2. St. John's Well river restoration scheme

Aims: Improve wildlife corridors; Work together

Water body: River Bulbourne
Project description

Restoration of the R. Bulbourne through an area of former watercress beds in Berkhamsted Town Centre.


A project to reinstate a more natural chalk stream channel through the former watercress beds at St. John’s Well, Berkhamsted, was first mooted in 1999. The area had been enlarged in the 1970’s to form a large ornamental lake.

In 2004 a steering group was formed to take the newly titled “Bulbourne Restoration Project“, forward. In the winter of 2004 2005, the Environment Agency started work on the St. John’s Well part of the scheme, forming a new, narrow river channel on the St. John’s Well Court side of the lake and backwater using hazel faggots. Silt was dredged from the new channel and backwater and was used to form the newly created bank.

Not enough silt was available to fill the new bank areas so a further phase of work completed was 2005 to fill the remaining bank areas with faggot bundles. With the narrowing work complete, the next step was to plant the newly formed banks. However, 2005 heralded the start of a severe, two year drought, causing the Bulbourne to dry completely through the site and delay planting.

With flow returning in 2007 a further attempt to carry out the planting work was again postponed, this time due to high water levels! However, in August 2008 water levels fell far enough for planting to get underway. A team of volunteers including the Chalk Streams Project Officer and members of the Environment Agency planted out the area with a variety of indigenous, wetland species, pre-planted in large coir mats. With such a large area to plant, it was never the intention to cover the entire area. Instead, mats of Common reed (phragmites australis) were used to define the edges of the new banks, whilst mats with Iris (Iris pseudacorus), reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), Reed Sweet Grass (Glyceria maxima), soft rush (Juncus effusus), Hard rush (Juncus inflexus) and Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) were planted in shallow areas and along the margins. The photos below show the heavy mats being hauled across the river and being tied into position.


Once planting was completed the area was fenced to provide protection from wildfowl. This fencing will remain in position until next year, by which time it is hoped that the plants will have become established.

Working concurrently with the channel restoration work, the Chilterns Chalk Streams project carried out a phased programme of tree management along the river above and below St. John's Well to increase the amount of light getting to the channel to help it narrow naturally.  This work was completed in 2008.

As a finishing touch to the scheme, two interpretation boards were installed to raise awareness of the site’s history and explain how the river was been restored.

Project lead: Chilterns Chalk Streams Project
Project partners: Environment Agency, Dacorum Borough Council, Berkhamsted Town Council
Contact for more information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Project start: 2004
Project end: 2009
Funding source: , Dacorum Borough Council, Berkhamsted Town Council

Design by LTD Design Consultants and build by Garganey Consulting. From an original concept by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.