Cumbria Crack

Putting the ‘Green’ in Greenburn: renewable energy scheme goes live in the Little Langdale valley

Drone still of the Greenburn valley, showing the powerhouse under construction. Picture credit: National Trust/Simon Handley.

In the heart of the Lake District sits the National Trust’s 50th major renewable energy scheme in the UK.

Recently completed, the hydroelectric scheme in the Greenburn valley, Little Langdale, uses fast-flowing water to generate electricity. The valley’s wide catchment of water and high levels of rainfall make it the ideal location for the project which took over three years to complete from concept to commissioning. Each year, the hydro is expected to generate enough electricity to cover the needs of over 150 homes.

View down Greenburn valley from the hydro’s intake at Greenburn Beck. Picture credit: National Trust.

The hydro scheme is a feat of Cumbrian engineering, built by local hands using local materials. The turbine came from hydro specialists Gilkes in Kendal, the project’s electricians from Carlisle, and the main contractors, Ian Shaw, from Ulverston. The slate for the roof of the powerhouse sheltering the turbine was recycled from houses demolished after Storm Desmond; the stone from its walls came from nearby Moss Rigg Quarry and the stone used to build the intake came from the Grange peninsula.

John Moffat, General Manager for the National Trust in the South Lakes, said, “By using water flowing down the hillside in Little Langdale, the hydro helps to reduce environmental impact by supplying clean, renewable energy year-round. At the moment all the electricity generated goes into the National Grid, and the money this earns is reinvested in our conservation work in the valley.”

Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen working to clear the drains from Greenburn mine. Picture credit: National Trust.

The hydro sits on land managed by local fell farmer and tenant at Fell Foot farm, Isaac Benson. As part of the project, National Trust and Fix the Fells rangers and volunteers carried out conservation work on the land to reduce soil erosion, make more habitats for wildlife and improve the water quality of Greenburn Beck.

Isaac said, “There were challenging conditions at the start of the project as it was one of the wettest summers on record but it ended in drought conditions the following year. Not only was it refreshing, but it was a pleasure to work with an individual from the main contractor as between us we had generations of managing the landscape to draw from. This resulted in a minimal amount of disruption to the working farm and wider environment.”

Woolly spectators at Fell Foot farm. Picture credit: National Trust/Sarah Anderson.

The Greenburn valley has a long history of hydropower, an element which contributed to the Lake District’s status as a World Heritage Site. Its copper mines are over 300 years old and remain relatively well preserved, containing components dating from the 17th-20th centuries which can still be seen today.

Garry Sharples, Lead Consultant for the National Trust’s Renewable Energy Investment Programme in the Lakes, said, “The valley has a long history of harnessing waterpower and the hydropower scheme is just a modern day interpretation of what people have been doing for thousands of years. The hydro is a continuation of using this fantastic resource where there’s no shortage of water!”

Greenburn is one of four operational National Trust hydro schemes in the Lake District, with seven more in various stages of planning. The scheme is part of the Trust’s bigger plan to reduce its use of fossil fuels by 50% by 2021. Other renewable energy projects nearby include underfloor heating powered by biomass in Fell Foot’s new Active Base, another biomass system using local woodfuel to power Great Langdale campsite, and a recently completed project to install solar panels at the National Trust’s offices in Coniston.

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