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The River Crane: reworked, restored and re-naturalised

Posted: Tuesday 22nd December 2015 by

River restoration at Crane MeadowsRiver restoration at Crane Meadows

Working waist-deep in a west London river can be wet and wearisome, but for Tom White, a conservation project officer with London Wildlife Trust, it’s all in a day’s work.

For close to three years, Tom has been coordinating volunteers, trainees and community partners with the aim of re-naturalising the River Crane, an important wildlife corridor and one of the main tributaries of the River Thames in Greater London. 

In the past the ecological condition of the River Crane has been badly affected by attempts to control its flow, destroying natural habitats and undermining the river’s ability to sustain wildlife. In a bid to restore the river, a plan was produced by London Wildlife Trust to re-naturalise the river, enhancing the habitats for wildlife whilst also improving public access so that more people could enjoy the river and associated wildlife. 

River restoration isn’t easy work. Designs were drawn up to establish where our work could most benefit the river habitats and wildlife. Following the design stage, the physical challenge of undoing years of river alterations has involved thousands of hours of wet, muddy work, a great deal of volunteers and at some sites, a large yellow digger.

The Trust has aimed to deliver low impact interventions using on-site materials; working with natural processes to restore the river habitats. Berms have been created to change the speed of the river’s flow – creating pockets of slow and faster moving water that are used by different river species.

Large branches of hawthorn, blackthorn and chestnut are interwoven and secured with wire and wooden stakes and secured to the river bank. These berms interrupt the canalised flow of the river, and whilst they have been designed to degrade after a certain amount of time, they should trap enough sediment and sustain enough plant growth to retain their shape for many more years to come.

Another process Tom uses to return the river to its natural course is to reconnect old meanders that were cut off from the river when it was straightened in the past. This requires clearing the old meanders of silt, scrub and rubbish and then pouring a deep bed of gravel to divert much of the river back into its old meandering course. 

By reconnecting the river to these meanders, the River Crane’s flow dynamics have been dramatically improved, creating a more enriched habitat for the river’s aquatic species. The gravel beds also provide new habitat for river species that favour the shallow, turbulent water that tumbles over the gravel.

Images below show an old meander before and after its connection to the River Crane 

BeforeDuring restoration After

Our work so far:

After extensive work, supported by funding from Defra, LB Hounslow, Thames Water, SITA and the Environment Agency. the Trust has now enhanced significant sections of the river, improving the river banks and meanders at Crane Bank, Crane Meadows and Green Lane.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Tom on future river restoration projects, we provide training, equipment and the chance to get outside and make a positive impact on London’s wildlife and nature! If this has inspired you, we’d love you to join us! www.wildlondon.org.uk/volunteering-west-london

Visiting the Crane Valley

London Wildlife Trust reserves on or close to the River Crane:

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