Re-introduction of structurally complex wood jams promotes channel and habitat recovery from overwidening: implications for river conservation
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
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1. Large wood is a powerful geomorphic agent in rivers, providing important habitat functions for a range of aquatic organisms, but has been subject to a long history of removal. 2. Internationally, approaches to river restoration are increasingly incorporating large wood features, but generally favour simple flow deflectors (e.g. single logs, stripped of branches and anchored in place) over more complex structures that more accurately mimic natural wood jams. 3. This paper explores channel response to wood-based restoration of an overwidened lowland chalk stream that incorporated whole felled trees. Hydraulics, sediment, topography and vegetation data were assessed for a three year period for two restored reaches: an upstream reach where pre-restoration baseline data were obtained, and a downstream reach restored prior to data collection. 4. Where pre-restoration data were available, the introduction of wood jams generated sediment deposition within jams leading to the development of vegetated marginal ‘benches’ and bed scour in adjacent areas of flow convergence. Patterns were less clear in the downstream reach, where restoration design was less ambitious and outcomes may have been impacted by subsequent restoration work upstream. 5. The results indicate that reintroduction of large wood (whole trees), can promote channel and habitat recovery from overwidening in lowland rivers, creating important ecological benefits through the provision of structurally complex marginal habitat and associated food resources. Longer-term assessments are required to establish whether the trajectories of change are persistent. 6. The work emphasises the effectiveness of restoration approaches that aim to ‘work with nature’. The ambitious design, incorporating structurally complex wood jams, was also low-cost, using materials available from the river corridor (existing riparian trees). Furthermore, ecosystem engineering effects were amplified by the colonisation of wood jams by aquatic vegetation. The approach should, therefore, be transferable to other lowland rivers, subject to wider catchment constraints.