall, limiting erosion and reducing the risk of flooding.

Forestry England, formerly the Forestry Commission, is delighted that the scheme has been shortlisted for a top award.

The project is part of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) initiative, a partnership between the Verderers, Forestry England and the NPA.

HLS manager Nick Wardlaw said: “We’re extremely proud that the work of everyone involved in this project has been recognised in this way.

“The New Forest is a truly unique place and playing a part in protecting these internationally important habitats is a great privilege for all involved.”

The UK River Prize is an annual accolade awarded by the River Restoration Centre.

The awards ceremony will be held at the Britannia Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool next Tuesday, April 30.