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RSPB goes off the straight and narrow to give salmon a home in Cumbria

Last modified: 18 April 2016

Salmon jumping in white water

Image: Alamy

The RSPB is helping to give spawning salmon and other wildlife a home in Cumbria by restoring part of a Lake District river to its former glory.

A tributary of the River Eden, Swindale Beck runs through Swindale Valley, forming part of the RSPB’s landholding at Haweswater. A sizable stretch of the river was straightened at least 200 years ago in an attempt to provide more land for grazing and hay making.

However, this modification has caused serious problems for Atlantic salmon as the straightened and fast flowing channel does not provide the different habitats, normally found in natural meandering rivers, which they need to successfully spawn.  The UK is a stronghold for Atlantic salmon, however, the numbers returning to spawn have halved since the 1970s.

Working in partnership with the Environment Agency, landowners United Utilities and Natural England, the RSPB is restoring part of this artificial stretch of the river, enabling it to revert to its former slower-flowing, meandering course.   

This is being achieved by digging a new channel along a carefully mapped route, redirecting the water flow, then filling in the old straightened section to create a more suitable and productive meadow that will help support the farm, as well provide a home for wildflowers and insects. 

The RSPB will also plant trees along the river, providing much-needed natural shade for spawning salmon and other fish species including brown trout.

The restored Swindale Beck will support a greater range of breeding fish and insects, which in turn, will help wildlife further up the food chain, including otters and a range of birds such as herons and kingfishers.

This work is part of a programme, which is helping to restore the whole of Swindale. A new fish pass and water intake, hay meadow restoration, and a large area of moorland drain blocking will all help nature to thrive in Swindale, as well as helping to slow the flow of water and improve drinking water quality.

The restoration of Swindale Beck is jointly funded by the Environment Agency, Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust and United Utilities.

Lee Schofield, Site Manager at RSPB Haweswater, said: “At Haweswater we are finding ways to give nature a home and improve water quality within a working farm. The restoration of Swindale Beck is a prime example of how we are restoring natural processes to help wildlife thrive, produce cleaner water and enhance our hill farming operation.”

Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager at the Environment Agency, said: “River restoration projects like this can provide multiple benefits ?for both people and wildlife. By working in partnership with other organisations and landowners, we can truly make a difference and return some of our constrained rivers back to their former natural glory.

“The Cumbria River Restoration programme is working across the whole of the region in a bid to safeguard our special areas, enhance wildlife and create a better place for people.”

Paul Phillips from United Utilities said: “This will bring big benefits to water quality as well as wildlife. A more natural channel will be broad and shallow in times of flood and slower to deliver water into the River Lowther. Sediments and gravels will be deposited more naturally with less reaching Haweswater reservoir.”

Helen Squires, Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust Grants Manager, said: “The CWMET Trustees were pleased to award an exceptional grant of £25,000 towards such a diverse environmental project that will help the area in terms of biodiversity and creating a more natural watercourse. The area is also accessible to the public to enjoy at leisure.”

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