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 has now been created though our Living Floodplains project making this vision a reality. Please scroll to the bottom of this page to view our Burton Washlands image gallery

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.

The project has been broken down into two phases, phase one focused on ecological improvements made to the the area known as “Burton Washlands” an area of floodplain running through the centre of Burton on Trent. Phase two looks more broadly along the River Trent to deliver the remaining funded work in the wider area. One of our key sites for this is the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Tucklesholme, which will be delivered this summer starting in August.

Phase 1 (Completed 2022).

Phase 1 of the planned work was completed in the summer of 2022 which included 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. We have lowered 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 reprofiled strategic sections of the banks of the River Trent by changing the slope of the bank. This replicates how the river would have looked before it was artificially modified. By doing this we 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 have brought in local wildflowers to the meadows outside of amenity areas, which will support pollinators and bring some attractive colour into the fields. These will be managed accordingly to encourage the pollination and further spread of floodplain plants

Excavation work took place over 12 weeks between July and mid September 2022 by Catchment designs Ltd.

Phase 2 (Completed 2023).

We are excited that we have concluded major river and floodplain restoration enhancements at our Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve. These compliment and extend the influence of the phase 1 enhancements in the centre of Burton Washlands completed in 2022. This creates a corridor of connectivity for wetland species along the River Trent floodplain improving populations and species diversity. The focus of this project is around the northern lake and adjacent River Trent bank where we lowered the floodplain to increase the connectivity between the river and the lakes improving the river-floodplain interaction and encouraging a dynamic and evolving floodplain with more habitat diversity and therefore lots of opportunity for a wider range of wildlife to populate the site.

To break down into the detail, this involved creating a more shallow gradient to the river bank so that at high river flows, water is able to flood over the bank and into the northern lake giving access to fish into an area of calm water to rest and breed. There a channel at the northern end of the lake allowing continuous fish passage so that fish will be able to freely move between the two environments. The spoil has been used to create shallows and pools around the lake edge which are ideal for common reed (Phragmites australis) to continue the establishment of reedbeds on site which will encourage a range of invertebrates and create an ideal environment for wading bird species including the rare Bittern. We have increased the availability of shingles which will support populations of Oyster Catchers and Little-ringed Plovers which nest on site. During the summer the northern lake will experience increased drawdown through the connection created with the river, exposing mud and sediments for the nesting and wading birds.

There is a public footpath through the site which continues to our reserve at Branston Leas allowing visibility of the new habitats. The temporary footpath diversion is no longer in place and visitors are free to take in the new enhancements when they visit the reserve.

There is currently a delay in completing the fencing of the new area due to the recent inclement weather conditions but this shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the site.

To learn more about the Tucklesholme Nature Reserve and to visit the site please visit our Staffordshire Wildlife Trust webpage here.

To read more about ecological enhancements that have been carried out through other projects on the Tucklesholme Reserve please visit the South-Staffs Water website here.

Please see the map below showing our plans.

Further information and acknowledgements.

Please have patience whilst the biodiversity enhancement features become fully established. Given time the new features will provide a much better environment for local wildlife. These enhancements have been designed to replicate natural floodplain features and as such, once they are installed we intend to allow them to develop on their own so that they become integrated as naturally as possible into a dynamic wetland and riverine environment. We hope that our facilitation of the return of this habitat diversity was the helping hand needed to boost opportunity for a wider rage of wetland wildlife, and we are excited for the what the future now holds for Burton Washlands.

We would like to thank 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 like to thank the project designers for the wetland features Dynamic Rivers Ltd. who have worked with us extensively on both the design and delivery to ensure the new features meet the desired specification.

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

We have helped to deliver some of this wider vision through our natural heritage project, known as Living Floodplains.

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

Work in Progress Tucklesholme


The public footpath is now open across all of the Tucklesholme Nature Reserve. We hope you enjoy your next visit.

Here are a few aerial stills taken showing the story of the floodplain reconnection for the northern lake:

Before work began © Catchment Designs

Mid August, river bank reprofiling complete and starting on floodplain lowering between the lake and river. Spoil stored in spurs on lake.

© Catchment Designs

Mid September, making final touches to the new shallows and islands in the lake and planting common reed.

© Jenny France


Whilst all of the floodplain enhancements have been completed at Tucklesholme in September, the site is still closed as we are waiting for new fencing to be installed. This has been hampered by the recent weather conditions making it unsuitable for vehicles on the site. We do hope the works to be completed in the near future but ask for your patience whilst we wait for a delivery window where it is safe to carry out the works. We will keep you updated once we know more.


The floodplain has now been lowered between the lakes and the river and we are using the spoil to create islands.


We are excited at the arrival of Catchment Designs on to our Tucklesholme Nature Reserve this Tuesday to start setting up for the planned floodplain restoration works.

Catchment Designs Ltd. begin site set up for floodplain restoration works at Tucklesholme.

The northern lake is the primary focus of the enhancements being carried out which, in particular, will improve habitat for wetland birds. After site set up is completed this week the excavations will begin from the 21st August 2023 and will take approximately 6-7 weeks. Please follow signposted alternative footpath routes if visiting the site this summer.


We are in the final stage of preparations for the delivery of our Washlands “phase 2” project at Tucklesholme which continues river and floodplain biodiversity enhancements upstream on the River Trent. We are aiming to deliver this project in August 2023 with a delivery window of 5-8 weeks. As heavy machinery is being used this will affect public access along the public footpath through the site during this period and to be compliant with health and safety an alternative access will be signposted. Watch this space for an update in August!


It’s been a few weeks since our last update. Machinery has now moved off the central Burton Washlands and the floodplain improvements have been completed!

Over the Autumn and Winter we are hoping for more rain to bring more water to the seasonal pools and we expect to see them starting to vegetate. As the winter floods come in you may see some movement in the exposed gravels and soils across the reprofiled river sections in particular. This is normal and an expected part of the process by which the river re-establishes its natural sediment movements and water flow. It is these river dynamics that continuously refresh the river bank habitat making it attractive to spawning fish and many of the rarer invertebrate species.

This week on the 22nd and 23rd September we will be spreading seed across the large areas of spoil which have been created by the excavations. Some areas where conditions are suitable, have been targeted for floodplain meadow flowers which you will start to see in May 2023. Large portions of the grassland across the Burton Washlands will be managed with wildflowers and pollinators in mind and will have a rest period from cuts during the summer months (May – July). Amenity areas and walkways will also be maintained to continue public access and enjoyment of the meadows.


The creation of wetlands within the floodplain is moving into its final stage. Currently they are visually impactful as large areas of bare earth and associated spoil areas, which we understand is not aesthetically pleasing to all. We ask you to bear with us, over the next year these features will soften, the soil will be reseeded and the pools and scrapes will start to fill up with water over the winter season and colonise with wetland vegetation. These will be little oases for floodplain wildlife to thrive right in the heart of Burton, and a beautiful more natural environment for you to spend your time in.

New scrape with ‘riverine’ pools bringing water through the feature

Our remaining program of excavations will continue until approximately mid September.

Bank lowering Burton Bridge Island carried out by Catchment Designs Ltd.

We are also excited to have trainees from our Transforming Lives project to plant some local native wildflower plugs within the grassland areas. Around 1000 plants are being planted in strategic locations during the week of the 5th September.

Wildflower plug plants © Simon Lowe Transforming Lives Officer


We are around half way through our program of works to improve the connectivity of the wetland environment across the Burton Washlands floodplain. This will provide stepping stones for wildlife throughout the area giving them a stronger chance at maintaining robust populations to help with pressures such as climate change. With the recent heat waves any extra habitat we can create will provide valuable shelter once they are fully established.

We have now completed the creation of three scrapes/pools and area of river bank reprofiling and have started on the excavations of a fourth scrape and lowering the banks of the Silverway. Currently these features look very dry! This is because the water table is so low after the long period with little rain. They will start to store water in the pools and scrapes once wet weather returns. We are excited about the completed area of river reprofiling which has created a feature which is scarce along the river Trent and provides valuable opportunities for breeding fish and aquatic invertebrates. The widening of the river here will also reduce pressure on the opposite bank during flood events as there is more space now for the river to spread out!

Our next phase will be starting the creation of a wetland on the Horse Holme area. This will start during the week of the 22nd August. The spoil will be going on the disused rugby pitch on Oxhay Fields, this will be reseeded with a species-rich mix of wildflowers later in September.

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.


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 approximately 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.

Latest News and Updates

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).

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.

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?

The ponds have wide, shallow and vegetated margins and the depth increases gradually into the middle of the pond. We strongly encourage people to keep a safe distance from the edge of the ponds and to prevent dogs from entering, to keep the wildlife within them safe.

Will the fish get stranded when it floods?

It is possible for fish to be stranded within floodplain habitats. It is a natural process and something which happens regularly across all floodplains. The fish may survive until the next flood where they might rejoin the river, or they may be predated by other animals.

Will the ponds and scrapes silt up?

Floodwaters can carry silt and sediment which can be dropped into the ponds and scrapes when floodwaters recede. This can happen over many years and it is a natural part of floodplain habitats. Shallow scrapes like the ones created on the Washlands are dynamic habitats and are designed to evolve over their lifetime. As the ponds and scrapes silt up, they will create new habitats which are used by different species of animals.

Are the Washlands holding more flood water?

The recent work is not to increase or decrease the capacity of the floodplain to hold water so it will not make any difference to flooding on the Washlands. We haven’t taken any material out of the floodplain so there is no change to floodwater storage capacity.

Why are we doing it then?

Floodplain habitats are very important for wildlife and the Burton Washlands provides a rare opportunity to create more of it. By digging ponds and scrapes in the floodplain we are helping to improve biodiversity and make space for nature.

What is the management of the Washlands?

The management of the Washlands won’t change much. Some areas of the grasslands will be cut less often during summer to create rich wildflower meadows for bees and insects to feed on. Other small areas may be managed in a more natural way, by reducing the amount of interference and letting nature take its course.

What have we done to the Silverway?

The Silverway has had its banks flattened to create more ponds and wet areas on either side. These areas will provide new habitat for animals like wading birds and amphibians. We have not done any work to the main channel and we have not changed its original path.

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 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 creatures which will feed upon mosquitoes and their larvae, thus reducing the risk of a population increase.

We have been monitoring how the water is retained on the Washlands, and have formalised some of these areas to improve water retention. This means there is no net change to the wetting and drying, simply an improvement to 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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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.

    Burton Washlands Image Gallery

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