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CVLLP 3: Headwaters

Project Objective

To protect, enhance and restore good water quality within the River Churnet and its headwater streams.

The headwaters project aims to take an innovative approach to sustainable landscape management by demonstrating how conservation actions, when delivered at a landscape-level (the Churnet Valley), can be carried out to optimise the involvement of local communities and secure co-operation between non-governmental organisations, individuals and industry to minimise the costs of conservation management and maximise the delivery of ecosystem services.

The concept of ecosystem services involves recognizing an ecosystem, not just for biodiversity benefits, but rather the full range of services it can provide. Services to the Churnet Valley area include the rehabilitation of freshwater habitats that, in turn, provides economic gain through increased water quality, the buffering of nutrients, soil protection and natural flood storage.

There is more information about headwaters and related projects on the Staffs Wildlife Trust website:

Fit to existing strategies and objectives

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust research into the implementation of headwater protection builds upon projects such as LIFE Nature “Headwater streams and faunistic heritage associated” where landowners were involved in similar projects to protect headwaters. Within the Churnet Valley we will demonstrate similar activities but incorporate the holistic approach of identifying solutions based upon products and activities derived from the woodlands of the valley. This, and the consideration of the serial nature of headwater stream interventions from the United States research undertaken, will be of use to land managers across Europe, particularly those tasked with delivery on the ground to achieve ‘Good Ecological Status’ for watercourses included in the River Basin Plans drawn up to implement the Water Framework Directive.

The European Union’s (EU) ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2011 and beyond’ identifies action for threatened species as a key pillar of its approach. This project will provide beneficial to some of the EU's endangered species such as Lutra lutra, Otter (Annex 2 & 4)*

*Annex 2: Animal and plant species of Community interest whose conservation requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation Annex 4: Animal and plant species of Community interest in need of strict protection.

Halting the Loss of Biodiversity by 2011 and beyond identifies the recognition of the link between biodiversity and ecosystem services and promotes a shift towards a new balance between conservation and development; this project addresses objectives:

(2) to conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the wider countryside

(9) to support biodiversity adaptation to climate change

(10) to substantially strengthen the knowledge base for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in the EU and globally

In the European Commission’s ambitious new strategy “Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020” there are three main targets which will all be addressed in an demonstrative way within this project:

(2) better protection of ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure

(4) tighter control on invasive species

Contribute to the Water Framework Directive

This project will have benefits in reducing the impacts of diffuse water pollution (including Nitrates), flooding and the ecological status of rivers, more use of green infrastructure - Headwaters and soft engineering. SWT has undertaken research into the introduction and retention of Coarse Woody Debris (CWD) in Eastern USA, Scotland, The New Forest (UK) and mid-Wales.  Particular emphasis will be placed upon demonstrating the value of initiatives at headwater level through the system approach used in the USA where a number of interventions are assessed in parallel along a headwater to create a single ecological and water quality benefit at main watercourse level. This will be of relevance to wetland managers across Europe.

Comprehensive description of the project

The River Churnet, in terms of geomorphology, has the best quality tributary streams in Staffordshire. Many of the Churnet headwaters are of high biodiversity value, with good natural features. The main river has problems caused by land drainage, past river engineering, pollution, and biological problems, e.g. crayfish plague. The headwaters remain comparatively untouched by these issues, often providing refuges for species such as white-clawed crayfish. The headwaters offer the best opportunities to enhance a wide range of important species and habitats. It is important to tackle watercourse issues from the source in order to achieve the most effective results.

The River Churnet itself suffered from industrial pollution and dredging until the 1970s. Pollution, siltation and nutrient pollution are identified as problems, described as ‘heavily modified’ in hydromorphological terms, lacking river features such as; shingle bars, islands and meanders. Lack of in-channel features means that aquatic plants have difficulty establishing and poor conditions for aquatic fauna, including fish and invertebrates, but is now improving in terms of water quality and physical structure. Weirs, sluices and “on-line” fishery pools are the main issues to address in this catchment. Species that are being targeted include many invertebrates that are poorly understood. These include caddis, stonefly and mayfly species, river limpet and giant lacewing, which are all indicators of good water quality. Three Lipsothrix cranefly species, (scarce, southern and northern yellow splinters), Chalcosyrphus eunotus and Xylota florum (hoverflies) will be investigated for new records and to gain a better understanding of their habitat requirements. Other target species include mosses, crayfish, water shrew, brook lamprey and eel. Many of these species are rare, listed in either Red Data Book and / or UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Our existing headwaters projects have included a National (UK) demonstration of coarse woody debris as an erosion control option in uplands streams at Tittesworth Water, within the Churnet Valley Living Landscape. This project used imported materials and concentrated on the ecological and hydromorphological benefits of a single site project. More recent research from a study tour to the USA will allow us to link multiple interventions:

  • coarse woody debris
  • removing  engineered structures
  • buffering

in series to create a headwater (stream) length benefit where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Identifying sites, liaising with landowners and deciding upon best options for interventions is being carried out during Autumn 2011. SWT have also carried out small-scale experimental schemes at Cannock Chase AONB. Benefits for wildlife (especially fish and invertebrates) are crucial, but we also aim to record and promote the ‘ecosystems services’ CWD provides to catchments. These include flood storage (through increased rigosity) and the protection of downstream settlements, carbon storage, sediment trapping, and increased water quality (through the oxidation of trapped silts) and invasive species control. Thus, our chief aims are to create new ‘biodiversity hotspots’, but we will also be promoting the ecosystems services of our interventions through interpretation, talks, demonstration sites, press work and educational materials.

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust (SWT) will work with landowners to put in place 6 individual demonstration headwater protection projects incorporating:

Creation of log jams, debris dams and accumulations of coarse woody debris (CWD): Locally sourced timber will be used to create new log jams, debris dams and accumulations of coarse woody debris at appropriate locations within the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Project area.

Removal of artificial weirs and the creation of stream by-pass channels and the removal or modification of culverts: Weirs, water management structures and poorly designed culverts (for examples those that are ‘perched’ at the downstream end) create barriers to the movement of fish and invertebrate species.

Establish and/or widen riparian buffer strips: Buffer strips are, in many cases, crucial to reduce the impact of livestock grazing, or soil run-off, to watercourses. A list of appropriate locations is currently being researched and drawn up through the Staffordshire Headwaters pilot project that will compile final recommendations into a report in November 2011. Priority sub-catchments include the Collyhole and Leek Brooks. This work is in line with the objectives of The EU Water Framework Directive / Humber River Basin Management Plan, which have identified problems of siltation and poor watercourse structure along many stretches of watercourse in the area. The removal, or modification, of weirs and culverts is essential to help ‘re-connect’ species and habitats along stream corridors.


Forestry and/or specialist wetlands contractors will be used to implement these schemes. Machinery fitted with low ground pressure tracks will be used to minimise the impact on the stream corridor habitats. A list of appropriate locations is currently being researched and drawn up through the Staffordshire Headwaters pilot project that will compile final recommendations into a report in December 2011.

Our headwaters project would normally use materials purchased outside the Churnet Valley and brought into the area: i.e. tanalised fence posts from Northern European or Northern UK sources and small willow for soft bank work from Southern England. We will use (and demonstrate such use) alternatives, these products derived from the Sustainable Woodland Project (CVLLP 1) and help can create a broadened market for woodland management.

Monitor and evaluation

Coarse Woody Debris (CWD) is a vital component of a healthy watercourse both in terms of diversifying its structure and the wildlife it supports. It is a particularly important habitat for invertebrates and fish. Several Red Data Book invertebrate species including the Nationally Scarce hoverfly, Chalcosyrphus eunotus, the UK BAP cranefly species Lipsothrix errans, and the Globally threatened (IUCN Red List) White-clawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes  have life cycles that are closely associated with CWD. Log jams and in-channel CWD also helps provide fish (such as Atlantic salmon, eel, native brown / sea trout and brook lamprey) with shelter from fast flows, shade (and cooler water), cover from predators, territory markers, feeding opportunities, spawning and nursery sites. Ancillary benefits for the creation of log jams include reduced flood risk, increased water quality, the trapping and retention of silts and gravels, the creation of streambed scour pools and long-term carbon storage. In order to support this project the Senior Wetland Ecologist will organise and contract independent ecological and hydromorphological monitoring and evaluation, which will be in addition to the Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (CVLLP 24).

Although we will undertake six distinct headwater demonstration projects we will only monitor and evaluate one series (following USA derived learning) example project to the European Water Framework Directive (EUWFD) guidelines (this is due to the expense: £11,000). The demonstration site chosen will offer the best opportunity for high quality survey conditions and be one that makes the greatest use of locally sourced timber.

To directly link our intervention projects to the Water Framework Directive objectives, monitoring will be required take account of all surface waters, groundwaters, groundwater dependant wetlands and protected areas within the headwater stream catchments we work on.

For each we will monitor a range of parameters including:

  • biology (phytoplankton, diatoms, macrophytes, invertebrates and fish)
  • hydromorphology
  • physico-chemical (including pollutants)
  • priority and priority-hazardous substances

The Water Framework Directive compatible monitoring will be developed using the European Commission's Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) guidance and the UK Technical Advisory Group paper 12a. The SWT Wetland Ecologist undertaking the headwater interventions will design a specific programme suitable for the site and appoint relevant independent monitoring contractors.

Who will benefit?

Landowners & Managers in the Churnet Valley

Our headwaters project will target upland landowners where tributaries of the Churnet arise, at least 25 land managers will be engaged and will benefit from an improved attitude and commitment to nature conservation management of land.

Churnet Valley Businesses

The Headwaters project will directly benefit small agricultural contractors, who will be engaged to undertake heavy timber work, fencing, re-profiling etc. We will also purchase products for the project from woodland managers within the Churnet Valley, directly promoting the Sustainable Woodland Project (CVLLP 1).

CVLLP Partnership: The Accredited Training Package (CVLLP 22) will benefit from access to a professional freshwater ecologist expert. Internal support will be expected in the region of two working days per year toward assisting with ATP.

The Wider Churnet Valley Community

The SWT Senior Wetland Ecologist will also undertake practical events aiming to involve at least 300 people in headwaters protection projects and resultant improved understanding of the needs of nature conservation and land management.

Information shared at a professional level

The aim of the Headwaters project is to demonstrate novel and relatively innovative soft methods of headwater protection, using materials derived locally as part of a holistic approach to management at a landscape level. This is complex and challenging role and the Wetland Ecologist will be in a position to share the experience with wetland and environmental managers through presentations at two national level conferences and one European conference. Although the Wetland Ecologist will be expected to organise and attend these events he will be able to take others with them, particularly practicing landowners who have become involved in the project and representatives of other partners whose projects have had significant crossover and added value to the Headwaters Project.

Outputs and outcomes

Measuring the Headwaters Project

6 projects which together will result in:

  • 20 tonnes of locally sourced timber used in each of four sites
  • one weir removal and one culvert removal / modification will be completed opening up at least 2km of watercourse
  • 2km of additional 6m wide buffer strips
  • manage invasive plant species over 6km of headwater

There will also be a monitoring and evaluation report suitable for wetland managers and derived layman’s reports which will feed into our interpretation strategy.


At least 25 land managers with a demonstrably improved attitude and commitment to nature conservation management of land, having been involved in the headwaters projects. At least 6 land managers with non-grant based financial benefit, derived from physical works that have contributed to agricultural sustainability and/or compliance with statutory requirements such as the Nitrates Directive.

At least 3,000 people with improved understanding of the needs of nature conservation and land management.


Projects will be carried out on private land and owners will be required to sign the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership “Third Party Agreement” in order to meet the after project requirements of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Risks and constraints

Operational Risks

This project will be contracted to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to deliver over the agreed project period. The Senior Wetland Ecologist at the Trust is responsible for ensuring the projects are delivered to a suitable standard, including engaging and liaising on ecological and hydromorphological monitoring contracts. Operational risks are therefore transferred to that organisation.

Project Delivery Risks

Risk: Poor weather may reduce partners’ abilities to deliver concrete projects within described timescales. This is liable to have a minimal effect as timescales for work in a given year are based upon seasonality of work rather than the amount that needs doing. Exceptionally wet periods may result in difficult access to river banks and

wetlands, but we expect this to cause delays rather than reduce outputs.

Risk: Failure of land managers to take part in headwaters’ intervention projects. We are committed to putting in place a set of interventions that can be demonstrated in series along headwaters; in order to do this we'll need to identify neighbouring site owners willing to work together. Our current projects (part-funded by the Esme Fairbairn Foundation) has committed considerable resources to this, and sites with plans and landowners’ permissions will be in place (at least provisionally) prior to the CVLLP delivery project commencing.

Constraints, licences, permits etc

Land drainage consent is required for work in rivers. SWT has considerable experience of obtaining these consents for the types of work that will be carried out, and a good working relationship with the Environment Agency, and do not expect any problems. Further consents will be required from Natural England for schemes within SSSIs. Statutory bodies Natural England, The Environment Agency and DEFRA are all involved with this project and have positively fed into its planning and this bid submission.

Post Project Failure Risks

Risk: abandonment of initiatives once CVLLP support and assistance has been removed is a very real issue, one that we are targeting through the emphasis upon how headwater projects can help meet statutory outcomes under the Water Framework and Nitrates Directives.

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and other partners will maintain an "After-CVLLP (HLF element)" website, where they intend to build upon what has been achieved and to use the Ecosystem Services Model to keep the valley in the forefront of innovative landscape scale countryside management. The Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership has long-term aims well beyond the life of this project.

There is a large tourism element within the Churnet Valley and it has been identified as a Sustainable Tourism Corridor for the Staffordshire Moorlands. Tourism in this area is ‘sold’ with a heavy emphasis upon landscape and sustainability; the biodiversity outcomes of this project will be interpreted and promoted for many years to come. The dedicated Website and Downloads will be maintained independently but our partners will also maintain weblinks and information on their sites.

All partners have a long-term commitment to The Churnet Valley with SWT and RSPB owning and managing Nature Reserves and British Waterways owning and managing a canal. We and our other partners are committed to maintaining the impetus of the project, continued interpretation of our project and the dissemination of information about our activities.

Climate change

The Headwaters Project will demonstrate effective methods for headwater streams’ protection, including physical actions which will slow, and hold, water in the upper catchment areas. Climate change is expected to create more frequent, more unpredictable and more violent flooding events. Demonstrable projects such as this will help inform others about projects that can be achieved which meet multiple outcomes, including natural flood management and protection.

Our Headwaters project will act to strengthen freshwater communities within the Churnet Valley, helping them become better connected, healthier and more robust, hence better equipped to cope with climate change.

Invasive species

The increased presence of invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam, giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed has reached a point where they are a significant risk to the wet/damp woodland communities of the valley.  Through our headwaters project we will identify and tackle upstream sources of invasive species, particularly Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed at their highest point on the watershed.


The potential for transfer of non-native species and pathogens upstream when working on headwaters is high, therefore biosecurity discipline will be maintained at all times and all contractors will be required to adhere to strict biosecurity procedures outlines in their contracts and supplied by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Senior Ecologist.

Environmental Policy

Reduce travel:  To reduce travel to a minimum, meetings will all be held in the project area. Where possible, site management equipment will be stored in the project area negating the need to bring it in from distance. There will be a ‘hot desk’ within the CVLLP area that SWT can use when working in the area.

Efficient travel: Vehicles provided for the project staff will be low carbon emissions vehicles.

Green Procurement: Within our project we will identify and 'economise' the biodiversity resources of the Churnet Valley, by purchasing/ using woodland based products to deliver other elements of the project, including headwaters and canal/river protection. For the appointment of external contractors we will make use of the EU Green Procurement Toolkit to maximise environmental benefit.

Discipline: Project staff will be expected to comply with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Environmental Policy