We’re delighted that our partnership project to restore habitats in Swindale Valley here at Haweswater has won the 2022 UK River Prize Project-scale Award. The Swindale Valley Restoration Project involved a partnership between us at the RSPB, landowner United Utilities, the Environment Agency and Natural England. We’ve been working together to restore watercourses, bogs, meadows and woodlands, transforming the valley for the benefit of water, wildlife and people.
Bend it, and they will come – putting the wiggles back into Swindale Beck
More than 160 years ago Swindale Beck (which runs through the valley bottom) was straightened, deepened and embanked. While these changes made sense for the residents of the valley back then, the natural environment suffered, and the effects of this were continuing to be felt into the present day. Peatland was drained, species-rich hay meadows were fertilised and overgrazed, and native woodland was degraded. The restoration project which began in 2016 set out to deliver a range of interventions in Swindale Valley that would reverse impacts of the past.
One of the most visible changes was the reintroduction of bends to the river, slowing the flow of the water. Not only has this benefited wildlife (salmon returned to spawn for the first time in over 100 years!) and improved water quality, but also reduced the risk of downstream flooding and enhanced the natural landscape. The main phase of the work was completed in 2016, but further work has seen additional areas of floodplain reconnected, new wetlands created and further meanders (bends) restored.
Combatting climate change
Another part of the project has involved restoring a large area of blanket bog at the top of Swindale Valley. 29 miles of moorland drains have been blocked which re-wets the peat. This leads to an increase in the amount of carbon it can store contributing to combatting climate change. It also holds the water back from rushing down the valley sides, so it trickles through more slowly which has multiple benefits in reducing flooding downstream, naturally purifying the water and providing a home to a wide range of specialist wildlife – from plants and fungi to insects, birds and mammals.
Planting trees and restoring meadows
Thanks to hard work by staff and dedicated volunteers, trees which have been planted in the valley will grow up to help store carbon, slow the flow of surface water and reduce the risk of flooding downstream, as well as being a home for wildlife such as pied flycatchers, cuckoos and red squirrels.
The hay meadows in Swindale Beck’s floodplain are managed sensitively for the wildlife living there. At this time of year they are buzzing with insects like dark green fritillary butterflies and many of the flowers like melancholy thistle, globe flower, wood crane’s-bill and bistort are a rainbow of colour.
The UK River Prize: Project-scale Award goes to…
Us! Some of the project team were presented with this year’s UK River Prize Project-scale Award trophy during a ceremony at Chesford Grange in Warwickshire on Tuesday 28 June.
The UK River Prize is hosted and awarded annually by the River Restoration Centre (RRC) as part of the River Restoration Network Conference. Organised in partnership with the RRC, Arup, Atkins and Natural Resources Wales, it aims to celebrate and recognise the achievements of individuals and organisations committed to restoring the UK’s rivers.
Ann Skinner UK River Prize judge and RRC Board member, said: “This year’s river prize entries covered a fascinating range of projects from catchment scale to reach scale, rural to urban. All had achieved amazing outcomes within challenging circumstances. As usual, it was difficult choosing between them, but all four finalists are great examples of excellent river restoration projects. Well done and keep them coming!“
Finding ways to ensure the upland habitats here at Haweswater perform once again for water, wildlife and people is at the centre of everything we do here. The project was a true team effort and we are delighted to have been honoured with this award by The River Restoration Centre.
Schemes like this show what can be done to improve the health of our rivers by working in partnership. Huge thanks go to the team of RSPB staff and volunteers, United Utilities, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the contractors who delivered the large scale works.
This project, not only helps to improve the natural environment, but creates a more sustainable place for wildlife and our local communities to thrive.
Check out our video to find out more!
– Blog by Annabel Rushton, RSPB Visitor Experience Manager