The Environment Agency has teamed up with the National Trust to boost wildlife and increase fish numbers in a river beside one of Dorset's oldest watermills.
Historic White Mill stands beside the River Stour at Shapwick near Wimborne in peaceful countryside. It was a working corn mill until the end of the 19th Century before falling into disrepair and being left to the National Trust in 1982.
The Agency has worked closely with the National Trust to restore the weir, leat and tailrace at the mill to create a fish refuge area and valuable waterside habitats for animals such as the water vole, kingfisher and dragonfly.
In addition to boosting biodiversity, the £25,000 scheme has returned the site to a condition similar to that prior to 1866 when a severe winter storm damaged two weirs beyond repair. This catastrophic event deprived the mill of its water supply resulting in its demise.
The restoration has been led by the Agency’s Fisheries Recreation and Biodiversity Department and carried out by their colleagues in the Operational Delivery team. Work included re-profiling parts of the riverbank, de-silting the mill leat and constructing a new boulder weir just upstream of the mill.
Improvements have also been made to the tailrace pond that feeds water back into the river after it passes through the mill site. The project was carried out in phases, the last of which has now been completed and involved de-silting the mill pool using a mechanical digger.
Young fish (fry) are already using the newly-created refuge area in the mill pool. During recent monitoring more than 4,000 young minnow, roach, dace, stickleback and pike were found in the refuge. Barbel have also been seen swimming over the newly-cleaned gravel in the main river.
These are encouraging signs and are evidence of the scheme’s success. Agency officers will continue to monitor the site to assess how many and which species are using the mill pool.
‘The Dorset Stour can be a fast flowing river; particularly in the winter. These improvements will provide valuable refuges for young fish at times of high flow and create additional waterside habitats for wildlife. We would like to thank our Operational Delivery team who have done an excellent job and the National Trust for its co-operation and support,’ said Jim Allan, for the Environment Agency.
‘Improvements to the large tailrace pond will be especially beneficial to young fish that can shelter in its quieter waters when flows in the main river are high. In the summer, young coarse fish such as roach thrive in these sheltered refuge areas where the slightly raised water temperature aids the growth of young fish. It is a very important habitat that was lost and has now been re-instated to help ensure the survival of fish in the middle reaches of the Dorset Stour,’ said Jim Allan.
Photos are available showing White Mill before and after the habitat improvements. For further details contact the Environment Agency’s regional press office on 01392 442008.