A STRETCH of a south Wiltshire's chalk stream is soon to undergo major refurbishment, thanks to the dedication of conservationists with Wilton Fly Fishing Club.

The award-winning club has won the backing of European cash to carry out work next summer on a stretch of the River Wylye at Chilhampton, between Wilton and South Newton. Once completed, the work will not only bring benefits to the river but also to wildlife, including the endangered water vole.

The Wilton Fly Fishing Club, founded in 1891 and the longest serving tenant on the Wilton Estate, has been committed to conservation work for at least a decade and has already won major awards for its efforts.

In 1998 the club was the first ever winner of the Wild Trout Society's conservation award for work on the upper stretches of the Wylye.

This year it achieved runner-up place for a massive project undertaken to restore river banks and improve river flows between Wishford and Stoford.

Club river keeper Adrian Simmons and committee member, John McGill, told Rural View the lower reaches of the Wylye have been subjected to "significant environmental stress" in recent years, brought about by low river flows due to abstraction higher upstream and excessive swan grazing on vital river plants such as ranunculus. Club members have already worked to remove excessive silt and between 2002 and 2005 spent hundreds of hours narrowing the river with man-made "banks" of woven hurdles made of chestnut and willow, creating islands of natural fauna and generally carrying out restoration work on river and banks designed to improve levels and improve conditions for both fish and aquatic life.

Next summer, the club will work with Natural England - formerly English Nature and the Environment Agency - and other interested groups on a major project, which is part of the £1m-plus European Commission's Life Project for the whole of the Avon Valley, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

The work will improve habitats for the water vole, for a huge variety of birds, insects as well as aquatic creatures.

The Wilton Club has a long history of managing the river as a wild trout fishery and with promoting and nurturing habitat for wild brown trout. The River Wylye would be a shadow of its former self without the work of club members.