River restoration is the process of managing rivers to reinstate natural processes and provide benefits to both people and wildlife. 

Many of our rivers have been extensively modified, compromising natural habitats and the benefits that rivers provide us with. Reintroducing natural processes, such as variation in flow, connection with the floodplain and sediment transport processes, can reshape rivers to provide the diversity of habitats required for a healthy river ecosystem and ensure their long-term recovery. Naturally functioning rivers and floodplains provide ample benefits to society including flood regulation, freshwater supply, tourism/recreation, water purification, carbon storage and improved human health. 

Many sections of the River Derwent and other rivers and streams within the Lake District National Park have been heavily modified over many decades. The impact of modifications can be seen in one or more of the following river features:-

  • Rivers isolated from the flood plains by embankments
  • Re-enforced river banks e.g. using blockstone or gabions etc.
  • Straightened rivers with no meanders or bends
  • Rivers sartificially raised above the valley floor and along the top of embankments

None of these states are natural and over time the structures will fail and the river will break out (many stretches of river are reaching this point now). Additionally, in straightened and modified river channels where natural processes are restricted, the variety of river bed habitat is very limited. This means that fish cannot carry out all the necessary stages in their lifecycle and aquatic plants struggle to become established in the fast flowing Lakeland rivers and streams.

The impact of the above and the speed of change (channel failure) is being exacerbated by the increase in size and frequency of floods due to climate change. Finally, the damage caused by a flood is increased when the storage on the floodplains is limited by embankments. River restoration projects which re-connect the river channels with their floodplains will help mitigate this.

River Restoration ‘Strategy’

West Cumbria Rivers Trust are partners in a number of river restoration projects which are jointly funded by the Environment Agency and Natural England. The purpose of these projects is to make rivers more natural so they do not require costly maintenance (now the responsibility of the landowner) and to improve the habitat for aquatic species. Our role in these projects is to act as the facilitator, namely to deliver the work on the ground through coordination of all relevant parties and authorities; including landowners, contractors and planning.

The work on the River Derwent and its tributaries (streams) forms part of the North West River Basin Management Plan, which aims to improve the health of all rivers and water bodies in the North West of England to meet standards set out in the European Water Framework Directive, a piece of European legislation, requiring all rivers to be in ‘good’ condition.

To-date, one major project has been completed on Whit Beck (near Lorton) and two other more moderate projects; one also on the River Cocker, below Lorton, and the other on the Lower Derwent up-stream Great Clifton. Further potential projects will be evaluated and then undertaken over the coming years as part of a wider ‘strategy’ of restoring Cumbria’s rivers.

Restoring Cumbria’s Rivers from West Cumbria Rivers Trust on Vimeo.