Wensum Park gathering celebrates rights of the river

Performers wore hats representing animals which call the river home at Rights of the River at Wensum Park

Performers wore hats representing animals which call the river home at Rights of the River at Wensum Park - Credit: Lauren De Boise

Once teeming with wherries and other trading vessels, traffic on the River Wensum nowadays is limited to the odd paddleboard and pleasure craft.

Yet the waterway remains a vital part of city life and this weekend saw an extraordinary celebration of it, at an event held in Wensum Park.

Organised by environmental activists and local councillors, the carnival-like gathering included a public declaration of the river's rights and a call to protect it from pollution and development.

It comes weeks after Green councillors at City Hall were thwarted in their efforts to secure honorary title of Freedom of the City to the river, with officials ruling that "natural assets" were not eligible.

The public declaration of the Wensum's rights was led by Norfolk storyteller Hugh Lupton. He said: "Every river, from its source to the sea, supports a glorious diversity of species and ecosystems.

Norfolk storyteller and author Hugh Lupton leads the declaration of the Rights of the River Wensum

Norfolk storyteller and author Hugh Lupton leads the declaration of the Rights of the River Wensum at the event in Wensum Park - Credit: Lauren De Boise

"But our river is under threat. The vital, living, earth that we share with the rest of creation is in a state of crisis.

"We are poisoning our River Wensum with raw sewage, agricultural run-off, herbicides, pesticides, plastics and other waste from industry and lack of human care.

Performers with drums lead the procession at the Rights of the River Wensum event

Performers with drums lead the procession at the Rights of the River Wensum event - Credit: Lauren De Boise

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"We are biting the hand that feeds us, endangering our health and the health of all species."

Speakers including nature writer Patrick Barkham, Jonah Tosney from the Norfolk Rivers Trust, Nick Acheson, ambassador for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and city councillor Lucy Galvin and artist Tor Falcon, took to the stage to highlight the value of rivers for people and wildlife.

Wildlife conservationist Nick Acheson was one of the speakers at the Rights of the River Wensum event

Wildlife conservationist Nick Acheson was one of the speakers at the Rights of the River Wensum event - Credit: Lauren De Boise

The event was organised by Stop the Wensum Link, a group set up to oppose Norfolk County Council’s plans for a road to connect the A47 and Northern Broadway west of Norwich, crossing the Wensum valley.

Its spokesperson Dennis English said: "Impacts on the River Wensum are at the very heart of the scheme and include not only the possibility of  damage to the river, which is recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, but damage to ancient woodlands, wet meadows and a colony of rare barbastelle bats that has its home in the valley."

Performers dressed in blue take part in the ritual during the Rights of the River Wensum event

Performers dressed in blue take part in the ritual during the Rights of the River Wensum event - Credit: Lauren De Boise

Leader of the Green Group in Norwich Lucy Galvin said she her campaign to secure the Freedom of the City for the river was still going, and that she had launched a petition on change.org calling for it.

Leader of the Green Group in Norwich, Councillor Lucy Galvin, was one of the speakers at the Rights of the River Wensum event

Leader of the Green Group in Norwich, Councillor Lucy Galvin, was one of the speakers at the Rights of the River Wensum event - Credit: Lauren De Boise

"It’s beyond time we recognised the rivers importance to the city."


The River Wensum

Boaters on the River Wensum in Norwich on bank holiday Monday. Picture Denise Bradley

Boaters on the River Wensum in Norwich on bank holiday Monday. Picture Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant

A name taken from the Old English word for 'winding', the Wensum is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

There is plenty of wildlife you can spot along the river, from its start in Whissonsett just south of Fakenham to where it meets the Yare in Norwich.

Arguably the best time to visit the chalk streams of Norfolk - including the River Wensum - is May, when you’ll see Mayflies and the Brown Trout who gorge on them.

Lucky spotters may catch a glimpse of otters, as well as water voles, kingfishers, water shrew, brook lamprey and white-clawed crayfish.

Birds such as nightingales, bitterns, harriers and osprey also live close to the winds of the river.


What you can do to protect rivers and wildlife

Walk along the river Wensum in Norwich

Walk along the river Wensum in Norwich - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

One of the most protected rivers in Europe, the Wensum has conservation status for its entire length.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) highlights three ways individuals you can protect rivers, as well as the communities and wildlife that depend on them both far away and on home soil.

  1. Understand the connection between rivers and food

    A new WWF report shows that a third of global food production and 40pc of global fish consumption depends on rivers.

    The organisation states that we are pumping out too much water, catching too many fish, damming free-flowing rivers for hydropower, and flooding rivers with pollutants. 

  2. Advocate for low-impact renewable energy

    Hydropower is projected to double by 2050, which would mean losing most of the world’s remaining long free-flowing rivers.

    Proposed hydropower dams will only generate 2pc of the renewable energy needed to meet climate targets and would have devastating consequences on remaining free-flowing rivers, and the people and wildlife that depend on them.

  3. Engage with local rivers
    Volunteers flock to their local rivers to not only familiarise themselves with the local waterways, but also to provide hands-on conservation.