Cumbrian rivers project scoops prestigious European Riverprize

Swindale Beck here at Haweswater, which was straightened 200 years ago, had the wiggles put back into it in 2017, to restore it to it’s natural course. Salmon returned to spawn there within three months of the projects completion, after an absence of more than 100 years

We’re incredibly proud to be part of an ambitious programme to restore and improve rivers in the Lake District, that has just beaten immense competition from across Europe to win the prestigious European Riverprize.

The work headed up by the Environment Agency and Natural England has involved several partners around the county including us here at Haweswater and was announced as the winner at the Gala Dinner of the 25th International River Symposium on 29 November. It has been awarded due to our combined efforts across Cumbria to reinstate natural river processes that benefit both people and wildlife.

Who’s involved?

Partners on the project include the Environment Agency, Natural England, us at the RSPB, National Trust, Ullswater CIC, United Utilities, Eden Rivers Trust, West Cumbria Rivers Trust and South Cumbria Rivers Trust, with expertise from Dynamic Rivers, Ebsford, GB Openspace and Professor Neil Entwistle from Salford University.

Why was this work needed?

The rivers of the Lake District have been impacted by changing patterns of farming and land management over many centuries. All the watercourses within Cumbria have at some point been modified or altered to create space for farming practices. 

This has exacerbated the effects of several severe flood events in recent years, with the area also suffering degradation of designated protected areas and a severe decline in biodiversity.

What work was carried out?

Bird’s-eye view of Swindale Valley following the river restoration – putting the bends back into the river and restoring the function of the natural floodplain.

The Cumbria River Restoration partnerships programme has carried out more than 100 separate projects including reintroducing meanders, removing weirs and planting trees, of which our project here in Swindale Valley was one.

Almost 100km of river length and 150 hectares of floodplain has been restored across the catchments of the Rivers Eden, Derwent and Kent. The work has also reduced flood risk, improved drinking water quality, removed plastic from rivers and boosted biodiversity in the region.

This practical work was accompanied by engagement, training and educational initiatives including community events, volunteer days, internal and external training, conference and workshop presentations.  

The partnership work to restore rivers in Cumbria is a great example of how positive environmental improvements can be delivered within a farmed landscape. Finding ways to ensure these upland habitats perform once again for water quality, wildlife and people is at the centre of everything we do. The projects have been a team effort and we are honoured to have won this award.

What is the European Riverprize?

First awarded in 2013, the prestigious European Riverprize celebrates excellence in the management, conservation and development of Europe’s rivers, wetlands and surrounding communities. Historically, the prize is award in conjunction with the International River Symposium, which attracts an audience of Europe’s leading advocates for environment and river protection, including the European Commissioner for Environment.

Congratulations to the other two finalists, who were an inspirational campaign to save one of Europe’s last wild rivers, the Vjosa in Albania, and an incredible project covering the Mura, Drava and Danube Rivers in central Europe.

Thank you

It’s fantastic to see the work of the Cumbria River Restoration programme being recognised on an international scale. River restoration work can provide a wide range of benefits, creating better natural habitats for wildlife and reducing flood risk through innovative nature-based solutions. In an ever-changing climate it’s work like this that will help to improve our environment for generations to come.

We would like to thank all partners, stakeholders, local communities and private landowners involved in bringing this programme to fruition.
Check out this fantastic video of all the hard work around Cumbria to restore rivers here:

The wildflower meadows in the floodplain of Swindale Beck are alive with colour and insects in the spring and summer months.
Image credit David Morris.

Blog by Annabel Rushton, RSPB Visitor Experience Manager

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