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Restoring Swindale Beck

August 14, 2017

A new film released recently by the RSPB shows how the restoration of a stretch of Lake District river has brought swift ecological improvements along its course. Around 200 years ago, Swindale Beck was artificially straightened to increase the grazing area along its floodplain. The straightened course had unnaturally fast water flows, which washed away gravel from its bed, largely preventing salmon and trout from spawning.

A major river restoration project was carried out last summer to bring back the river’s natural meandering course. As documented in this new film, the work was undertaken by a partnership between the RSPB, the Environment Agency, United Utilities and Natural England.

The restoration work created slower and more diverse water flows in Swindale Beck, which improve the habitat for spawning fish. Earlier this year, only months after the work finished, 16 salmon were spotted in the restored one-kilometre stretch of river, together with five ‘redds’ – the patches of disturbed gravel where salmon eggs have been laid.

The re-meandering of Swindale Beck is also intended to help buffer flooding problems, by allowing flood waters to spill out onto the river’s floodplains. This, alongside alterations to livestock grazing in the valley, have caused wildflower meadows on the floodplains to flourish.

Lee Schofield, RSPB Site Manager at Haweswater, said, “Working to restore natural processes in Swindale has been incredibly rewarding and has delivered huge benefits for people and for wildlife. Most of the work that have carried out is compatible with farming and other land uses. We hope to see more projects like this happening across the country, helping to make landscapes and businesses more resilient to future flooding and the impacts of climate change.”

Like all rivers, the flow dynamics of Swindale Beck are linked to landscape use in its catchment. At the highest point of the river’s catchment is a large area of blanket bog at Mosedale. Restoration work here has blocked 29 miles of artificial moorland drains, which has raised the water table and created numerous new ponds, which have become habitat for aquatic insects. This work also helps ‘slow the flow’ of heavy and sudden rainfall to the river channel.

Native tree species have also been planted throughout the river valley. As they grow into riparian woodland, it is intended that they will help stabilise the valley soils and river banks, further slow the flow of flashy rainfall, and provide new habitat for species such as the red squirrel.

Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager at the Environment Agency, said, “This project demonstrates the true essence of partnership working. Everyone contributed throughout the project to ensure we delivered the maximum of benefits. It really does show that nature will find a way if you allow it to. It’s a brilliant project and another one for the UK River prize-winning Cumbrian river restoration programme.”

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