‘Hideous’ River Trent becomes first major waterway to be rerouted to encourage otters and trout

Helena Horton
·3-min read
Otters will be given habitat on an old flooding ground - James Warwick
Otters will be given habitat on an old flooding ground - James Warwick

The 'hideous' stretch of the River Trent running through Stoke is set to be the first major waterway to be rerouted in order to provide habitat for otters and trout.

Pressure from environment charities has been building as they ask the government to bring our rivers back to their natural state. The Trent in particular has come under fire, with the local Wildlife Trust calling it "hideous".

 "The current site is hideous, it's concrete slabs, flat-bottomed, not a natural bit to it. It is unsightly - that has been the feedback from local residents," Richard Guy from Staffordshire Wildlife Trust said.

Rivers running through industrial towns and cities were historically straightened and stripped of nature in order to help boat trade and funnel pollution, but now the government is aiming to right that wrong and 're-wiggle' our waterways.

Stoke-on-Trent New river channel
Stoke-on-Trent New river channel

The Environment Agency is working with Natural England to provide more such meanders in straight sections of river, including on the Cole in Birmingham, also a straight stretch of the Trent which runs through Staffordshire University grounds in Stoke-on-Trent which is being replaced with about 400ms of meander.

These meanders will slow the flow of the river and provide more space for water, which will reduce flooding.

This stretch of the Trent is being taken through the now derelict Victoria football ground, which has been left empty since Stoke City Football Club moved to the Britannia Stadium in 1998. Approximately 40,000 tonnes of earth has been dug out for the new channel.  The existing channel was made of concrete and used to funnel pollution out of the city during the Industrial Revolution. 

Now, it is hoped the river will draw locals to come and enjoy the nature which will populate the new stretch. Officials hope it will support kingfishers, invertebrates, otters, trout, and other fish including bullheads.

The project is beginning to take shape
The project is beginning to take shape

Matt Laurence from the Environment Agency explained: "Before the Industrial Revolution, the headwaters of the Trent supported a thriving salmon fishery, but the pollution from new industries and sewage discharges from the rapid population increase, as pottery factories sprang up around the area, meant a massive and serious decline in the quality of the Trent and its tributaries.

"Fish disappeared from the river and pollution became so dreadful that in 1905 the Duke of Sutherland (the then owner of the nearby Trentham Estate) described the river as being an 'intolerable nuisance' and of having a 'most foul and offensive stench'."

 Now, the river is recovering, but there are still straight, concrete stretches which do not sufficiently support wildlife.

Brown trout will hopefully soon fill the stretch of river
Brown trout will hopefully soon fill the stretch of river

Environmental campaigners have been asking the government for some time to return our urban rivers to a more natural state, to bring beauty to city centres and stop biodiversity decline.

Mr Laurence added: "For the residents of Stoke-on-Trent, and for wildlife, this is an imaginative and inspiring use of a derelict brownfield site. Where once the noise of fans rang out on a Saturday afternoon, it’s hoped it will soon be the plop of fish swimming and whistle of birdsong filling the air instead. And, we will all take on responsibility for ensuring this new stretch of the Trent is protected for generations to come."