VOLUNTEERS have been busy clearing part of the River Bourne near Salisbury, as a £4,000 wildlife project entered its first phase over the weekend.

The River Bourne and Island Restoration project is part of the Milford Preservation Group's (MPG) wider aim to protect the Grade 1 listed Milford Mill Bridge site, through clearing the area, restoring the river banks and encouraging more wildlife.

Organised by MPG and supervised by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, volunteers took to the water on Saturday and Sunday for the first phase, which involved clearing the island in the middle of the river from litter and cutting back vegetation and undergrowth on the western bank.

Only six volunteers could work at one time, to adhere to social distancing measures currently in force.

The next phase, which will start in around six weeks, will involve the removal of trees and creating homes for wildlife using recycled natural materials.

"We [MPG] are really concerned with preserving landscape in the area, this care is so important and by clearing up the river we hope to encourage more wildlife," explained Laverstock and Ford councillor David Lovibond.

Cllr Lovibond, of MPG, described the project as "a major undertaking" that would be a "real benefit to the community", adding: "As well as wildlife the area is of great historic significance, but recently you would look in the river and it would just be caked in litter.

"From this we just want to make a safe place for animals on the side of the river bank using natural materials."

The project aims to be complete by autumn, with plans for four woody habitat structures to be installed in the river.

The River Bourne and Island Restoration project has cost around £4,000, with financial support from authorities including the Southern Wiltshire Area Board, Salisbury Area Board, Laverstock and Ford Parish Council and Barchester Healthcare.

Before the weekend event Cllr Lovibond said: "This project had been delayed, it was supposed to go ahead in March, so now we have this pent-up energy and we're ready to get our hands wet. The involvement of the community has been key.

"We can't wait for people to come to the river and see work where money has been spent."