River Rib Buntingford Urban Restoration

This project looked to restore of an urban stretch of the River Rib in Buntingford, aiming to improve biodiversity without effecting conveyance during high flow events. Urban complexities meant the project had a number of challenges which the team had to work to. 

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RJBull Ltd undertook the restoration of an urban stretch of the River Rib in Buntingford, aiming to improve fish passage, establish vegetation, increase sinuosity, and create diverse habitats amidst urban complexities. The project aimed to improve biodiversity without effecting conveyance during high flow events. Limited site access posed challenges for logistical operations and construction activities, necessitating manual labour and the use of a micro excavator to complete the works.

The Aim?

  • Input low-level berms to enhance habitat complexity and provide planting areas.
  • Selectively coppice trees to improve light penetration.
  • Improve fish passage by altering bed levels and directing flows.
  • Establish riparian vegetation for berm stability and habitat.
  • Increase sinuosity at low flows without creating flood risk.
  • Educate the public about the importance of urban river restoration.

What were the challenges?

  • Channel was very shaded
  • Situated in a very urban environment with sheer concrete walls
  • Little to no vegetation in the river
  • Very straight channel
  • Multiple impoundments effecting natural fluvial processes
  • Biosecurity risk due to surface drainage and surrounding properties
  • Multiple health and safety hazards due to litter and sheer banks
  • Concrete riverbed in places
  • Poor site access due to the urban environment
  • Fast changing water levels in high rainfall events
  • Multiple footpaths and a large public interest

Before: The overgrown and low flow River Rib in Buntingford before works

What were the results?

Our team selectively coppiced trees along the riverbank creating pockets of sunlight and promoting vegetation growth. Low-level berms were constructed using coppiced timber and coir rolls, reintroducing sinuosity throughout the channel to enhance flow dynamics and habitat diversity. The timbers and coir were fixed to the bed using reinforcing, this preventing them from being swept away in high flow situations and allowed berms to be put on areas of concrete riverbed. Bed material was then used to back fill behind the timber to provide substrate for planting, this also created fish-friendly currents during lower flows. Berms were planted with native riparian and marginal species helping create habitat complexity and enhance refuge opportunities for local wildlife.

Lower sections of the reach had previously undergone armaments using large riprap which was impounding lower flows and providing no benefit to overall flow dynamics. Our team regraded this material to formalise the low flow channel, adding meanders and protecting banks and surrounding structures dissipating energy in higher flows.

During: The sheer banks meant limited access

During: Building of the berms

A more diverse environment was also achieved by provided nesting and habitat opportunities for a wide range of terrestrial species, through the installation of nesting boxes, kingfisher burrows and habitat piles made from excess coppiced material.

Through innovation and dedication, the River Rib Buntingford was successfully transformed, demonstrating the potential for river restoration in challenging urban environments. Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust organised local talks and installed informative signage, and a constant level of communication and engagement with the local community from us and Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust raised awareness of the significance of urban rivers and the importance of conservation efforts.

During: Increased flow