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Elliott Malik: Why we should rewiggle Britain's rivers

Our rivers provide a multitude of benefits but they have been progressively constrained. Inner city watercourses are bounded by concrete, whilst many rural rivers are detached from their natural environment. This has led to negative impacts for nature and for people.

Re-wiggling – or re-meandering – returns rivers to a more natural state, by allowing them to bend and flood, rather than channelling them through straightened paths. This idea is not without controversy, but Conservatives know that good environmental stewardship is necessary, and there is a strong case for a nationwide policy of re-wiggling in our next manifesto.

Re-wiggling’s most visible success is the creation of space for nature. Floodplains around these newly meandering rivers create a network of unique ecosystems across the country. These wetlands, if managed correctly, become new hotspots for increased biodiversity.

The River Peffery in Northern Scotland provides an excellent example: a 700m stretch of river has been returned to its pre-18th century course, with native species thriving along its banks. Within the river, the slow rate of flow, and the varied micro-environments, have made it easier for trout to migrate upstream. Wildlife, anglers, walkers, and other stakeholders will reap the rewards of this healthy and relaxing environment.

Re-wiggling also significantly reduces flood risks. Whilst straight rivers may funnel water through different areas quickly, these waterways can generally not cope with sudden deluges, and will likely flood downstream. The River Leith in Cumbria was re-wiggled, and this has led to 33% more floodwaters being retained. As Conservatives, we believe in environmental protection, protection of private property, and sound monetary policy. Rather than engaging in increasingly large and costly river-engineering projects, why not return rivers to a more natural state and reap the rewards?

The British people want cleaner waterways, with re-wiggling providing an entirely nature-based solution. Currently, nitrates and phosphates which drain from fields are trapped within rivers, making them unsuitable for bathing and encouraging algae blooms that suffocate plant life. Allowing this water to wash into the surrounding floodplain means nutrients can be absorbed. This beneficial consequence has already been recognised by farmers along the Little Ouse in Suffolk, who have begun a re-wiggling pilot project. We can support these farmers – and many others – to improve the quality of our waterways.

Suitable sites for re-wiggling in urban environments are necessarily rarer. Nevertheless, re-wiggling could provide tracts of nature within some of our most nature-depleted areas. Tokyngton Park in London provides an excellent example: The river flowing through the park had previously been both straightened and covered in concrete. The local authority removed the concrete and re-modelled the river, allowing it to meander through the park. This has provided a peaceful centre for the community, and an island of nature within the bustle of the capital. A manifesto commitment to re-wiggle would prove to urban voters that the Conservative Party is committed to restoring nature in all areas of the country.

Re-wiggling is not something to be afraid of. Whether it be in the countryside or in our cities, the restoration of a natural ecosystem along our rivers is something Conservatives should support. Not simply for tourism, nor the reduced risk of downstream flooding, but to enable a shift towards a Britain where the benefits of nature protection can be seen by all.


Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to

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