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Fisheries habitat created on River Irt thanks to partnership project

Gaterigg How side channel before and after reconnection

A section of river in West Cumbria has been put back to its natural state creating quality habitat for fish, for the first time in more than a century thanks to a successful partnership between the Environment Agency, West Cumbria Rivers Trust and the National Trust.

A river bend on the River Irt near Gaterigg How, Cumbria, has been put back in place this September, for the first time in more than 100 years, to improve the habitat for fish and slow the flow of water downstream.

The river had once flowed through two channels, however the second smaller channel had been blocked over a century ago by man-made barriers, including a stone embankment, and the channel had been partially filled with soil and scrap metal.

Officers from the Environment Agency, West Cumbria Rivers Trust and the National Trust, were joined by volunteers to carefully remove the soil, scrap metal and the stone embankment, to re-connect the River Irt with its second channel.

Water can now flow freely down both river channels, and as such has created more and better quality habitat for fish and invertebrates.

The partnership project was funded by the Environment Agency from their Fisheries Improvement Programme, where the Environment Agency invest fishing licence funds back into the local environment.

Mike Farrell, Environment Agency Fisheries Project Manager, said: “It is fantastic we have managed to create more than 150m of high quality fisheries habitat through this project, as well as significantly improving the connectivity between the channel and its surrounding wooded floodplain.

“Historically disconnected meanders are a common feature of the River Irt and further low-cost, high-value restoration opportunities are now being explored by the Environment Agency.

“All fishing licence income is used to fund work to maintain, improve and develop fisheries, fish habitats and angling. Enjoy fishing and make sure you fish legally. Annual fishing licences are available from only £30 and you can get a fishing licence online at www.gov.uk/get-a-fishing-licence.”

Chris West, Project Officer at West Cumbria Rivers Trust said: “Over the years the River Irt has been artificially straightened and modified by human hands into a single channel, to increase the amount of land available for agriculture and to more quickly transfer water off the land.

“Where this has happened, the habitat within the river is not as good as it is in rivers that have been left to evolve naturally. As a consequence, fish numbers are lower and flooding downstream is made worse.

“This was a fantastic opportunity to restore the river to a more natural state and it will be interesting to see how the site develops over the coming months. My thanks go to all of our partners and volunteers for helping to make this happen.”

Steve Jolley, National Trust Area Ranger, said: “The River Irt project is a brilliant example of what we can achieve when landowners, farmers, conservation organisations and volunteers work together. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results of all the hard work unfold over the coming years.”

Volunteers assisted with the project by planting woodrush grown by prisoners at HM Haverigg Prison into the newly cut river banks. Over the winter, trees will be planted to further enhance the habitat of the area.

Future river restoration opportunities across Cumbria are being explored by the Environment Agency.

Annual fishing licences are available from only £30 and you can get a fishing licence online at www.gov.uk/get-a-fishing-licence.

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