Ancient methods get to root of river erosion

River banks in Lincolnshire are being protected using traditional methods dating back hundreds of years.

Environment Agency teams have in the past used modern engineering methods including using steel piles, wooden planks and large slabs of frost-proof stone to prevent bank erosion on the River Ancholme - all of which have a limited shelf life.

Now they are going back to basics and employing a traditional method known as willow spilling where a living screen of willow is interwoven into a lattice of soft wooden stakes along the riverbank, forming a solid mass of roots which protects the bank soil being eroded.

Keith Stothard, EA operations delivery team leader said: "This traditional craft has many advantages over other bank protection methods, as we are using a natural product that has an indefinite life span and which also provides a haven for local wildlife and consumes greenhouse gases.

"We are also saving money, as we are using willow that has been cut from the banks of the River Trent during routine maintenance and making good use of it here. This means that the money saved can be used elsewhere in our maintenance programme.'

Mr Stothard's team has protected around 4km of riverbank along the River Ancholme north of Brandy Wharf using the willow spilling method, and hopes to do more and more as they start to cut their own crop of willow.

"We can't use willow spilling everywhere, but we'll be using this method more frequently as soon as the willow from the first lot that we planted grows tall enough to be cut and used elsewhere.

"This will be even more cost effective than having it donated from the team on the Trent," he said.

"Sometimes the old methods really are the best."

Sam Bond



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