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The Environment Agency working together with Havant Borough Council started works in 1999 to transform almost a kilometre of the Hermitage Stream from a concrete channel to a more natural state in the centre of Leigh Park, Havant.

At the time it was one of the country’s largest river restoration projects and had to face the challenges of working in an urban environment, with a constricted green corridor, no flood plain, flows that vary from a trickle to a raging torrent, and within the constraints of the available funding.

The aims of the rehabilitation project were to:

  • Ensure that the existing level of flood defence was maintained;
  • Restore/improve the stream to a more natural river environment;
  • Create a green and pleasant place for all to enjoy for recreation, amenity, education and wildlife;
  • Carry out the works within a previously identified 1.5 kilometre stretch of the stream.
Critical to the success of the project was gaining public support. To raise awareness of the project amongst local people, a leaflet was produced that incorporated the project’s logo, ‘Hermi the hedgehog’, which itself was developed by local school children. A newsletter was produced, a press release issued and a public launch followed discussion meetings held at the local Community school in 1997. Whilst the project gained overwhelming public support, it wasn’t until 1999 that the works got underway

Fundamental to the acceptability of the scheme was the requirement to maintain the existing levels of flood defence, which ranged from an estimated 1:100 year to 1:500 year flood protection level.

A further requirement was to design the re-engineered stream in such a way that it was safer than a smooth concrete channel. This was particularly important as the fence along the stream was going to be removed to open it up for public access, and bring it back as a feature of the green open space, not a blot on the landscape to be hidden. Here the gradient of the banks were considerably reduced and gravel was added to the streambed.

Other design challenges included the protecting and safeguarding the labyrinth of underground services that exist in the area, which include two main sewers that run parallel to the stream. this was essential so as to minimise the risk of future costly bank protection work. The low bank gradient has reduced the opportunity for lateral erosion and it was decided to keep the concrete bed of the channel intact to protect against downward erosion. For the project team this was at first a great disappointment; however this potential eyesore has been overcome by placing gravel over the concrete which is kept in place by oak timber beams. The beams have also been used to create cells for planting marginal plants and to secure coir matting which has helped stabilise the bankside soil and gives the marginal planting a chance to get established. The plants not only help to protect against bank erosion but they provide habitat diversity, colour, variation and form.

To maximising the benefits of the project through recreation, education and amenity the community was involved by working with local volunteers and school children (Barncroft and Park Com) in planting trees, waterside plants and a major spring cleaning event. Here the emphasis has been upon involving local people so that they become interested in their stream and begin to look after it for present and future generations.

Two cycle-way/footpaths were constructed that are now regularly used and provide access to local shops and the town centre and a children’s play area has been rebuilt. The Hermitage Stream is much more than a river restoration project – it is about urban renewal and improving the quality of people’s lives.

During the restoration of the stream in 1999, over 700m3 of concrete was removed and recycled. Now the stream is a green and pleasant place for all to enjoy – a genuine patch of countryside in a densely populated urban setting.

The Environment Agency is now currently exploring the possibility of further restoration work along the stream to improve water quality, biodiversity and amenity value.


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