P1000730The path from the end of the Weir to All Hallows (officially named as Footpath 18) is to be closed from 29th October (update: since delayed a few days) for a major river bank refurbishment programme which will enhance the footpath for all.

As well as repairing and improving the path and banks there will also be a new gates at each end, a dog dip area and planting. Great care is being taken to protect the special environment within the area. It is exciting and much needed work particularly as Access to the River was a high wish within the Neighbourhood Plan.

The Footpath is to be closed from Monday 29th October (update: since delayed a few days) to Monday 19th November, or until completion of the works, whichever is the sooner.

The works include:

  1. addressing the extreme bank erosion in front of and downstream of the bench area
  2. installing a kissing gate at the All Hallows end of the footpath and a staggered gate at The Weir entrance to deter the illegal use of cycles, while allowing easy access for walkers
  3. creating a dedicated ‘dog dip’ along the riverbank so that dogs can enter the water without damaging the rest of the riverbank
  4. laying down more slate pieces and carrying out repairs along the footpath, particularly in areas which have become boggy and churned up in the winter
  5. making the footpath more pleasant and enjoyable for walkers by planting more native UK plants along the flint wall and in areas where the bank has been reclaimed

Any further details are available from andy.aitkin@hants.gov.uk or contact the Countryside Access Team on 0300 555 1391 or email countryside@hants.gov.uk

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The plans in more detail:
The following is a detailed explanation and description of the works from the landowners who are doing their best to maintain the riverbanks and the footpath. There needs to be a careful balance.

They say:

We wanted to get in touch to let you know about a major river bank refurbishment program that we will be undertaking along the footpath between Fulling Mill and All Hallows in late October / early November with professionals from the Wild Trout Trust, Wessex Rivers Trust, and students at Sparsholt College.

Our overriding intention with these works is to improve the standard of the footpath and the surrounding river and banks so that we can look to preserve and protect this well-loved and special site in Whitchurch for the long-term.

I am sure you will have noted the degree of river bank erosion in various places along the footpath between Fulling Mill and All Hallows Church and indeed a deterioration of the path in several places too.

P1000723In particular, the bank areas around and downstream of the bench, particularly by the adjacent tree, are severely eroded and this is a cause of real concern, both to us as the landowner, and to the Environment Agency and Natural England who have noted its extreme state of disrepair. The severe scale of the erosion can be seen by the wooden stakes in the river that now stand some way away from the bank’s edge. These stakes originally marked where the edge of the original bank would have been.

The illegal use of bikes along the path and dog owners ignoring signs and allowing dogs to jump down the banks into the river has also sped up the degradation, particularly during periods of rain and during the winter. We know that the footpath is increasingly likely to be used as a cut-through from Winchester Road, given the building development, and foresee the issue of cycle usage as an increasing cause for concern.

This isn’t good for either walkers or the flora and fauna: the path and river margins have become overly narrow and proximity to the river and bankside vegetation has led to flooding, waterlogged puddles, and some rather tight squeezes, excessive run-off, and bank collapse.

As owners and custodians of the land, the Highways Agency require us to keep the footpath in good condition for walkers, while the Environment Agency and Natural England require us to maintain the banks and river in keeping with their SSSI status. The poor state of the river and banks has been noted by the Environment Agency, Natural England, and The Wild Trout Trust in 2006, 2016 and in 2018.

We have therefore sought advice and permissions from The Environment Agency, Natural England, The Wild Trout Trust, Wessex Rivers Trust, The Highways Agency, and Basingstoke & Deane Council to repair much of the damage and to protect these repairs from degrading in the future.

We aim to complete the works as swiftly as possible.

P1000734It is a major undertaking, both in terms of financial investment on our side, as well as time commitment from experts and professionals from the Wild Trout Trust and Wessex Rivers Trust along with approximately 20 students from Sparsholt College.

We hope that the repairs to the bank, particularly around the upstream limits of our land where the footpath from All Hallows meets the river will please you and the other measures we are taking to preserve the river, banks, and footpath within this SSSI will allow this very special area to be enjoyed by responsible walkers for years to come. All the works are being funded by ourselves, with planning, advice and help provided by The Environment Agency, The Wild Trout Trust, Wessex Chalk Stream & Rivers Trust, Basingstoke & Deane Council and Sparsholt College. The latter will also be providing some of the ‘muscle’ to complete the works, so we can re-open the path as quickly as possible.

Going forward, post riverbank refurbishment, our intention is to work with Hampshire Wildlife Trust and Wessex Rivers Trust to deliver nature outreach education sessions along the footpath, specifically for local Whitchurch primary school children, and ideally the wider Whitchurch community. The bench area will be used as a congregation point for that.


johnb