The start of a new river restoration journey
By Keith Mansbridge, Higher Level Stewardship Works Supervisor with the Forestry Commission
As a practising Commoner, I turn out ponies all year round and pigs during the pannage season. It’s a way of life that I enjoy and my children also get involved, they even have their own ponies. I’d like to think they will follow in my footsteps one day, helping to manage the New Forest for future generations.
I’ve always wanted to follow in my forefathers steps, working and living in the New Forest, it’s in my blood. I come from a forest village near Bramshaw and my family is steeped in Commoning history in the New Forest. I can’t help thinking I was always destined to work in this unique environment. Many of my family members once worked in forestry and my Father also works for the Forestry Commission.
I joined the Commission in 2002 as a forest worker and spent over 10 years as a Tractor Operator. I could usually be found working alongside forest teams operating in all weathers with forestry machines on tough projects. It was my dream job that extended from loving what I did and caring about the woodland environment.
This year, I’ve taken on a new supervisory role with the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Team and I’ve learned so much from our team of experts, far more than I can put into this article. The team have been working hard to protect and restore the most fragile assets of the New Forest - to create a more resilient landscape. When I first joined the HLS Team, I didn’t understand what wetland restoration was really all about. I grasped that re-naturalising the habitat was a positive thing, but I was worried about seeing changes to the historic drainage channels in the open forest.
Now I’ve seen for myself how the forest soils, which often contain a greater amount of organic matter and are less compacted than other soils, can soak up a lot of water and release it slowly downstream after the rain has stopped. Within the floodplain, the ‘roughness’ and ‘drag’ of the woodland environment caused by the trees themselves, and features such as fallen trees and branches, tree stumps, shrubs and dead wood on the ground or in woodland streams can hold back and slow down the passage of water downstream.
Wetland restoration brings significant benefits to lots of wildlife and plant life that dwell in the New Forest's waterways. By removing the artificial embankments that were created by soil dug out from the drained channel, the water will once again be allowed to flow naturally and improve grazing land for the forest stock. As a commoner myself, I see the benefits of this Verderers’ HLS scheme and how it’s made a difference in the Forest.
Now I’m five months into my new role as Works Supervisor, I am looking forward to getting involved with a new wetland restoration project – we are about to start restoring the river to the area west of Wootton Bridge car park on 25 July, as long as this dry spell continues. This latest restoration work aims to return the artificially straightened Avon Water to its natural meanders.
I’ll be supervising the contractors on site during the next 10 weeks of the project. The area will remain open for recreational activities while the work takes place and we’ll try our best not to cause any unnecessary disruption to forest users. The Wootton Bridge car park will stay open and just to make sure that everyone stays safe we’ll be putting up signs and information about any diversions to the main tracks that may be temporarily closed to allow machinery to operate. The restoration works will only be carried out from Monday to Friday, so there will still be regular access for people during the evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays.
If like me, you want our rivers to be returned back to their original course as nature intended, you’ll understand that there is work to be done to restore river habitats and this is just the beginning.
If you would like more information about the restoration project visit: