How river restoration in the Yorkshire Dales is bringing back nature's charm

From the exultant splash of a salmon's leap to the joyous heron wading on a weir, the image of the Yorkshire Dales' burgeoning wildlife is an ever-uplifting sight.

Susie Kinghan, project manager for the Ribble Rivers Trust, at Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Susie Kinghan, project manager for the Ribble Rivers Trust, at Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble. Picture Bruce Rollinson

And with major projects underway for the restoration of natural habitats alongside the River Ribble, it is hoped they can flourish further.

From fish 'ladders' to encourage migration, weir removal to ease their passage, and creating wildlife corridors in the hopes of diversity, river restoration continues apace.

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"For children, families, and future generations, this is so they can know what river life is like," said Susie Kinghan, project manager for the Ribble Rivers Trust, which is about to embark on a wooded habitat scheme near Ribblehead.

The River Ribble at Long Preston bottoms. Picture Bruce Rollinson

"If we don't restore them we will lose them, and it's so important for people to know what is on their doorstep.

"The comeback of otters over recent years has been amazing, it's so exciting for children, to see the fish jumping, to see herons fishing.

"We are dreaming of a world where there are all these wonderful environments."

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Susie Kinghan, project manager for the Ribble Rivers Trust, in the recently planted woodland at Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It is the only major river rising in Yorkshire which flows westward, through Settle to Preston, before emerging into the Irish Sea 75-miles later near Lytham St Annes.

Since it was launched 22 years ago, the trust has planted more than 37,000 trees over 56 hectares in Yorkshire, and restored over 640 hectares of the region's moorland.

At Selside, removing a weir has opened up 50miles of watercourse habitat upstream, while a fish pass at Tosside has opened up five miles of river habitat.

There are now further fish passes on Hellifield Beck, and Agden Brook, as well as two eel passes.

Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Inspiring the next generation

The ‘Yorkshire Ribble’ is particularly important, says Ms Kinghan, in forming the headwaters for this mighty river.

"The trust was originally set up by a group of anglers, fishermen who were worried about the state of the rivers because of poor water quality," she said.

"Since then it's really grown, from looking after rivers for fish to wider environments.

The recently planted woodland at Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble. Picture Bruce Rollinson

"There is much more work with farms, the way we manage the land can have a big impact on the health of the river.

"Every weir that we take out helps the fish on their journey. We are definitely improving their chances, and improving water quality attracts more diversity in the rivers.

"The big vision is in answering the question as to how we can ensure people are connected with the river, and engaged.

"It's about the next generation. If they learn early on, not to drop litter and to look after our rivers, that is creating a real change."

Future projects

In coming weeks, the trust is to embark on a major project with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Ashes Pasture to gently shape the river with 'woody debris' and create a new woodland.

Susie Kinghan, project manager for the Ribble Rivers Trust, in the recently planted woodland at Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble. Picture Bruce Rollinson

At Horton in Ribblesdale, a six hectare woodland is being created, while it is working with farmers to plant hedgerows and trees along the brooks including at Mear Beck.

On the Long Preston Deeps, work is underway to reconnect the river to the floodplain, moving the embankment to give it more space, and with ambitions to remove a weir.

"From an environmental perspective, there are a lot of pressures which are increasing with climate change, and the question is what do we do now," said Ms Kinghan.

"There is a will to open up rivers, to plant trees. This is the moment, I think, to create these corridors and create a catchment which is full of life for everybody to enjoy.

"It's amazing, the things that people are seeing at home. People are taking more time to look closely, and they are seeing more. It is an acute time now.

"Many people are realising just what we've got, and that we've got to look after it."

The Ribble Trust hopes to carry out more river activities in schools and with volunteers in coming months to enjoy nature and learn more about the "secret life" of rivers.

Issuing a call to action to communities to get involved, it is seeking additional volunteers via [email protected]

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