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Community habitat restoration on Burnley’s rivers

February 1, 2017

Urban rivers across Europe are subject to multiple stresses linked to the surrounding built environment, particularly pollution, fragmentation, barriers and habitat modification. However, increased focus on the many benefits of urban nature, coupled with the imperatives in the EU Water Framework Directive to improve such ‘heavily modified water bodies’ to ‘good ecological potential’ mean that urban river restoration projects are proliferating.

The rivers Brun and Calder meet in the town of Burnley, in North-West England, and are part of the wider Ribble catchment. Flowing through an urban landscape which has supported industrial activity for centuries, the Brun and Calder have both been heavily modified and impacted by humans. Long stretches of the rivers are enclosed by stone and concrete channels, and in some places the river beds are made up of the same cobblestones found paving old streets through the town.

A new video (which you can watch above) produced by The Ribble Rivers Trust documents the community-engaged habitat restoration of Burnley’s rivers undertaken through the Urban River Enhancement Scheme (URES).

The Ribble Rivers Trust is an environmental charity established in 1998 to protect and restore the rivers, streams and watercourses within the Ribble catchment and to raise public awareness of the value of local rivers and streams. The Trust was awarded over £600,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2013 to deliver the URES, which intends to improve the habitat quality and biodiversity of Burnley’s rivers, whilst engaging local communities through education and conservation programmes.

The video shows URES habitat improvement on Burnley’s rivers, removing litter and debris, uprooting invasive species such as Himalayan balsam, constructing fish passes on large weirs, and restructuring river beds to create semi-natural riffles and pools in place of the existing sewer-like channels. It shows the various ways in which local communities are consulted and engaged in this process, through school visits, environmental artworks and conservation action days.

Below is a podcast interview with MARS scientist Prof Steve Ormerod from Cardiff University, carried out on the banks of the River Brun. Steve – a Burnley native – gives us an insight into the ways in which urban nature, culture and heritage are entwined along the banks of Burnley’s rivers, and how such recent restoration projects have significantly improved their habitat quality and biodiversity.

Since the podcast was recorded, salmon parr have been found upstream of the town, an extremely encouraging sign that migratory salmon can now successfully navigate Burnley’s rivers to reach a wide area of upstream spawning grounds.

You can find out more about the Urban River Enhancement Scheme in Burnley here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 20, 2017 11:46

    It seems urban freshwater river systems are all too often an early casualty of a city’s industrialisation process sadly.

    In Sydney Australia we’ve had a similar experience with our ‘Tank Stream’. It was once a thriving little river that sustained the local Indigenous population for tens of thousands of years. But due to irresponsible and short sighted environmental management practices within a couple of decades after European settlement it was literally an open sewer. Policy makers at the time (1850s) felt it was easier just to sweep the polluted mess ‘under the rug’, and it was eventually covered over with stone slabs and more or less forgotten about. More: http://tankstream.org.au/history

    On the bright side, I do think there’s a growing appreciation among policy makers and broader community about the importance of river habitat conservation in our urban centres. The experience of South Korean in restoring the Cheonggyecheon River show whats possible once the public mind has been mobilised.

    Enjoy your blog, thank you ~ Claude

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