The River Darwen

River Darwen at Hoghton Bottoms - Helen Dix

River Darwen at Hoghton Bottoms – Helen Dix

The River Darwen begins on the South Pennine Moors. It then flows through a valley of Carboniferous rocks, including limestone, Millstone Grit, shales and coal, to meet the River Ribble in Preston. The River Darwen has one of the most impressive gorges in Lancashire, known as Hoghton Bottoms. The bedrock is largely covered by glacial and post-glacial deposits of sands, gravels, clays and alluvium. Where the bedrock is exposed at the surface, there is a history of stone quarrying and coal mining.

The Industrial Revolution saw the development and expansion of major settlements, which include Blackburn and Darwen. A small ‘cottage’ cotton and textile industry developed, first drawn to the area for its available water power. The power of the water was harnessed and controlled by the construction of weirs. The textile trade developed rapidly with increased mechanisation, but it has been in steady decline since the 1920s. As a result of industrialisation, the landscape that the River Darwen passes through is now largely urban. The towns are dominated by mills and Victorian-stone terraced housing along with substantial areas of contemporary industrial development.

The population soared to provide labour for these mills and until the invention of sewage treatment works, the sewage from the associated properties ended up in the river. Where the rivers flowed through towns the immediate solution to sewage gathering on the banks of the river in the town was to design and build new river channels that formed flumes to rapidly transport the sewage and other waste away downstream. The significantly increased population of Blackburn also required water, and the construction of abstraction points and aqueducts began, first on the River Hodder. There are now a number of reservoirs in the River Darwen sub-catchment, including Roddlesworth and Sunnyhurst Hey Reservoirs.

The weirs that were built caused fragmentation of rivers and many mills also caused pollution such as from the bleaching and cleaning of wool. As industry developed, paint-works and chemical factories began to appear within the catchment and it was common for the River Darwen to run ‘the colours of the rainbow’ as waste paint and dyes were transported down the river.

Before industrialisation, agriculture was the major source of income. Farmland is now fragmented by industry, roads and housing. Agriculture remains on the edges of the South Pennine Moors.

The impacts of the historical uses and management of the catchment on rivers have been profound, however the rate has gathered significant pace, as the issues have accumulated and intensified as population has continued to grow; new chemicals (agricultural and domestic) have become available and Climate Change has begun to manifest.

There have been improvements and attempts to address these issues over the course of modern history, such as the creation of modern day sewage treatment works, reduction in exploitation of fisheries and the introduction of agri-environment schemes to encourage agricultural practices to help support the environment. More recently, the introduction of the Water Framework Directive has resulted in significant efforts to improve rivers and streams for all. This directive recognises the importance and value of rivers and streams and places the responsibility on countries to improve and upgrade their rivers and streams to ‘good ecological status’.

Work experience; helping students relate their learning to real world scenarios

Work experience
By Dan McGibbon

One of the weeks tasks was maintaining the Trust’s eel passes.

As a third year Geography student at university,gaining work experience has become a must for progressing from a student to someone who is in full time work. The Ribble Rivers Trust was kind enough to offer me some work experience and it’s somewhere I highly recommend if considering for a placement choice. Getting involved with the Ribble Rivers Trust offered a great opportunity to gain experience in catchment management and to see how techniques I’ve learnt at university are implemented to real-world scenarios.

The Trust carries out a wide variety of tasks to improve the catchments flowing water, from fish population monitoring and in-depth studies on fish movement, through to working with farmers to change land use along riverbanks, eradicating invasive species and increasing public awareness of catchment issues.

During my time with the Trust I helped with a variety of tasks including but not limited to, scouting sites for placing water level monitors, collecting data from existing sites, maintenance work on existing Weirs and adorning eel and fish passes, learning how GIS and CAD is used in real world projects, collected materials from various sources to be recycled into soft engineering defences and tree planting along riparian margins. Tree planting is mostly carried out by the Trust during the winter months as the tree roots are dormant and have a higher survivability rate than in summer, but I was lucky enough to be able to help with the last phase at one site. I quickly learnt that planting trees along river courses not only stabilises the banks from erosion while also intercepting and increasing water drainage into the soil, but provides habitat for wildlife, captures carbon from the atmosphere, filters water and can mitigate the affects of global warming through creating shaded sections over the river subsequently lowering the water temperature for fish and invertebrates.

An example of brash bundling

I also discovered that the public and their actions can have a massive impact on the local river systems, and how the Trust has established a great relationship with a number of farmers to reduce pollutant levels. I learnt this on a visit to a local farmer who had kindly given the Trust permission to recycle left over brash clippings to create brash bundles to be used in reducing erosion on river meanders; this is achieved through placing the bundles along river margins, slowing the river flow to induce sediment deposition and to reduce the erosive effect of the river flow. Furthermore, the land owner had allowed several of his fields to flood, incited by the RRT informing the land owner of stewardship schemes available, thus creating habitat for breeding birds and reducing the flood risk of the river downstream by holding up water from entering the main river channel. This highlighted to me the great work that the Trust is doing in managing the whole catchment area for the benefit of both its human population and flora and fauna.

Overall, I’ve had a great time with the Trust and their amazing staff and have gained some amazing incites and experience into Catchment management which will help me massively in the future and I would like to thank the team for being so accommodating towards me.

This Christmas keep our sewers clear!

This festive season we’re asking people across the UK to help keep our rivers and beaches clean by making sure all their leftover cooking fats and oils are put in the bin rather than poured down the sink.

If leftover fat from cooking the Christmas dinner goes down the sink, even with hot water and washing up liquid, it soon sets hard in the cold pipes. When it mixes with other unflushable items, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, it creates what is known as a Fatberg.

The Fatbergs then clog the sewerage pipes and stop the waste water reaching the treatment works as intended. This means the risk of sewage spilling out into homes, streets, rivers and seas is substantially increased and this type of pollution is particularly bad for the invertebrates, fish, mammals, and birds that call the river their home.

However, this is easily addressed. Make sure you follow these simple steps this Christmas and give the gift of clean rivers and seas for 2018 and beyond:

  1. Scrape or pour leftover fat from roasting trays and pans into a heat resistant container then recycle or bin it once cooled
  2. Wipe out grease left in pans with kitchen roll before washing
  3. Use a sink strainer to catch any greasy food scraps

Call of Nature campaign appeals for septic tank maintenance checks on World Toilet Day

Susannah Bleakley, Chief Executive at the Morecambe Bay Partnership highlighting that your toilet might be closer to rivers and seas than you think.

World Toilet Day is a UN initiative taking place on Sunday 19th November with the aim to improve global sanitation. Although the majority of the North West waste water is safely treated through the United Utilities network risks to local rivers and seas are still prevalent through privately maintained waste water treatment works.

The Call of Nature campaign has been designed to inform occupants of septic tanks, cesspits & package sewage treatment plants about the risks their tanks pose to animals and the environment if their facilities are poorly maintained.

Poorly maintained tanks are often incidental in nature with owners simply forgetting that the maintenance of their tanks is due. That’s why LOVEmyBEACH officers Hannah Barnes and Stephanie Wyatt are visiting areas around Haverigg, Millom and Seascale on Friday 17th November raising awareness about the campaign, reminding residents to check their tanks and suggesting World Toilet Day as a notable date for future checks.

Rosie Law, Project Officer from West Cumbria Rivers Trust added;

“We work a lot with farmers to ensure agricultural practices don’t impact water quality in the area but while we are out and about we often see a number of poorly maintained household septic tanks. It would be great if householders could do their bit to protect our rivers and seas by checking annually that their facilities are connected right and maintained properly.”

The information pack and website contains everything owners need to know about septic tank maintenance and also includes some top tips on efficiency such as only ever flushing the 3p’s; pee, poo and paper and avoiding any fats and food going down the kitchen sink. For those owners who are on top of their maintenance the website provides insight into new regulations that come into force in 2020.

Susannah Bleakley (pictured), Chief Executive at the Morecambe Bay Partnership added, “The Call of Nature campaign has led to some great improvements to the quality of our rivers and seas. This year’s bathing water results are evidence of this, with 100% of the locations passing standards for a second year in a row! We hope that septic tank owners can help to maintain, and improve, these standards by conducting a check this week.

Only leave paw prints and foot prints in the sand…

Hundreds of bags of dog poo have been found on the UK’s beaches according to the Marine Conservations Society’s 2016 research; with 792 bags recorded at 364 beaches by volunteers over the Great British Beach Clean weekend in September last year. However these numbers don’t show the full scale of the problem; beach clean volunteers do not record unbagged waste therefore the total amount of dog poo left by some owners on our beautiful beaches remains unknown.

Many people believe that leaving dog poo on the beach is OK because the tide washes it away, however this natural disposal technique isn’t the best thing for our beautiful beaches and seas. Bacteria present in dog poo is potentially harmful to beach users and can affect water quality.

That’s why organisations and campaigns from across the UK are uniting this week for #binit4beaches; a campaign focused on reducing pollution and litter at the beach and calling for dog owners to help with ongoing improvements.

Millions of people head to the UK’s beaches to relax, paddle and swim every year and we want water quality to be the best it can be. Last year 98.5% of the UK’s bathing waters met the tough minimum standards. By working together, we can continue to help protect and improve water quality. So, if you visit the beach with your dog please do your bit to help by bagging and binning your dog poo, making the beach safe for everyone to enjoy.

Fish Fridays

Throughout this summer’s electrofishing season, we’ve been giving people the chance to come along and help us with our surveys.

Like many of the activities that the Trust take part in electrofishing captures the attention of all our audiences, from fishermen to conservationists to students. Naturally the opportunity to take part in this exciting task receives high demand and so throughout the summer we’ve been running Fish Fridays (and Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays!).

The first of our eager volunteers was keen course angler and Ribble Trust volunteer Bill Auty from Rochdale. Heavy rains fell in the build up to Bill’s Fish Friday which made fishing a depletion survey challenging. This meant a change of tactic and we instead fished the semi quant sites on Easington Brook and, even though the water levels were dropping the conditions really tested Bill’s netting skills! Unfortunately, despite our best efforts the day had to be called short due to water levels and flows.

The following Friday we were joined by another hardy volunteer, Charles Alan Kenyon, a retired surveyor from Blackburn who is also a keen fisherman. After heading to the United Utilities area of the Bowland Estate we undertook a quantitative survey which yielded a great number of trout fry, following this we carried out a number of semi-quants which yielded several salmon fry- a clear sign of a healthy river! Despite weather being against us once again this was another productive day fishing.

With so many eager volunteers we took our next volunteer, Finn, out with us on the following Tuesday. As a marine biology Masters student Finn was keen to learn all about the science behind freshwater electrofishing. With Finn’s help a quantitative survey of Colne Water at Barrowford was undertaken; this site in particular involves a physically challenging day’s work along a considerably long stretch of river which requires all the (very heavy!) equipment to be carried to and from the site. However, Finn proved to be a great netter and helped us catch several trout fry, this proved that despite the area being urbanised and industrialised trout can still thrive in these improving waters!

Please #binit4beaches this summer

If you’re planning on visiting one of the UK’s hundreds of designated bathing water beaches this year you might be shocked to find a wet wipe buried in the sand next to your picnic spot.

It’s unlikely that these wipes have been left here as litter; millions of wipes are discarded or wrongly flushed down the toilet each year which means some of them reach our much loved, rivers, beaches and seas after sewers are overloaded by heavy rain or flooding.

Wet wipes are becoming essential to parents; helping clean up anything from dirty nappies to grubby faces, with the range of wipes in the market increasing in line with this demand. The Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach litter survey shows that the number of wet wipes found on UK beaches have echoed this trend, increasing by 700% over the last decade.

“But my wet wipe says flushable on it?”

Unfortunately, ‘flushable’ wipes may not break down quickly once they’ve been flushed. This can add to the risk of blockages, so remember to only flush the 3Ps – pee, paper and poo.

The #binit4beaches campaign is talking to families over the summer holidays about the importance of only flushing the 3P’s down the toilet; pee, poo and (toilet) paper and always putting wet wipes in the bin.

“Can I help?”

Instantly! Make this small change in your home and help reduce wet wipes reaching our much loved rivers and seas.

You can also help increase awareness about the effects on the environment when wet wipes are flushed down the toilet with your friends and family. Share this web page or use the #binit4beaches hashtag on social between the 14th and 20th August 2017.

GIS Mapping Student Placement

By Kat Rowland: GIS Intern

Slaidburn Youth Hostel

Slaidburn Youth Hostel

As a Geography student who loves rivers and GIS (and is doing her dissertation on both), the Rivers Trust was the perfect place for me to do a summer internship! Staying at the Slaidburn Youth Hostel, I worked in the Clitheroe office for three weeks. I immediately realised that the Trust does a lot more than simply monitor rivers; their work also covers surveying fish populations, eradicating invasive species, planting woodlands and hedgerows, educating in schools, working with farmers, reducing pollutants, inspecting flood damage, assessing habitats, removing weirs, creating fish passes, tagging salmon, and generally conserving the catchment. 

GIS – Geographic Information Systems – incorporates geographical features with tabular data, enabling geographers to map, identify and analyse patterns and problems. I have used ArcMap software at university in practicals, but have never used it in the ‘real-world’, so working at the Trust helped me to bridge the gap between theory and application. GIS enables you to manipu-lake spatial data and extract information – my first task was to use data on different risks to watercourses (warming from excess exposure to sunlight, sediment and faecal matter washing in from overland flow, flooding) to assess where it would be most beneficial to plant riparian woodlands. I used new and different GIS tools, so had to mullet all over, but eventually created multiple informative maps, and wrote a report on my findings. The difficulty of the tasks in no way eroded my enthusiasm, so I then learnt how to create interactive maps using ArcGIS Online (, and how to use data from OS Open Data and the Environment Agency to update the Rivers Trust records. 

In my weeks in the office, I’d been herring a lot about electro-fishing, so I was thrilled that I got the oppor-tuna-ty to go into the field and help (or get in the way of, oops) the Fish Monitoring Officer with surveying a stretch of river in Ribchester. Notfishstanding the pouring rain, it was great! I measured river width and length, monitored temperature, pH and conductivity and noted bank structure and vegetation. Then – after donning super attractive hip-high waders – we put up nets to demarcate a stretch of river, and went electro-fishing!  We used direct current electricity to attract fish, net them, and then would measure them and return them. It required quite a lot of a-gill-ity to keep the net behind the anode and cathode used to stun the fish, especially where there were overhanging trees, but we caught eels, trout, salmonids, bullheads, minnows, and stoneloach.

A boring office internship with a dull financial firm would have been way too main-stream for me, so I’m really happy to have had the chance to be fin-volved with an organisation that has such an important impact on the environment. It has been extremely benefishial to my GIS education and understanding of how conservation groups work, and I would highly recommend the Rivers Trust as an exciting and impactful plaice to work!

Apologies for the r-eel-ly bad puns. If you can think of better ones, let minnow 😉

Himalayan Balsam Bash

On Saturday 22nd July, nine fantastic volunteers braved the pouring rain to help Ribble Rivers Trust in their annual battle with the Himalayan balsam growing along Wigglesworth Beck.

The ‘Balsam Bash’, as it’s known, involved pulling up the Himalayan balsam, to prevent it from setting seed and spreading further along the beck and throughout the Ribble catchment. Clearing a site like this reduces the amount that will grow at the same site in future years. It’s also really satisfying and you can really see how much you’ve done at the end of a session!

Himalayan balsam is an invasive plant species that outcompetes native plants for nutrients, space, light and pollinators (e.g. bees), and therefore reduces native biodiversity. It also has shallow roots and, as it dies back over winter, leaves river banks with little winter vegetation. Both factors increase the risk of river bank erosion, which can allow harmful amounts of soil to enter our rivers. Too much soil in rivers prevents sunlight reaching river plants and reduces the amount of oxygen available for fish and river invertebrates. Himalayan balsam therefore damages the health of rivers and the species that depend on them.

Ribble Rivers Trust, along with brilliant volunteers, have been removing balsam at Wigglesworth Beck for the past few years. The difference is noticeable, with less balsam now growing than there was a few years ago. The volunteers did a fantastic job on Saturday (as the photos show), and their efforts were a great help in controlling the balsam at this site!

The Balsam Bash was organised as a Cache In Trash Out (CITO) event – an initiative developed by Geocachers – in which they carry out a range of environmental improvements, in order to give something back to the environment. This can include litter picks, tree planting days, or even a spot of gardening. This Balsam Bash event was also open to any non-Geocachers who wished to do their bit as well and John Siddall, one of our most dedicated volunteers, came along to help and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Geocacher Sam said afterwards:

‘After a couple of hours, we had felled a good amount of the invasive plant, and a real difference could be seen. Hopefully this might knock it back for a while and give the indigenous plants a chance to take root. This one was hard work, but worthwhile. Thanks for hosting and thanks for the biscuits.’

A MASSIVE thank you to all the volunteers who helped to bash the balsam growing along Wigglesworth Beck!

We hope to see you again at future CITO and volunteer events.

Ribble Life Together – The Launch

The Ribble Life Together project is officially underway!

Last week’s project launch event at Brockholes Nature Reserve was a huge success! The event celebrated securing £1.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund with a fun-filled, activity packed day which was supported by catchment partners and staff.

We’ve been developing the Ribble Life Together project for the past two years in collaboration with our catchment partners. The £3.2 million project will now be delivered until 2020 thanks to funding from our partners and other sources. 

The launch welcomed many guests, including representatives from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Rivers Trust, Environment Agency, United Utilities, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, Wildlife Trust, Yorkshire Dales National Park, and local community groups.

Also in attendance were the Horse and Bamboo Theatre Company, the project’s artistic partners, with a display featuring a range of their wonderful puppets and sensory art works. Esther Ferry Kerrington, Executive Director at Horse and Bamboo, was kind enough to speak at the event, delivering an insight into the world of Horse and Bamboo and the importance art can have in raising awareness of issues that affect our natural heritage.

Photos: Chris Bull for Creative Concern

The teachers and students from Sir Tom Finney Community High School, Preston, also attended the event. Ribble Trust works in partnership with schools to educate and engage young people and the students demonstrated their knowledge of all things river to the other attendees!  Find out more about our programme for schools here:

In the afternoon, speakers included Lorraine Ritchen-Stones, one of the Ribble Trust’s volunteers. Lorraine delivered a presentation which told the story of her journey into a conservation career, which was kick started thanks to her volunteering at the Ribble Trust!

Throughout the day a range of interesting, innovative and fun activities were on show in the reception area. These ranged from Virtual Reality Rivers which immerse users in the world of rivers using specialist software, headsets, and headphones, to the river simulator which provides a visual insight into the geomorphology of rivers.

Other activities included guided nature walks, riverfly displays, trout tanks, short film screenings, capturing sound bites, and woodlands, wetlands and fish pass displays.

A huge thank you to all the guests and speakers at the launch event, Brockholes Nature Reserve who hosted us, all the project funders, and everyone who has helped us on the Ribble Life Together journey so far!

Ribble Life Together - partners and funders