Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

02-03-2014: Hogsmill River transformed into wetland wonderland!

Volunteers turned out in force to see the culmination of our Hogsmill habitat improvement project at our Knights Park campus. Today's task was to plant up the new riverbank areas with marginal plants ready to take advantage of the spring warmth.

Iaroslava cradles her little plant bundles of joy!
Several by-now familiar faces returned to help on this final event, keen to see the project through having toiled during the heavier phases of the project. And new volunteers were attracted too, some during the event itself, as they saw the transformation taking shape. We even welcomed our first ever four-legged volunteer...Mahjnoo!

Are four paws are better than two when it comes to volunteering?
We noticed signs of silting up and diatom growth in the brash and gravels since our last event - a sure sign there are plenty of nutrients in the water. This bodes well for our plants getting established!

Endless boxes of plants lined up on the Knights Park wall.
We had 1000 plants to find homes for among the brash and gravel, all typical marginal species native to Britain: marsh marigold, fool's watercress, water mint, watercress, greater and lessser sedge, flag iris and bur reed.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) is a member of the buttercup family which flowers between March and June. We even had one or two flowers on the ones we put in which gave a very welcome injection of colour.

This charming marsh marigold brightened our day and is a sign of more flowers to come along this stretch of the Hogsmill.
Water mint (Mentha aquatica) grows with creeping runners which is good news for colonising our new riverbank. A plant of multiple benefits as the leaves can be used similarly to other mints and the flowers are attractive to bees too.

Branched Bur Reed (Sparganium Erectum) will provide an important habitat for wildfowl nesting, roosting and feeding once established. To help it on its way we ensured it was planted in the slower flowing, shallower to avoid submergence and dislodging.

But planting these in flowing water, albeit slowed by the brash and gravels, was a test of skill to get them the right height to avoid those sensitive plants being submerged and others floating away altogether! Gauging the correct depth was an unenviable task taken on by Toby, as the river levels here at the Hogsmill vary quickly and frequently. By the time we had finished, many plants had to be repositioned as the water levels had dropped by a good six inches.

To give the plants the best start possible, we wrapped many of the rootballs in hessian tied with twine - quite a fiddly job as it turned out! But we soon got a production line formed cutting squares of hessian, lengths of twine, removing plants from their pots, wrapping and tying. This was given an additional scoop or two of clay soil to supplement the soil they came with.

Ben and Reenal prepare the wrapped plants
Helen perfects the art of wrapping the plug plants
These pretty little bundles were then nestled into the nooks and crannies of the brash in the river one by one.

Wrapped and ready to go, these plants are destined for the brash edge of our new riverbank area.

Suzanne seeks out a suitable planting spot among the brash
Lots of TLC was given to tucking each plant in
James secures his plant while he prepares a suitable spot to nestle it in the brash
Others were planted directly into the gravel, weighted down by some of the stones in little mounds.

Sivi and Sue redistribute some of the gravel in areas where it had built up too high, so it was ready to take the plants.
Pablo made quick work of planting in the gravel - good job too because as soon as a hole was dug and filled with soil, it began washing away!
Ben made sure the plants were evenly distributed in the submerged brash sections
Sian and Lauren set out the plants long the back wall
Lovely as it was to see the area planted up, we were sure it wouldn't stay like this for long, so we erected a chicken wire fence to protect the young plants from peckish waterfowl and an orange mesh fence along the bottom of the wall to catch windblown litter. This gave our post-knockers and fencing pins one last outing for the project (and our biceps one last workout!). As the riverbank planting establishes the need for these will lessen and they will be removed to let nature take its course.

The ever-present post-knocker makes yet another appearance! Mark and Bill give it one last go!
Helen, Suzanne, Ben and Toby reel out the bird protection fencing
Volunteers stretch out the new safety fencing to catch stray litter
We also introduced some interpretation signs to explain what we have done to campus users and highlight the benefits for wildlife. Hopefully in months and years to come, we will see a wide age-range of fish making use of the new conditions, more birds and bats taking advantage of the wealth of invertebrates it should support, and a visual feast of pretty flowers and grasses on the riverside.

Interpretation signage indicates what you might see at the River now
As our work came to an end, Toby and I sat on the riverside wall reflecting on the group's achievements. And as if by magic, (and we hope signifying its approval!), a flash of electric blue - a kingfisher - darted upstream in front of our very eyes. Let's hope this is the first of many to investigate the new habitats at Knights Park.

The new plants look right at home here in the Hogsmill
This just leaves me with one thing left to say a tremendous well done and heartfelt thank you to all the volunteers who helped bring this project to life over the last three months. You should all be very proud of what you have accomplished - it's positive impact will be felt for many years to come by all those who live, work and study nearby, and of course the wildlife who will make it their home.

Satisfied (and eager for celebratory cake!), the team put their feet up after a good day's work!
To those of you who couldn't get involved on this occasion, please do pop down by the river to take a look - the Hogsmill River has indeed been turned into a wetland wonderland!

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