Rivers in the Classroom (and as classrooms!)

Sat with a year 6 group watching sand martins return to the river’s eroded bank, swooping around picking freshly hatched riverflies from the air. One girl leans to her friend to say “I could watch these all day. I’m going to come down here at the weekend.” At that moment, a huge grin spread across my face! That’s what our education programme is all about – reconnecting, and in some cases for the first time connecting, the next generation with their local rivers. It is only through forging and nurturing deep connections with their local river that they and their rivers will get the mutual benefits that each can offer to the other.

This year, the Ribble Trust’s ‘Rivers in the Classroom’ programme has directly engaged with over 500 children from 17 schools across the catchment. We hope that these experiences have helped the children to build a closeness to the wildlife of their rivers and feel the joy they can get from this. Through the programme, we have also provided opportunities for them to see, first-hand, how river systems function naturally alongside problems that threaten this balance. This helps them to form a deeper understanding of how we humans are part of this system and the consequent effects of the actions we choose. We hope that this, combined with seeing how easy it is to get to their local river and enjoy it safely in future, will set them up to appreciate and conserve this important part of our ecosystem well into the future. 

The effects also ripple out much further, with many of these children sharing their own ‘Rivers in the Classroom’ experiences in sessions for other children in their school. Some have even linked to other schools and nurseries for this. We have also developed new, hands-on, resources and expanded the suite of activities that we offer to school groups. The experience for the children that we’ve worked with this year has, once again, been greatly enhanced by a team of fantastic volunteers. So, we’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to all those involved!

Tidal Ribble

Venturing into a new area… 11 of the 12 schools that we have been working closely with for the first time this year are in the Lower Ribble sub-catchment. One of the main problems facing this area is faecal matter, which comes from a multitude of sources. By connecting children with their river and its wildlife, enabling them to discover the local challenges facing their river and what they can do at home to help, our aim here has been to inspire children to become champions for their river and take actions at home that will lead to healthier river systems and consequently cleaner bathing waters.

We have also given all the children that we’ve worked directly with in this area the opportunity to enter our ‘Mission: River Protect’ competition by spreading the word to friends and family at home about what amazing things they have chosen to do to show their river some love. We can’t wait to see what they get up to!

After visits to their local brook, two of the schools have also decided to tackle another very visual problem facing their river: litter. As well as making it a better habitat for wildlife, they are hoping that this will help other local people to enjoy and take care of their rivers. It is amazing what a difference they have made to their local stretches of river and the impacts will be felt much further downstream too. When I’ve joined students from Sir Tom Finney Community High on their clean-ups by Eaves Brook, they’ve said how much they enjoyed the excuse to spend time near their brook and we are delighted that they are going to continue these regular clean-up river visits. After giving their local patch a little further down Eaves Brook a spring clean, children from Holme Slack Primary in Preston also brought their parents along to see the brown trout, that they had reared in their classroom, being released.

Another highlight was St Matthew’s Primary being joined for their fish release by children from Ashbridge Day Nursery, who they had written stories about their trout for, including ‘How the Brown Trout got its Spots’. We loved reading these and the letters and poems from other schools in the office too!

It has also been fantastic to have the support of the Preston Park Rangers for many of these schools’ visits to the river, making areas accessible to the groups and sharing the wealth of their local knowledge.

Active Rivers

“It will create shade, and when the trees drop leaves the invertebrates can eat.” explained George, from year 4. “It will protect habitats.” added his classmate, Charlie. These are just some of the many benefits that the new woodlands, created this winter with the help of local school children, will give to the river. The Fisheries Improvement Project, made it possible for children from an urban school in Burnley to link up with a rural school on their river visits to improve the river and adjacent habitats while discovering how they can enjoy them in the future.

50 children and their teachers from three schools planted over 500 trees on the banks of Cow Hey Brook near Bashall Eaves. The children discovered the many benefits that their trees will bring to the stream and the wildlife it supports. Cow Hey feeds into Bashall Brook where the children also got hooked on angling with many proudly making their very first catch and enjoying the opportunity to see the river’s hidden wildlife up close. All our junior tree planters were also given a map of how to find their woodland on the Public Right of Way and are excited to bring their families to see how their trees flourish.

The activities mentioned in this post have been made possible thanks to funds from the Heritage Lottery, United Utilities, Greggs Foundation and Environment Agency.

If you are from a school interested in finding out more about our education programme, please get in touch with emily@ribbletrust.com.

Work Experience 2017

By Lydia Ferris, Clitheroe Royal Grammar School.  

I don’t really know what caused me to contact Ribble Rivers Trust for work experience but I am so glad that I did! This week has been very informative and has helped me build my knowledge of what exactly the RRT do and has shown me just how much work they have to do to help and sustain our rivers. I underwent varied tasks as the week progressed which have developed my overall knowledge, communication skills, confidence and what you have to do whilst working.

My first day started with meeting Paul. He showed me where the main office was and took me inside, where I then met Emily. After having a general discussion with Emily about my work experience, she introduced me to most of the staff members at the office. Then I was set the task of covering egg cartons to make them look like treasure chests for a school activity, I got the hang of it pretty quickly and just stuck to it for the morning since I was pretty nervous.

At lunch, I was invited out on a walk with Ellie and Emily which was really nice. The weather was quite sunny so the walk was very pleasant.

I then went to a site with John, to take photographs for a record to show that the trees were planted and everything was in order. It was really good to look at the work of trees that had been planted two years ago, but then we had to cross a muddy field to get to the first area in which one of the earlier photographs was taken. That was the muddiest I have been in a long time, but I couldn’t help laughing at myself, I think I fell around 4 times and almost lost a wellie at one point but it was still a great day.

The second day was very different to the first, we started out with a monthly meeting that lasted for two hours but it gave me a good insight into what everyone is doing and what projects may be happening during 2017. It was in this meeting where I met Jack, the trust’s director. After this, I continued with the work I started Monday morning until lunch.

After lunch I went out with Emily to Sir Tom Finney High School to check their trout tank and to join a few of the staff and students on a clean-up. It was nice to see kids helping their local environment and to witness how determined they were to clean up the park we were in.

The next day I went tree planting for the day’s entirety. We took down some equipment that we sorted out the previous day and waited for some college students before we could start. We managed to plant all the trees by half 2. I really enjoyed it but I was aching in the evening.

The fourth day, I went out with Neil to check the trout tanks in 5 primary schools in Preston for the trout in the classroom project. They were all doing well and were healthy and Neil told me that they are going to be released in about 2 weeks.

When we got back to the office I was finishing off the task I started on my first day but then Ellie introduced me to GIS so I could map a route out for the 4 primary schools in Longridge to take to the trout release site. This was interesting to do because I have never mapped anything before.

On my final day, I went out with Emily to the 4 Longridge schools to check their trout (all are healthy!) and hand them all their copies of the maps I produced the day before. We then walked around the route that Emily planned to take them when releasing the trout and I helped her spot things that she could point out during the river walk. The bird life there was incredible. We heard a woodpecker and saw many other birds and we even helped a fisherman catch a barbel (we didn’t really, we just watched.) When we got back to the office, Emily got out a microscope for me and showed me all the invertebrates that the trout will feed on when they get released. I looked at them all through the microscope (I would not like to have them in my diet.) 

I have really enjoyed my time here and it has been a wonderful experience. All the staff have made me feel so welcome, I would love to stay and not go back to school. This experience has really developed me as a person and it was very helpful in advice for my career options. I will definitely volunteer when and where I can because this week has been one of the best moments of my life!

This opportunity was made possible thanks to funding from the Greggs Foundation.


The Volunteer Experience

By Lorraine Richen-Stones

After 32 years working in the NHS and with my children full grown I gathered the courage to leave seeking a second career in conservation with a passion to make a difference.

As an existing tree planting volunteer with the Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT) since January 2014, Jack the Trust’s Director generously offered me a sabbatical placement to gain new skills in conservation field work. This enabled me to test whether a career change was the right thing for me, with my biggest worry being whether I could get fit enough, even before I could consider making the commitment to going back to University to retrain. Harvey, Programme Manager kindly organised a range of activities for me over the summer and autumn with the team. Ruth their Seasonal Assistant become my surrogate personal trainer in the process, as she patiently enabled me to build up my fitness levels eventually walking 6 miles on our Ribchester circular walk. Over the course of six months I volunteered for over 165 hours with the Ribble Rivers Trust and the Wild Trout Trust, undertaking a variety of activities during June – December 2016 which helped me gain a breadth of field work experience.

It has been a real privilege to learn and benefit from the Ribble Rivers Trust’s collective knowledge by assisting the Contracts Manager John, Education and Engagement Officer Emily, Capital Work Development Officer Adam, Volunteer Supervisor Richard and Seasonal Assistants by undertaking a variety of practical tasks. My learning experiences have included supporting feasibility studies for the Ribble Life Together Project’s circular walks with Ruth and Emily; Conducting water sampling for herbicides and bacteriological water sampling with John and Ellie; Invasive species control and river-fly monitoring with Adam, Tree planting with Richard and various public engagement events such as the Woodland Fun Day in Accrington. Which to my embarrassment even ended up with me appearing on local TV with young ladies from the National Citizen Service.  This provided experience of partnership working with farmers and land owners, United Utilities, Environment Agency, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, National Citizen Service, Pendle Heritage Centre, Love My Beach, Horse and Bamboo Theatre. 

In September 2016 I made the decision to retrain, and next came which degree course to undertake. Gareth, Catchment Science Coordinator kindly made a couple of introductions for me into the academic world to help me explore the best academic options, as the choices were mind boggling. This led to me to attending Habitat Improvement Workshops facilitated by Jon Grey Professor in Practice at Lancaster University and Conservation Officer with the Wild Trout Trust. After conversations with various staff at Ribble Rivers Trust, Lancaster University, friends and family I narrowed this down from 182 possible MSc courses to just two.

Earlier this month I submitted my postgraduate applications, and was fortunate to be accepted as a mature student. I’m really looking forward to starting my MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity this October. Even more luckily my volunteering experience and transferable NHS skills led me into paid work in conservation which will help me gain further technical knowledge before starting my course this autumn, and I am now on another massive learning curve.

Looking back over the last year, none of these opportunities would have been possible without the kindness and support of the committed and passionate staff at Ribble River Trust, who I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart.

Fish Passes: How we design them

By Mike Forty, Project Officer.  

Restoring connectivity in rivers
One of the big challenges we face in restoring freshwater ecosystems is re-connecting disjointed sections of streams which have been isolated by construction of in-stream structures. These structures can have profound effects on streams, acting as a barrier reducing, delaying, or altogether stopping fish or invertebrate movements, and disturbing geomorphological processes. This barrier effect is arguably greatest when rearing and spawning habitats of migratory fish are cut off.

These structures come in many forms (e.g. weirs, culverts, dams) and were mostly constructed during the industrial revolution to power mills or divert water courses around infrastructure. With regards to the former, many structures are now antiquated but their legacy remains interrupting ecosystem connectivity. Where possible connectivity is best restored by removing these structures, however, often there are reasons why a structure must remain in situ (e.g. heritage, aesthetics, infrastructure) and this is where fish passes come in.

Larinier technical fish pass (right) next to hydropower-turbine


Fish pass types
There are many types of fish pass that have been developed which can be grouped in to technical and nature-like passes. Technical types such as Larinier, Denil, and pool-weir traverse passes often use series of metal, plastic, or wooden baffles attached to the bottom/sides of a constructed channel to create very specific flow conditions to allow their target species to pass. Nature-like passes come in the form of constructed stream channels or rock ramps that are designed to mimic a natural stream channel, often creating a stream bed of boulders, cobbles and gravels. Nature-like passes are considered more aesthetically pleasing, but do require a lot more room for construction as they need to be built at a suitable gradient (≤ 5%) so velocities are not too great for fish to swim through.

After identifying a structure that requires a fish pass and discussing with structure/land owners we begin the design process by collecting site specific information on the river including what fish species are present. This is particularly important as different fish passes are suited to different species, as the mode of swimming and swimming ability in fishes varies greatly. For example, Atlantic salmon are very strong swimmers and leapers compared with European eel, as such they have different requirements in terms of fish passage.

In-channel rock ramp built on flat sloping weir

While collecting this data, we will have a surveyor undertake a topographical survey for us which will give us detailed information on the dimensions of the structure, river channel, and banks. We can then use these drawings and data to evaluate which type of fish pass will be best suited to the situation using an options appraisal. The options appraisal evaluates each design option available against any mitigating factors from the list of design factors below, with the final design choice being that which correlates best with them.

Design factors
-Species target/present
-Existing known fish migration behaviour
-Size of Catchment
-Barrier Location Within Catchment
-Invasive Species
-Other Ecological Constraint
-Construction Constraints
       -Health and Safety
– Wider stakeholder interests
       -Historical heritage interest
       -Adjacent Land use
-Short-term and long term objectives
       -Debris clearance

Artists impression of a natural by-pass channel

The design process
Our design work is conducted in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software that allows us to create detailed drawings of fish passes on top of topographical survey data. Depending on the type of pass we’re designing, we identify the best location for it from the data, looking to see if there are any elements of the environment that we can take advantage of to make construction easier. For example, a dried-up river channel might offer an ideal location for a nature-like by-pass. Then following guidance from the Environment Agency’s Fish Pass Manual (among others) we create the design drawings with cross-sections, long-sections, and in plan-view that detail the dimensions of the fish pass, what materials are used, and the construction process. In all circumstances these fish passes will be designed so as not to increase flood-risk and in most circumstances, need to be approved by the Environment Agency’s National Fish Pass Panel before construction can proceed.

Example of a plan and long section of a low-cost baffle and rock ramp design

The Lower River Ribble


Lower Ribble Way (66)

Soon after flowing under Mitton Bridge, the River Ribble grows considerably where it is joined by the Rivers Hodder and Calder.  The ‘Big Ribble’ continues through fertile pastoral land with a large amount of dairy farming and becomes tidal in Preston, Lancashire’s administrative centre.  The Ribble Estuary flows past the fertile Fylde plain on its way to the Irish Sea, where the coastline becomes increasingly urbanised from Lytham St. Annes northwards towards the popular holiday destination of Blackpool.

The Upper River Ribble

Ribble Edisford

The Upper Ribble catchment includes the source of the River Ribble at the confluence of Gayle Beck and Cam Beck near the famous viaduct at Ribblehead, in the shadow of the Yorkshire Dales three peaks in the National Park area above Horton-in-Ribblesdale.  This area is lightly populated and the main use of land is for the rearing of sheep.  As the Ribble flows through Ribblesdale and on towards Lancashire the land becomes more fertile allowing dairy farming on the pastureland.  The principal towns include Settle in North Yorkshire, Barnoldswick and Clitheroe in Lancashire.

River Hodder



The Hodder catchment includes some of the most attractive landscapes within the Ribble catchment. The whole area is within the designated Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the uplands are in the Bowland Fells SSSI. The catchment has a highly valued fishery and is popular with anglers. Stocks Reservoir and other upland river intakes, provide a vital part of the North West’s public water supply.  The Hodder valley is mostly agriculture with small rural villages including Dunsop Bridge and Slaidburn.

River Calder


The Calder catchment includes the main River Calder which originates from the moorlands surrounding Nelson, Burnley, Colne and Accrington, before joining the Ribble below Whalley.  All the tributaries that flow into the River Calder such as Pendle Water, Colne Water and Hyndburn Brook are also in this area.  Historically this area was heavily industrialised (mill workings, paper production and so on) and much of the Calder and its tributaries were altered and impacted by industrial and urban development.  The catchment is predominantly urban.