Angling Trust National Regions Manager John Cheyne looks back over the campaign to “Save Powick Weir” and celebrates a great result for fish and anglers alike…..
After over a year of meetings, lobbying, Facebook fall-outs and protests I attended one of those meeting last week that reminds you that all the hard work is worthwhile.
For those of you who aren’t aware, there was a huge amount of concern amongst anglers about the announcement from the Environment Agency, in late 2015 that they intended to remove the historic weir at Powick at the bottom end of the River Teme in on the outskirts of Worcester. The reason for the removal was to improve passage to upstream spawning grounds for endangered Twaite Shad as part of the wider “Unlocking The Severn” project being carried out by the Environment Agency, Canal & Rivers Trust, Natural England and the Severn Rivers Trust.
“There’s nothing wrong with improving fish passage” I hear you cry and to a great extent I would agree with you. However in this case there was a real fear that full removal would have resulted in a dramatic lowering of water levels and river depths for over a mile upstream and many local anglers were worried about the effect this would have on fishing opportunity in the area and the knock on effect to angling clubs who control the water. The Teme has suffered a good deal from a loss of fish stocks particularly since the floods of 2007 and barbel fishing in the lower and middle reaches really is currently a shadow of what it was. With some important clubs dependent on angling at the bottom end of the Teme for their very existence, the idea that water levels might be drastically reduced, leaving long stretches un-fishable was a huge concern.
Over the course of the next year the Angling Trust liaised closely with the clubs, the newly formed “Save Powick Weir Group” and the Environment Agency, to try to ensure that the concerns of anglers were given a proper hearing and the needs of angling were taken into consideration as the project was being developed. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t always easy. At times people were angry and trying to act as a middle man to broker an agreement and ensure we got the right result for both fish passage and the angling clubs involved wasn’t always an easy position to be in. It helped a lot that I’ve fished the bottom end of the Teme myself many times and so had a very personal reason to want to succeed.
Eventually we all ended up in a meeting at “The Hive” in Worcester last week looking at the final plans for the revised “partial” weir removal. The plan now involves the lowering of the weir rather than full removal, stabilising the new river bed using locally sourced rock and construction of a narrow rocky channel for fish passage at low flows. The specific inclusion of the low flow channel allows water levels upstream to be retained higher than would have been the case under the full removal scenario investigated initially.
Interestingly the idea of a partial weir with a lowered channel in the middle is far from new, in fact for many years that was exactly how the Weir on the Teme looked. There has been a mill of sorts taking water from the Teme at Powcik since the 11th century and the Mill Leat itself was dug as early as 1291. However in Victorian times the mill was converted into the UK’s first ever Hydro Electricity station and the weir was changed to include a large sluice gate that could be closed to ensure enough water was passing down the sluice to power the hydro. However by the 1950’s the Hydro was no longer in use and at some point between then and the 1980’s the sluice itself was welded open, which meant that a central channel was always available for fish passage upstream even in times of low flow. This is perfectly illustrated by this fantastic photo of my Angling Trust colleague, Dilip Sarkar, fishing below the weir, while being watched by his family in the 1970’s
It is well worth remembering that it was in this 1960’s-1980’s period that barbel really established themselves in the Teme, having been introduced to the Severn in 1956. Certainly their passage upstream in low water conditions would be far easier than in recent years as the Sluice was removed and the weir built up during the in the late 1980’s. The difference can be seen clearly in the picture below showing how the weir looks today.
The new design that was unveiled at the meeting should have less impact on water levels and river depths than a full removal and the much improved fish passage it will provide should be great news not just for the endangered shad that is at the heart of the project but also barbel, salmon and all the key fish species that have historically made the Teme such an iconic river for anglers.
Recent studies into the Teme barbel populations have shown that there are many fish that try to move above Powick Weir to find spawning grounds further up river that are not able to get past the weir unless flow conditions are ideal. This revised scheme should provide safe passage for barbel to move up the river freely to spawn and re-populate the river that is so loved by anglers both locally and nationally.
All in all it’s been very rewarding to have had the opportunity to represent the key local angling clubs and the Save Powick Weir Group over the past year and between us we have ensured that anglers have had a strong voice and angling interests were treated with the importance they deserve when the final decisions about this exciting project were considered. Credit should go to the key Clubs involved: Worcester Angling Society, St John Angling Society, The Barbel Society, The Birmingham Anglers Association, Wards 84 and White Swan Piscatorials along with Lawrence Breakspear of the “Save Powick Weir Group” Credit should also go to the EA team led by Alan Jones and particularly to Paul Herickx who was project manager that came up with the revised scheme and Lara Williams who was the key liaison for the EA.
It is expected that construction on the new fish passage will begin in late spring 2018. Let’s hope is is the start of a renaissance for the Teme Barbel population and the shad alike.