Hawker’s Bridge Weir now open to fish traffic!

CATCH were able to hail another significant step forward in the improvement of the Cale yesterday, with the opening of hatches on the Hawker’s Bridge weir which have, for half a century, separated the wildlife downstream from that above.

The weir was originally installed by Cow and Gate (later Unigate), to divert water for the cooling operation of their factory on what is now Bennett’s Field trading estate. It served a useful purpose for some time, but with the closure of Unigate’s facilities in Wincanton in 1987, it became redundant. Since then it has served only to create an impoundment on the Cale and prevent the migration of fish and other wildlife to the upper reaches of the river.

While the physical process of removing a weir is not particularly complicated – merely laborious – it can have unpredictable and possibly disastrous effects downstream. Fortunately, this weir was originally built with hatches that can be opened and closed – much like the sluice-gates on a canal lock – to increase water flow. After negotiation with the two riparian owners, FWB Printers and Lidl, and with the Environment Agency, permission was eventually obtained to open these hatches to reconnect the two parts of the river, and to monitor the effects of doing so, to ensure there are no adverse results downstream.

Sunday, April 19th saw the big moment arrive, as Jim Allen from the EA led a team of CATCH committee members into the river to open the hatches. As might be imagined, they were not the easiest things to move having rested immobile, underwater, for half a century or more. However, with Jim’s expertise and the willing muscle power of several CATCH members, the hatches were unable to resist the assault and now lie open, enabling once more the passage of fish from downstream up into the Recreation ground and onwards to Wincanton Beach.

The most obvious long-term result of this action will be a significant lowering of the river depth in the area known as Skater’s Curves, which has served as an impoundment for the water ever since the weir was installed. This will not affect the wildlife to any great extent, as the water will remain deep enough for fish to flourish, and animals living on the riverbank will rapidly adjust to a lower water surface. Meanwhile, the ability of fish to move upstream from the fields towards Horsington, may well mean that within a year or two the town’s stretch of the river will once again be home to the brown trout. CATCH’s other activities, notable the installation of flow deflectors, have been partly¬† aimed at providing suitable habitats for trout and other fish to spawn.

Those of you who know Wincanton well, will be quick to point out that another, much larger obstacle to fish migration still remains РShatterwell Shoots, the waterfall adjacent to North Street, which was intalled by the old Somerset  and Dorset Railway to provide water for the station. This is such a renowned feature of the town that there is no desire to remove it entirely Рmoreover, any attempt to do so would involve significant landscaping for a long way upstream to account for the large drop in the river level Рhowever, plans are slowly taking shape to attempt to install a fish ladder or similar method of passage, to re-connect the upper Cale once more.

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