Burton Washlands

A Landscape Vision for the future of the Washlands

East Staffordshire Borough Council, in partnership with the Environment Agency, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and other public and private sector partners, has launched a new shared Landscape Vision for the future of the Washlands.

‘The Washlands Vision’, which was a collaborative document between multiple partners for the Washlands area; sets out the landscape scale proposals for the area and can be viewed here.

We are excited to announce that a range of habitat enhancements have now been designed though our Living Floodplains project which will make this vision a reality.

The Washlands is an extensive piece of land that follows the river through to the heart of Burton upon Trent. The vision, informed by consultation with key stakeholders and the local community, addresses how to best balance the regular flooding of the area with the need for public access and recreation, whilst promoting nature conservation and a more environmentally sustainable approach to green space management.

This work will be completed over the next couple of years. Phase 1 is the delivery of projects within the central part of the Burton Washlands, primarily on East Staffordshire Borough Council landholding. These are a mix of wetland, river, grassland and woodland enhancements. Some of the highlights include:

  • Repurposing areas where water lies stagnant on the grass after a flood into wildlife ponds which have diverse vegetated margins and can support a host of aquatic wildlife. By making these areas slightly deeper, this will also focus flood water into them improving access to floodplain users during wetter periods once the main flood subsides.
  • Addressing water flow in vegetated channels such as the Silverway. The plans will look to lower the nettle covered banks enabling inundation during higher flow periods encouraging a more species rich aquatic flora and in low flow periods engineering the reach to improve flow during the summer season. This will keep oxygen-rich water flowing through the channel all year round, which is good for fish and aquatic invertebrates and provides a sheltered habitat off the main Trent for fish to spawn in.
  • We will be reprofiling strategic sections of the banks of the River Trent by changing the slope of the bank. This will replicate how the river would have looked before it was artificially modified. By doing this we will create new habitats by varying the width of the river, exposing gravels, and creating areas of shallower water. These new habitats will support young fish and aquatic insects in the shallows as well as invertebrates specifically associated with exposed river gravels.
  • The grassland across much of the Washlands current supports only a few different plant species. We will bring in local wildflowers to the meadows outside of amenity areas, which will support pollinators and bring some attractive colour into the fields.

Excavation work will take place over 12 weeks between July and the end of September 2022.

Please have patience whilst the biodiversity enhancement features are installed. There will be temporary disturbance to the existing habitats on site and some of the new features may initially look like bare ground until they start to revegetate. Some of the areas where spoil is being placed will be reseeded with a more diverse range of plants which will benefit pollinators. Given time the new features will provide a much better environment for local wildlife.

We would like to thanks the various user groups of Burton Washlands who have provided important local knowledge on the project area and fed into the design phase for this project. This will be a fantastic example of creating a landscape which can provide both support for wildlife and enjoyment for people in the same space.

We would also like to thank our funders and partners including the Environment AgencyNational Lottery Heritage Fund and East Staffordshire Borough Council.

Through our natural heritage project, known as Living Floodplains, we will help to deliver some of this wider vision.

The aim of this work is to improve flood management, enhance wildlife habitats on the Washlands to create a space that works for both people and wildlife.

Story Map

Find out more about the Landscape Vision for the future of the Washlands by viewing East Staffordshire Borough Council’s Story Map that will guide you through the Washlands Landscape Vision.

East Staffordshire Borough Council Landscape Vision

View of the Burton upon Trent Washlands from the Andresey Bridge looking north along Peel's Cut towards with the Burton Leander Rowing Club on Stapenhill Road in the far distance. © 2022 Transforming the Trent Valley (Steven Cheshire).

Latest News and Updates


You may have noticed the excavations of wetland features are well underway. At the moment the look a bit rough but over time they will develop into valuable wildlife habitat. Large areas of spoil look unsightly at the moment but rest assured they will be reseeded and will return to grassland over the next few months. So far three ponds / scrapes have been completed and we will shortly complete the area of river reprofiling near to Burton Mail Woodland. The next phase will look at bank lowering along the Silverway river channel which is likely to start next week Tuesday 9th August. We want to thank the public for their understanding and cooperation whilst works are underway and ask that you continue to keep your distance if you see contractors working. It has been lovely to receive your positive comments when you have seen us on site, we hope that you will continue to enjoy spending time in the Burton Washlands Floodplain and spot more wildlife in the area as a result of the enhancements. Please get in touch if you wish to report a wildlife sighting! You can do this through our Big Washlands Watch project.


Preparatory tree management works are planned to start on Wednesday 6th July near the riverbank alongside the Burton Mail Woodland. Please keep your distance if you see contractors working. Please note that not all of the trees with red crosses on them are due to be removed. The crosses remain from the planning and preparation work associated with this project.

The main excavation works are due to start on 18th July for the river reprofiling alongside the Burton Mail Woodland before moving to other areas. Whilst excavations are being carried out please could you keep your distance from machinery and follow the signposted diversions along alternative footpaths.


We held a public information event at the Burton Library on Wednesday 18th May from 4pm to 7pm to discuss the plans for the upcoming habitat enhancement works that will take place on the Burton Washlands this summer.


We will be enhancing 5 hectares of grassland on the Burton Washlands this August which will contribute towards improving biodiversity on the floodplain by enriching the area with native wild flowers. This will provide a crucial pollen resource for insects such as bees and butterflies and enable local users of the floodplain to become more closely connected to nature on their doorstep. The areas where we will be enhancing may look temporarily bare in patches, this is to enable the flower seed to reach the soils. Please bare with us as grasslands can take some time to reach their full potential as wildflower meadows.


Due to poor weather conditions in early 2021, we were unable to dig the proposed test pits in January as planned. This work has been postponed and is expected to take place in this summer. Further details will be posted here in due course.


We will be delivering the biodiversity enhancement program as set out in the Burton Washlands Vision through our Living Floodplains project.

Prior to the delivery of this program, we need to understand the geology of the Washlands before we are able to confirm a final suite of biodiversity projects. One of the steps in this process is to dig a series of test pits. We will be digging aproximately 10 test pits across the Washlands in January 2021 as part of our investigations.

Test pits are dug to sample the composition and structure of the soils below ground level. They will be analysed before being refilled on the same day.

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Grassland enhancements

97% of wildflower meadows have been lost across the UK. We aim to increase the wildflower meadows on the Washlands.

Great Burnet - Sanguisorba officinalis. (Copyright 2014 Victoria Bunter (SWT)).

By improving the grassland in some areas of the Washlands, we hope to increase the numbers of different wildflowers and grasses. This will encourage insects like bees and butterflies.

Meadow footpaths (copyright Victoria Bunter 2022 (TTTV)).

Mown paths will allow you to walk across the meadows so you can access other areas of the Washlands whilst enjoying the wildlife. Species of flower will include Knapweed, Great Burnet and Oxeye Daisy.


River re-profiling

Much of the River Trent and its tributaries have been straightened and dredged over the last century, which has led to a decrease in habitats along the river.

Area where river reprofiling will take place to extend gravel area (copyright Victoria Bunter 2021 (TTTV)).

We will look to re-profile sections of the river by changing the slope of the bank. This will replicate how the river would have looked before it was artificially modified. By doing this we will create new habitats by varying the width of the river, exposing gravels, and creating areas of shallower water. These new habitats will support young fish and aquatic insects.

Steep sided river banks at Wolseley in 2014 (copyright Nick Mott 2014 (SWT)).

River reprofiling in action on the River Trent south of Burton in 2012 (copyright Nick Mott 2012 (SWT)).

Re-profiling will also help to make the river bank more attractive. Fishermen will be able to cast off from the gravel beach rather than the bank.

Completed river reprofiling showing gravel beach on the River Trent at Wolseley Bridge in 2015 (copyright Nick Mott 2015 (SWT)).

Historic channels

Across the Washlands there are a number of historic channels, known as palaeochannels, that have been cut off from the main river. The channel known locally as the Silverway still has a connection through to Peel's Cut but has become inundated with nettles.

Roach copyright 2020 Jack Perks (WildNet)

These historic channels provide extra habitat for wildlife alongside main channels. They can provide refuge for fish, particularly during flood events and provide suitable breeding grounds.

By restoring part of the historic channel known as the Silverway on the Washlands, we would create resting areas for fish and aquatic insects away from the faster flows in the main River Trent channel. It would also improve the riparian habitat which currently is nettle dominanted, to a more diverse range of aquatic plants, which will in turn support a wider range of associated wildlife. It is hoped that opening up the channel on the Washlands will enhance the experience of the community who use the footpath that runs alongside it.

Dragonfly pools

We have lost many of ponds over the last century in the UK and many of those that still exist are in a poor state.

Four-spotted chaser - (Libellula quadrimaculata) copyright 2020 Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION (WildNet)

Dragonfly pools and ponds are a great way to encourage wildlife into an area and can actually be home to more species of plants and insects than lakes and rivers. We will create a number of ponds varying in shape and size in order to encourage a wide range of wildlife to the Washlands.

Their ability to support lots of different aquatic plants creates habitats for insects such as water beetles, dragonflies, caddisflies and water snails. Ponds are also important for frogs, newts and toads, who use them to spawn in spring.

Dragonfly pond

Example pond (copyright Nick Mott (SWT)).

The ponds will vary in depth but will have shallow vegetated margins making them safe and easy to approach.

Wildlife ditches

Many riverside fields have been ploughed and drained so that natural hollows no longer exist.

Little Egret copyright 2020 Garry Cox (WildNet)

Natural variations in ground level allow water to accumulate into shallow pools seasonally, which encourages insects and provides important habitat and food for wading birds. Wading birds are becoming less and less common across the UK due to habitat loss. Birds that you can expect to see on the Washlands include Snipe, Curlew and Egret

Invasive Species

Himalayan balsam was introduced as a garden plant in 1839 and, whilst looking very pretty with large pink flowers, it is an invasive species.

Himalayan Balsam copyright 2020 Amy Lewis (WildNet)

Invasive species are a problem because they grow very fast and spread quickly along riverbanks and ditches and in floodplain woodlands, preventing native plants from growing.

Because Himalayan balsam grows by water courses, the seeds can spread easily and cause further outbreaks downstream. In order to prevent further seed dispersal, the plants must be removed. We have an active group of volunteers who have already seen success in tackling some of the Himalayan Balsam in the woodlands after two years of management.

Do let us know if you or anyone you know are interested in doing this.

Comments and feedback

If you have any comments or feedback, we would love to hear from you. Please use the feedback form below.


If you have any comments or feedback, we would love to hear from you.
Please use the feedback form below.

    Why is the river no longer dredged?

    Dredging has long been used as a form of flood management and involves the removal of sediment from the bottom and sides of river channels. It can also include the straightening and deepening of channels. Increased awareness of the impacts of dredging has revealed that as a form of flood management, it is not as effective as was originally thought. Although water levels in rivers have been seen to decrease where dredging has taken place, this is dependent on local conditions and doesn’t necessarily lead to reductions in flood risk.

    Areas downstream from where dredging has taken place often experience exacerbated flooding due to the increase in discharge channelled downstream. Dredging also damages river ecosystems by directly affecting its physical habitat, disrupting riverine processes and reducing connectivity with the floodplain. Direct removal of sediment can impact specialised species such as invertebrates whilst making the channel more vulnerable to invasive non-native species such as signal crayfish and Himalayan balsam.

    We have now entered a period where we are aiming to restore our rivers to a more natural profile and use more sustainable, holistic and natural management methods. These are better for us, our communities and our wildlife. Natural flood management techniques include the restoration, enhancement and alteration of natural features and characteristics but exclude traditional hard engineering flood defences that work against or disrupt natural processes.

    Will the number of mosquitoes on the Washlands increase?

    Scrapes and pools are seasonal/temporary and the main focus is the benefits they bring to breeding waders which have a seen a massive decline over the last few decades. Research indicates that repeated cycles of wetting and drying turbid water in areas with little vegetation may lead to increases in mosquito numbers.

    The pools and scrapes planned through this scheme will have vegetated margins and as such are able to reduce the stagnant conditions through nutrient cycling of the colonising aquatic plants. They will also provide habitat for wetland fauna which will feed upon mosquitoes and their larvae, thus reducing the risk of a population increase.

    We are monitoring currently how the water is retained on the Washlands, and will formalise these areas to improve water retention. This means there is no net change to the wetting and drying, simply an improvement to the storage capacity of the floodplain. It is hoped that through the improvement of wetland habitat, we will see an increase in the breeding wader population which will appeal to birdwatchers. Furthermore, the wetlands will be attractive and improve the aesthetic value of the Washlands to visitors crossing the many bridges in the town. Part of the vision to be delivered by ESBC is to construct boardwalks to improve accessibility during flooding and allow people to get up close to wetland habitats.

    What does river re-profiling mean?

    River re-profiling involves the reshaping of a river’s banks. Due to the channelisation of the majority of our rivers, banks are often very steep. This makes it hard for plants to establish, and leaves few refuge spots for fish and invertebrates. Re-profiling creates areas of slower flowing water which are used as resting and nursery habitat for fish and invertebrates, and increases vegetation cover for mammals such as otter and water vole.

    Will the ponds be a safe depth?

    Yes – the ponds will have wide, shallow and vegetated margins and the depth will increase gradually into the middle of the pond.

    Burton Washlands Image Gallery

    Discover more of the Trent Valley landscape in our photo gallery.