Work experience, by Marco Dobson

From the basis of wanting to do an enjoyable and interesting work experience, I contacted the Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT). Through one week of working among the people here at the RRT, I have learnt so much like fish ID, invertebrate ID, knowledge of land, tree ID, erosion defence techniques and much much more. The people here have helped me understand the importance of the work that the RRT team do: without this work, the River Ribble Catchment would not see the improvement in rate of erosion, fish spawning, visiting fish, flooding and more.

In only one week, I have managed to go out doing the electro-fishing and been to eco-conferences teaching and showing other people the importance of this organisation and what they do. After having three days of going out electro-fishing, I have been taught about many different types of fish and their characteristics. Also looking at all the invertebrates close-up has shown me that there is so much more in water than expected. All in all, I have been amazed at how well that the River Ribble Catchment is being managed and sustained by the Ribble Rivers Trust. Also, I have had an amazing week here and it has only made me want to do more work like this.

Angling- recreation on our rivers

When thinking of sport, not everyone will think of angling however, it is one of the most popular sports in the UK. The fishing industry is worth over £3 billion per year, with over 100,000 weekly participants and over 4,000,000 people having been fishing in the past 2 years.

An adult chub, one of the most frequently found coarse species in the Ribble catchment.

An adult chub, one of the most frequently found coarse species in the Ribble catchment.

Coarse fishing is the most popular type of fishing, with participants fishing rivers, canals, lakes, or ponds, and returning caught fish to the water. There are many types of coarse fish in the UK, but the most popular in the Ribble Catchment are dace, chub, and roach. There are also many different methods, or techniques used in fishing, and different tackle used for each technique.

Game fishing closely follows coarse fishing in terms of popularity, again participants fish in freshwater although this tends to be rivers, streams, or fishing lakes. Game fish are often taken for food, although the number, type and size that can be taken varies depending on river byelaws or fishery rules.

In the Ribble Catchment the most common game species are trout and salmon. Grayling are also caught using game fishing methods, but they are regarded as coarse fish. Again, there are many methods used in game fishing but game fishing, especially sea trout and salmon, can be more difficult due as spawning adults rarely eat when they return to rivers and so fishing lures do not work in the same way!

A normally elusive spring salmon caught (and released!) on main River Ribble.

Fishing the Ribble on the Trust's ever popular Mitton beat.

Fishing the Ribble on the Trust’s ever popular Mitton beat.

Getting into fishing doesn’t need to be expensive, tackle shops are happy to give advice to beginners, and basic kits can often be purchased for under £40.00. Perhaps the easiest way to start fishing is to go along with a family member or a friend who has been fishing before. Joining a fishing club is another useful place to start, many clubs offer taster sessions and events especially for those new to fishing. You can also fish some great beats in the Ribble Catchment thanks to our Angling Passport scheme, take a look at our Angling Passport webpage to find out more.

If you are aged 12 or over, you will need to have a fishing licence before going fishing. You may also need to pay the fishing club or owner of the beat that you choose to fish at, and you will need to ensure that you are aware of any additional byelaws.  

Reconnecting the Darwen Sub-Catchment

Hoghton Bottoms Weir is the largest of many on the River Darwen that create a barrier to fish movement. Structures like this are a problem for fish, like brown trout and salmon, that migrate downstream to find suitable food sources before returning to their spawning grounds in the smaller stretches upstream to mate. Fish use a large amount of energy attempting to get over barriers like this and this affects their success at breeding. Out of all the weirs being tackled through the Ribble Life Together project, alterations to Hoghton Bottoms Weir will re-connect the greatest amount of habitat.

The weir is at the top of a picturesque sandstone gorge. Public access to the weir is good, with a well-used footpath running alongside the left-hand bank of the river. The weir itself is a well-photographed local landmark.

The weir once provided water to Higher Mill at Hoghton Bottoms, as well as Livesey’s Cotton Factory. The mill leat (channel that carried water collected behind the weir to the mill or factory) is now largely dilapidated but is still visible along its entire length from the weir to the viaduct over the river.

Due to its historic importance, large changes to the structure of the weir are not possible. The most feasible option for this is a rock-ramp fish easement (by reducing the steepness of the weir’s gradient, fish will have a better chance of getting up shorter stretches and pools to rest in on the way up). The bedrock outcrop may form part of the channel, over which fish will be able to swim. The main challenge here is the difficulty of access for construction vehicles and materials.

Lower Darwen Weir also poses a barrier to fish movement in the River Darwen. It is adjacent to a swimming pool, pre-school nursery and industrial estate and can be seen from River Darwen Parkway Local Nature Reserve.

Removing the weir is thought to be too high risk for this site due to the structure and condition of the weir and proximity of local infrastructure. Therefore, we plan to construct a rock-ramp bypass channel that will give fish an alternative route around the side of the weir. During high flows, overspill from the river is also beginning to erode a channel behind the weir. The fish pass will help to stabilise the banking at this point and reduce the likelihood of the weir collapsing.

Historically, like many of the weirs on the River Darwen, this weir supplied water to a mill. Maps of Lower Darwen in 1845 indicate that it supplied a mill race for Ewood Cotton Mill (along with several other structures). By 1895, the weir supplied water to the Scotshaw Brook Paper Mill first and then continued to pass to Ewood Mill. This continued until at least 1945 when both mills were demolished, leaving the weir redundant.

Hollins Weir is in a steep wooded valley between Darwen Sewage Treatment Works and the Crown Paint factory on Hollins Road. The weir is a single large beam of hardwood timber spanning two stone channel walls and supported in the middle by several vertical pieces of angle iron.

Fish passage has been improved here by partially removing the weir structure and restoring the section to create a closer-to-nature river channel.

Fish passage has also been addressed at Greenbank Terrace Weir. The majority of the original weir was washed out during a flood in 2012 but a small section of weir remained a barrier to fish passage. When the weir was washed out, it exposed a large area of bedrock upstream and adjacent to the remaining weir. This bedrock was important in limiting the geomorphological impact of the removal of the weir.

Removal of the weir structure has improved fish passage due to the restoration of a close-to-nature river channel, the low risk of geomorphological impacts and the relatively low cost.

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.

The One Show

We were delighted to have seen Ribble Rivers Trust featured on this week’s The One Show, talking about water quality testing and solutions to some of the most common pollution problems with our rivers.

Shown on Monday 4th March 2019, the programme detailed how Ribble Rivers Trust had found issues with high levels of phosphates and bacteria in a stream within their catchment.

During the show, the Trust took a water sample in Savick Brook, in Preston.  This brook flows from the Ribble Valley through farm land and into Preston, before joining the Ribble in its estuary, not far from the Fylde Coast.

Savick Brook is half farm land and half city, which presents problems with phosphate and also bacteria such as ecoli and enterococci.  Phosphate often find its way into river from agriculture, septic tanks and misconnections, as well as sewage works.

Wednesday’s filming for The One Show took place on a stretch of river we use in our Rivers in the Classroom education scheme- the fencing and trees you can see in the background were created as part of our work with the help of volunteers.

Jack Spees, CEO at Ribble Rivers Trust, said: Given how close it is to the Fylde coast this is a problem, as the River Ribble’s water quality can impact on the beaches of the Fylde Coast, which are important to local communities and the economy, as they are major tourist attractions for the area. 

“For the past 4 years, we have been working closely with farmers and communities to improve water quality in this brook and many nearby brooks.  This work has been supported by the Environment Agency, United Utilities and a range of others including the National Lottery Heritage Fund.”

During the show, the Trust explained that by working closely with the local farmers, they can significantly improve the water quality and solve many these issues at source.

Like many of our other local Rivers Trusts, Ribble Rivers Trust use water quality testing and monitoring techniques to locate and solve the problem at source.

Jack continues: “we often go out and test the water quality to monitor any changes within the catchment and some of this testing is done with the help of local community volunteers.

“When we find an issue, we work directly with the farmer, positively, to deliver change which is good for the environment, but also good for the farmer.  This we feel is paramount to the success of improving the water quality of our rivers, and the majority of farmers that we approach, are incredibly keen on finding environmental solutions.”

There are many different types of pollution problems found in our rivers and The Rivers Trust recently released a tool where you can find out the industries effecting your local river and whether they are classed as ‘healthy’. View the tool here and find out what industry has the most impact on your local watercourse.

Here are a few other ways you can get involved with your local river:

Volunteer with your local Rivers Trust- from river guardian schemes, outfall safaris, litter picking, and tree planting-find volunteering events here.

Get your children to learn about their local rivers– many of our Rivers Trusts have education programmes, such as Eden Rivers Trust, who have a number of children’s activity sheets for getting out into your local river.

Get involved in the Freshwater Watch Scheme and get your very own testing kit.

Donate to The Rivers Trust.

Christmas Tree Collections- update

UPDATE: Our Christmas tree collection scheme has been a huge success this year with hundreds of Christmas trees collected. These trees will be used in our brash bundling work, where they will provide  support and stability to eroding river banks, helping us to limit river erosion and build river banks back up.


We’d like to say a massive thank you to the Green Jersey, the landowners who let us use their fields as collection points, the volunteers who helped with collections, and all those who donated their trees!

Due to an amazing amount of support we are no longer able to accommodate new Christmas tree collections.

This is the first year we have run this appeal and we have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve had. Thank you for thinking of us and we hope you’ll remember us next year. We are active all year round, so please visit for more information about the range of work we do to improve the rivers in the Ribble Catchment for wildlife and people.

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!