A SCHEME which aims to improve internationally-important wetlands in the New Forest has won a national award - despite proving controversial.

Forestry England - formerly the Forestry Commission - is returning artificially-straightened streams to their original course by recreating bends and meanders that were removed in Victorian times.

The scheme has fought off competition from other projects across the country to win 2019 River Prize, awarded by the River Restoration Centre.

Martin Janes, the centre's managing director, said the huge amount of work undertaken by Forestry England and its partners over the past nine years had resulted in the improvement and protection of rare wetland habitat.

He said the project had helped reduce the speed of water, cutting the risk of flooding.

"The finished work demonstrates incredible attention to detail, often restoring the stream to its old course and floodplain with remarkably few visible scars to the landscape," added Mr Janes.

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

Nick Wardlaw, HLS manager at Forestry England said: “The New Forest is an internationally important wetland and home to 75% of the remaining valley mires - or boggy areas - in north-western Europe.

"This project has been restoring wetlands, changing artificially-straightened streams to return their natural meanders and bends and protecting them from further erosion.

"A project of this scale and complexity requires many different groups to work together and I'd like to thank all the organisations who help look after the Forest for their support and commitment.

"It's a great privilege for all involved to have played a part in ensuring these vital landscapes continue to thrive for many generations to come.”

But the "New Forest Wetlands" project has had a chequered history.

A proposal to carry out extensive work at Pondhead, near Lyndhurst, was given the go-ahead by the NPA in 2016 but a similar application relating to Latchmore Brook, near Hyde, was thrown out by the same organisation later that year.

Members heard 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.


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