The Swindale Valley Restoration Project, a partnership involving United Utilities, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the RSPB has won a major nature conservation award, the ENDS Environmental Impact Award for 2017.
A tributary of the River Eden, Swindale Beck, runs through Swindale Valley, forming part of the RSPB’s landholding at Haweswater. A sizable stretch of the river was straightened at least 200 years ago in an attempt to provide more land for grazing and hay making.
However, this modification has caused serious problems for Atlantic salmon as the straightened and fast flowing channel does not provide the different habitats, normally found in natural meandering rivers, which they need to successfully spawn. The UK is a stronghold for Atlantic salmon, however, the numbers returning to spawn have halved since the 1970s.
Working in partnership with the Environment Agency, landowners United Utilities and Natural England, the RSPB is restoring part of this artificial stretch of the river, enabling it to revert to its former slower-flowing, meandering course.
This is being achieved by digging a new channel along a carefully mapped route, redirecting the water flow, then filling in the old straightened section to create a more suitable and productive meadow that will help support the farm, as well provide a home for wildflowers and insects.
The restoration of Swindale Beck is jointly funded by the Environment Agency, Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust and United Utilities.
Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager at the Environment Agency, said: “River restoration projects like this can provide multiple benefits for both people and wildlife. By working in partnership with other organisations and landowners, we can truly make a difference and return some of our constrained rivers back to their former natural glory.
“The Cumbria River Restoration programme is working across the whole of the region in a bid to safeguard our special areas, enhance wildlife and create a better place for people.”
Paul Phillips from United Utilities said: “This will bring big benefits to water quality as well as wildlife. A more natural channel will be broad and shallow in times of flood and slower to deliver water into the River Lowther. Sediments and gravels will be deposited more naturally with less reaching Haweswater reservoir.
by Tony Dean