Case study:River Nene Nature Improvement Area

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Location: 52° 14' 26", -0° 54' 10"
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Project overview

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Status In progress
Project web site
Themes Economic aspects, Fisheries, Flood risk management, Habitat and biodiversity, Hydromorphology, Social benefits, Urban
Country England
Main contact forename Simon
Main contact surname Whitton
Main contact user ID
Contact organisation River Restoration Centre
Contact organisation web site
Partner organisations Natural England, Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire
Parent multi-site project
This is a parent project
encompassing the following
Backwater created on the River Ise (Rushton Loop)

Project summary

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What is the Nene Valley NIA?

Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) were introduced by the government’s Natural Environment White Paper (June 2011) to “enhance and reconnect nature on a significant scale”. The Nene Valley NIA includes the River Nene and its main tributaries, plus a 3km radius on either side, from Daventry to Peterborough (41,350 hectares in total), and contains a fragmented network of statutory and non- statutory sites, such as SSSIs and SAPs. At 161km, it is the tenth longest river in the UK, and, being navigable from the Wash to Northampton (142km), is highly managed with locks and other infrastructure.

It is located in the UK’s second largest growth area and is therefore exposed to significant development pressure. These include built development, increasing inappropriate public access, and competition for water resources. Land management practices threaten ecosystem services and the connectivity of habitats.

Aims and objectives: The NIA will reverse the decline in biodiversity and restore the ecological network in the Nene Valley. It will help meet the challenges of a growing population, changing climate, and need to produce food while realising complimentary benefits that create a naturally functioning interlinked landscape. The NIA has 5 objectives, including: enhancing public access and awareness of the NIA; supporting development which will benefit the natural environment; engaging with farmers and improving ecosystems services. The Nene NIA is currently funded from 2013-2015 by Natural England.

Objective 3 of the NIA is to “improve the ecological status of the river and enhance ecosystem service provision”. Much of the Nene is in Water Framework Directive poor ecological status due to diffuse pollution, water abstraction, and heavily modified river morphology due to channel alteration for navigation and flood risk management. These issues account for approximately 75% of the reasons for waterbodies in the Nene catchment failing to meet good status or potential.

The Nene Valley NIA Partnership was formed by its stakeholders to enable a strategic and joined up approach to tackling these issues. The stakeholders form a coalition of experts including new partners and others well established in the valley. These include; River Nene Regional Park, the Environment Agency, the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust and the River Restoration Centre.

Monitoring surveys and results

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Under objective 3 of the NIA walkover surveys to assess the habitat of the main Nene have been completed. Walkovers are also used to identify opportunities for habitat restoration. The river’s major tributaries are now being assessed.

So far three projects have been delivered:

  • Duston, Northampton: marginal habitat has been improved upstream of St James End Weir.
  • Rushton, near Kettering: a 45m-long backwater has been created by excavating part of an old meander loop.
  • Orton Lock, Peterborough: an area of bank erosion downstream of the lock has been stabilised by “cutting & hinging” live willow into the scour holes and then adding further brushwood.

Restoration options on the main river are limited due to navigation and flood risk management. Proposed projects include the construction of fish easements on barriers, the excavation/re-connection of backwaters for fish spawning and refuges and improving urban marginal river habitats.

Lessons learnt

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Image gallery

An example of improved urban marginal river habitat on the Nene
Scour holes at Orton lock packed with woody material
Marginal habitat improvement upstream of St James End Weir at Duston, Northamptonshire
Cattle poaching causing bank erosion on the Nene
Heavily modified channel of the Nene: dredging and construction of flood bunds to contain high flows disconnecting the river from its floodplain

Catchment and subcatchment


River basin district Anglian
River basin Nene


River name Nene
Area category 10 - 100 km²
Area (km2)
Maximum altitude category 100 - 200 m
Maximum altitude (m) 161
161 m
0.161 km
16,100 cm
Dominant geology Calcareous
Ecoregion Great Britain
Dominant land cover Arable and Horticulture
Waterbody ID GB105032045300


WFD water body codes GB105032045300
WFD (national) typology
WFD water body name Nene
Pre-project morphology
Reference morphology
Desired post project morphology
Heavily modified water body No
National/international site designation
Local/regional site designations
Protected species present No
Invasive species present No
Species of interest
Dominant hydrology
Dominant substrate
River corridor land use
Average bankfull channel width category
Average bankfull channel width (m)
Average bankfull channel depth category
Average bankfull channel depth (m)
Mean discharge category
Mean annual discharge (m3/s)
Average channel gradient category
Average channel gradient
Average unit stream power (W/m2)

Project background

Reach length directly affected (m)
Project started
Works started
Works completed
Project completed
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Cost for project phases

Phase cost category cost exact (k€) Lead organisation Contact forename Contact surname
Investigation and design
Stakeholder engagement and communication
Works and works supervision
Post-project management and maintenance

Reasons for river restoration

Mitigation of a pressure Barriers to fish migration, Flood risk management, Impoundments (not hydropower), Navigation, Urbanisation
Hydromorphology Channel pattern/planform, Continuity for organisms, Continuity of sediment transport, Quantity & dynamics of flow
Biology Fish, Invertebrates
Physico-chemical Nutrient concentrations, Specific synthetic pollutants
Other reasons for the project


Structural measures
Bank/bed modifications Bank improvement, Bank stabilisation, Creation of fish refuge areas, Fenced off riverbank, Habitat diversification
Floodplain / River corridor Installing riverside fencing, Reduce diffuse pollution, Creation of backwaters, Installing riverside fencing, Riparian planting
Planform / Channel pattern Creation of backwater
Non-structural measures
Management interventions
Social measures (incl. engagement)


Hydromorphological quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Biological quality elements

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Physico-chemical quality elements

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Any other monitoring, e.g. social, economic

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Monitoring documents

Additional documents and videos

Additional links and references

Link Description Nene Valley NIA website Wildlife Trusts BCN website - Nene Valley NIA River Nene Regional Park website Files/River Nene Regional Park/Projects/NICP/Nene%20Catchment%20Reportw.pdf Draft River Nene Catchment Management Plan

Supplementary Information

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