A river which flows through one of Cumbria’s most beautiful, but little known valleys, has been returned to its bendy best, thanks to a partnership between United Utilities, the RSPB, Natural England and the Environment Agency.
Swindale Beck, on United Utilities’ Haweswater estate, was artificially straightened in previous centuries, to reclaim farming land.
The partner organisations have worked together to return the river to its original, meandering course, providing a boost for spawning salmon and trout, and helping to alleviate flooding by slowing the flow of water through the valley.
More than a kilometre of river has been returned to its natural course.
John Gorst, Catchment Biodiversity Officer from United Utilities said: “The straightened river channel was far from ideal for fish and other wildlife. For example, it resulted in high water flows, which removed the small gravels which salmon require for spawning.
“We’ve now completed the first phase of the project to return the river to its original course. It’s been a great team effort from all partners, as well as volunteers from the local community.”
Ahead of linking the straightened river channel to a newly dug channel mirroring its original course, the RSPB and Environment Agency (EA) worked with local volunteers to carry out a fish rescue.
Experts from the EA placed a small electrical charge into the water to stun the fish, enabling them to be scooped up in nets and relocated. The proven process is harmless to the aquatic life, and enables a speedy transfer.
Lee Schofield, RSPB Site Manager at Haweswater said: “Restoring Swindale Beck is one of many projects we are working on at Haweswater to benefit wildlife, water quality and flood alleviation within a working upland farm environment.
“As with this other work, we hope that putting the curves back into Swindale Beck will inspire similar restoration projects across the Lake District, which will provide a range of public benefits.”
Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager at the Environment Agency said: “We have delivered many projects like this over the whole of Cumbria in recent years. This one though proved a real challenge due to the locality and site sensitivities, but it has been really worthwhile and the environmental benefits will be huge.
“Working in partnership with organisations such as United Utilities, RSPB and Natural England is the way forward to continue to deliver fantastic projects like this across Cumbria.”
Simon Humphries, Natural England’s Cumbria Area Manager said: “Restoring Swindale Beck to its former glory is an excellent example of Natural England working with a number of partners to ensure that we make a real improvement to another unique, natural habitat. By including Swindale Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest in the restoration, we are extending those benefits, enhancing the overall landscape and ensuring all manner of wildlife can flourish.”
Additional funding for the project was provided by Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust.