THE £35 million Salisbury River Park project has taken a big step forward with the reopening of a city-centre section of the Avon.
The River Avon channel in the Central Car Park area has been hailed as a major milestone for the project, which aims to reduce flood risk to more than 350 homes and businesses in Salisbury.
It is also set to provide major ecological, amenity, walking and cycling benefits, as well as significantly improving biodiversity and public realm in the area.
The Salisbury River Park project is a collaboration between Wiltshire Council, the Environment Agency and Salisbury City Council.
The river channel, and adjoining floodplain, has been closed since summer 2022.
It has has been widened to increase capacity and reduce the risk of flooding, with a new control weir replacing the sluice gate between Millstream and the main River Avon, with a series of rock weirs added to allow the drop in water level while still allowing upstream and downstream fish passage.
The previous gate acted as a barrier to fish migrating upstream, with the new channel designed to improve habitat connectivity and biodiversity, Wiltshire Council said.
Water will be released back into the channel in controlled amounts to enable on-site teams to monitor the impact on the new channel and adjoining watercourses.
Before the channel was closed, a fish rescue was carried out, with around 1,000 fish moved to the adjacent watercourse, including juvenile Barbel, Salmon Parr, juvenile Chub and Dace.
Cllr Richard Clewer, leader of Wiltshire Council, said: “It is a key priority for us to protect Wiltshire’s natural beauty, and that its unique habitats and wildlife are nurtured.
“Salisbury is widely recognised as one of England’s best places to live and acts as a base to discover it’s surrounding countryside and heritage.
“It is great that we have got to the stage where the River Avon channel is being reopened and we can’t wait to once again see fish and other wildlife back in this section of the river.
“We hope that once complete, the Salisbury River Park project will not only provide great environmental and biodiversity improvements, but also encourage more people to visit and spend time in the city centre.”
Throughout the work, ecologists are surveying and monitoring the area for all animals to minimise risks to habitats.
Each stage of works has been timed to minimise impact on animals, with the reopening of the channel due to be completed before the fish migration season starts in November.
Project Lead for the Environment Agency, Andy Wallis, said: “Allowing flow back into the River Avon channel is an important milestone for the Salisbury River Park project.
“This part of the scheme will be essential in achieving our aims to remove barriers to fish movement throughout this area. We look forward to seeing how the channel establishes.”
And Mayor of Salisbury, Cllr Atiqul Hoque, added: “This is a great step forward in the River Park Project, very excited can’t wait to see the end result.
“Salisbury is lucky to be home to a range of wildlife and habitats and it is important that we can protect and nurture them.
“I look forward to seeing fish back in this area of the river and just in time for the migration season.”
The next stage of the work will see landscaping and planting alongside the Avon channel get underway, with a new Summerlock stream channel being connected to the main channel at Ashley Road open space.
For more information on the project, log on to www.salisburyriverparkphase1.com.