We have just finished shooting and editing our second video production for the Environment Agency.
The River Ribble in North Yorkshire, England is a thing of beauty. Meandering from the market town of Settle to the village of Long Preston it is a lowland river in an upland setting. Its ever changing currents, however, had upset the eco systems at a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Attempts over centuries to extensively drain the surrounding 162 hectares for grazing livestock had also affected the landscape and wildlife habitat. Draining water quickly from the floodplain, affected the breeding success of wetland birds, at one of the best inland sites in England. The Ribble is largely confined to the channel by flood banks and by historic dredging and deepening. So natural flooding events are now very limited and the erosive power of the river scours sediment from the river bed and banks. Livestock access to the river has inhibited vegetation along stepped banks.
Disrupted spawning grounds had diminished fish stocks and some of the 60 species of visiting birds had disappeared. The aquatic environment was poor in water-crowfoot, water-starwort and pondweed species.
Bankside woodland was almost completely absent except for a few scattered sycamore, young alder and crack willow. Finding a solution was not going to be easy.
Some 18 landowners and tenants had an interest in the area with up to a dozen groups and agencies, from anglers to local authorities, would closely monitor any plans to alter the course of the river or its environs. Collaborative working was key. Through a mixture of diplomacy, painstaking scientific appraisal and meticulous consultation has evolved The Long Preston Deeps Wet Grassland Project. This is a partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, The Ribble Rivers Trust, North Yorkshire County Council, local landowners and tenants and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Formed in 2004 and originally focused on restoring the wet grassland, the project has called upon cutting edge technology to optimise the river flow over seven kilometres. In 2010 a detailed plan of works for the river was drawn up. On-going restoration projects aim to allow natural flooding to occur by once again reconnecting the river to its floodplain. Hydro morphology specialists have mapped the river’s contours. Riverbanks have been moved. Channels, called chutes, have been created. The river has found its natural rhythm. As a result, salmon and brown trout numbers have increased, and stocks of grayling and chub will also grow.
The work has enhanced birdlife too, by encouraging farmers to alter their grazing regimes and to cut rushes for winter cattle bedding. This creates a varied grassland structure with lots of short areas for birds to feed their young. Raised water levels provide shallow pools of water full of aquatic invertebrate food and plenty of muddy edges for birds to probe. The partnership is working with farmers so they can graze the floodplain in a way which integrates with an economic farming system while also providing improved services to the environment. An RSPB expert believes the project is one of the most successful farm wetland restoration schemes in the United Kingdom. The site now supports at least 80 pairs of nationally important breeding wading birds. They come in Spring along with other species like Curlew, Redshank, Snipe and Lapwing, Sand martins thrive in the sandbanks with less risk of being washed out. The wetlands are also home to winter wildfowl species such as teal, pintail and Widgeon. Marsh harriers, Buzzards, Peregrine Falcons, Kestrels and Sparrow hawks come to hunt, too.
A newly-planted woodland near the riverbank will provide shelter for anglers and wildlife alike. Banks and other areas have stabilised. A good example of the partnership working came in 2011 when a flood bank burst following a bleak winter. All the partners came together and took the opportunity to start work on restoration. Flood banks were moved back, revetment removed and the river and around six hectares of its flood plain reunited
The success led to more phases being planned and implemented in 2012 when more than 3.5km of river were restored and 15 hectares of flood plain reconnected. Now more land owners and tenants want to be involved.
Visitors, who come from all over the world to walk in the region and to enjoy the wildlife, flora and fauna, will benefit and the wetlands are set to become a popular research destination for schools and university students.
With improved resistance to climate change, the Ribble at Long Preston Deeps will be a treasure for future generations.