River Restoration

Restoring | Creating | Transforming

The estate is located in the Beane Valley, with about 3 miles of the River Beane that flows through it. The river is a rare chalk stream: it is one of about 200 in the entire world. In the middle of Woodhall Park there is also a beautiful lake called The Broadwater, originally created in the 19th century as a striking landscape feature below the Main House. It was formed at this time by significantly widening the river. Therefore, until recently, the River Beane flowed in and out of the lake. Both the river and lake are teeming with wildlife, flora and fauna – a rare and exceptional wildlife corridor in close proximity to London. Learn more generally about our river, lake and wetlands in Watercourses.

Over many decades there was a slow and damaging build-up of silt in the river and the lake, significantly reducing the lake’s water carrying capacity. Additionally, for many years there has been increased water abstraction in the area by the water authorities, depleting the quality and quantity of river flow. In March 2016, a major storm caused flash flooding and a surge of the Broadwater Lake. This caused one of its banks to give way and collapse. In a matter of hours, the entire lake had discharged downstream and we were left with 25,000 cubic metres of muddy and odorous silt.

We were delighted to be able to turn this calamity into an exciting opportunity. In 2017 we entered into an extensive partnership with Affinity Water to carry out a major restoration project to the River Beane and Broadwater. We have worked closely with Affinity Water to deliver this joint project, as follows:

Phase 1

The first phase in 2017 involved the creation of a 400 metre new chalk stream river channel in the southern area of Woodhall Park. This new channel bypasses the Horseshoe Weir, allowing fish to travel up the stream, and creates a variety of river features. The channel includes engineered berms, riffles, point bars and scrape features. The diversity of the stream is intended to create a range of habitats and environments.

Phase 2a

Starting in 2018, this phase involved the creation of 1km new chalk stream river channel along the Broadwater Lake. This bypass of the lake ensures the river water maintains a clean and quick flow, as opposed to the slow and still lake. The new stream also bypasses the Tumbling Bay weir and waterfall, which removes a major obstacle in the River Beane and allows fish to swim upstream. This new section also includes engineered berms, riffles and point bars, as well as side channels and in-channel ponds.

Phase 2b

Simultaneous to the river creation in 2018, the estate carried out a major operation to dredge 25,000 cubic metres of dried-up silt in the Broadwater Lake, left over when the lake drained in 2016 as a result of a bank collapse from flash-flooding. All of this silt was spread on adjoining land, to take advantage of its nutrient qualities. The operation involved a large number of long-reach excavators and dumper-trucks to move the silt. The long hot summer of 2018 greatly helped the operation by further drying out the silt and reducing the need for silt treatment.

Special spawning shelves were also engineered in the lake, and the banks re-formed.  A restoration project took place to the dilapidated weir structure and sluice gate, plus a further dredging operation below it at Tumbling Bay. This transformative project is already starting to show results; with the water quality and habitat diversity easy to see.

Phase 2c

This current phase involves the construction of a brick section of the new river channel around the Tumbling Bay weir. It requires approximately 40,000 bricks to be laid by hand using traditional lime mortar and techniques, capped with stone copping stones. The result is a large-scale and spectacular example of traditional masonry, which is expected to last for centuries. Work continues on this phase throughout the summer of 2019.

Phase 3

Scheduled for 2020, this phase will involve the creation of a 10,000 sqm continuous reed bed in Ryefield Mead. This area is upstream of the Broadwater and new river channels described above. This wetland creation will provide an opportunity to create a mosaic of habitats that will benefit a range of wildlife and provide a functional water storage area to reduce flooding.


Members of the public can see the Broadwater Lake and the central part of the river from the public footpath running through Woodhall Park. Access off the footpath is not permitted without prior permission. This is strictly enforced due to safety around water. Learn more about enjoying the extensive network of footpaths, bridleways and permissive paths at Woodhall Estate in Walk, Run, Ride.

If you are an organisation interested in visiting this project, please see our Private Tours page.

Learn more about the river project at Affinity Water. The primary contractor for the river creation and dredging project was Salix Rivers & Wetlands, and the masonry project was carried out by Herts Renovation.

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