A river restoration project at Haweswater aimed at helping breeding fish has spawned success after only a few months since it was finished.
During the summer a one-kilometre stretch of Swindale Beck, which had been artificially straightened around two centuries years ago, was filled in and replaced with a more natural curving course through a partnership project between the RSPB, the Environment Agency, United Utilities and Natural England. This slowed the flow of the river, creating habitat more suitable for spawning salmon and trout.
In December, 16 salmon were spotted in the new stretch of river, together with five redds, disturbed gravel where eggs have been laid.
Atlantic salmon already spawn in other areas of Swindale Beck, migrating from the sea via the Solway Firth and the River Eden. However, the old straightened part of the river was too fast flowing for salmon to spawn, so the project has created new habitat by putting the curves back in this stretch of Swindale Beck.
The salmon eggs will hatch in spring, eventually emerging from the gravel after another four to six weeks. They will remain in the river for the next two to four years before migrating to the sea in spring time.
In addition to creating improved wildlife habitat, the restoration of Swindale Beck will have many other benefits, including helping to improve water quality as well as contributing to reducing the risk of downstream flooding.
Lee Schofield, RSPB Site Manager at Haweswater, said: “Habitat restoration is often a slow process and we normally don’t see the benefits of our work for years and sometimes even decades. It’s really uplifting and inspiring to work on a project where we get the chance to experience success so soon after we’ve finished.”
Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager at the Environment Agency, said: “This project demonstrates the true essence of partnership working. Everyone contributed throughout the project to ensure we delivered the maximum of benefits. It really does show that nature will find a way if you allow it to. It’s a brilliant project and another one for the UK River prize-winning Cumbrian river restoration programme.”
John Gorst, Catchment Partnership Officer from United Utilities said: “It’s fantastic news that salmon have been spotted in the newly restored river channel – and so soon! The old, straightened channel was far from ideal, as it resulted in high water flows, which removed the small gravels which salmon require for spawning.
“This project has been a great team effort between a number or organisations and community volunteers in one of Cumbria’s most beautiful, yet little known valleys.”
Becky Powell, Natural England Lead Adviser, said: “River restoration projects such as this are truly rewarding. You know you have created a better habitat, however when you see nature respond so quickly it is very inspiring. The Swindale project, from start to finish, has been a huge success, demonstrating just what a strong partnership can achieve.”