A multi-partner project to restore a river system to a natural course, for the benefit of people and wildlife, has been achieved in the Lake District National Park.
The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has announced that a 500 metre section of drain has been re-naturalised in the Swindale Valley, on the Haweswater Estate near Penrith. The restoration was a multi-partner effort between the RSPB, landowner United Utilities, Environment Agency, contactors Ebsford Environmental and environmental consultancy AquaUoS, and was funded by the Environment Agency and the RSPB.
Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager for the Environment Agency said, “This project demonstrates the true essence of partnership working to deliver multiple benefits for both people and the environment. This and many other projects being delivered across the North West contributes to the Environment Agency’s 2025 Environment Plan that aims to put the environment and communities at the heart of everything we do.”
The drain was dug in an effort speed the removal of water from the valley, however it is now known that straight channels like this one increase downstream flood risk by quickly flushing a greater amount of water downstream into connected river systems.
Dr George Heritage, Director of AquaUoS at the University of Salford, who assisted with the design and delivery of the project comments, “The RSPB and partners are doing some truly pioneering restoration work in Swindale with the rejuvenation of tributary fan systems helping to restore valley margin wetlands and store sediment that can otherwise accumulate downstream to create a flood risk.”
By restoring natural features such as meanders and pools and reconnecting natural floodplains, more water can be retained in the landscape to slow the flow of water downstream.
Head of Projects at Ebsford Environmental, Ben Fisher, said, “We formulated a partnership approach with the RSPB, Environment Agency and United Utilities, enabling us to change the design of the restoration throughout the project to create new features, but also to enhance natural features. As we have been working closely to a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) we have used low-impact machinery and sediment entrapment mats to prevent damaging these valuable habitats throughout the process.”
Lee Schofield, Site Manager at RSPB Haweswater said, “This new phase of river restoration work adds even more healthy habitat to the valley of Swindale, where we have already worked successfully with United Utilities, the Environment Agency and Natural England to enhance the area for wildlife over recent years.”
The project compliments the Swindale Beck restoration completed in 2016, which re-meandered this historically straightened channel in order to improve the quality of water at source for people and wildlife.
Lee continued, “This project has created more than half a kilometre of new, sinuous channel as well as wetlands and ponds that will support a broad range of wildlife, from dragonflies and amphibians, to dippers and Atlantic salmon. All the work that has been done in Swindale works alongside our farming operation, helping to demonstrate how conservation and farming can work hand in hand.”
The Swindale wetland project was completed between August and September this year, and is part of a wider series of habitat restoration projects taking place at Haweswater to improve water retention and quality; including peatland restoration, tree planting, and the natural regeneration of upland plants.
John Gorst, Catchment Partnership Officer for United Utilities, said, “This is another fantastic example of how we can achieve so much more by working in partnership and by looking at the water catchment as an entire system. This project follows on from the successful Swindale Beck restoration and will further enhance this spectacular valley for both its biodiversity and improved water quality.”
A short section of the permissive footpath through Swindale has been temporarily rerouted to allow for this restoration, and will be in place throughout winter.
Wild Haweswater is a new initiative, formed in 2019, between the RSPB and United Utilities to showcase the wildlife, projects and events at Haweswater.