Breaking down barriers in the River Douglas Catchment

An epic three-year river engineering project has drawn to a successful close this summer. The Opening Up The River Douglas (OUR Douglas) project, delivered by Lancashire based charity Ribble Rivers Trust, has seen the modification or removal of eight river blocking barriers and weirs in the River Douglas catchment.

OUR Douglas commenced work in 2020 with the aim of addressing eight weirs; Cobbs Clough, Downstream Pincroft, Gathurst, Grimeford Lane, Pottery Terrace, Red Rock, Upstream Pincroft, and Worthington Weir.

Gathurst weir- one of the eight weirs removed or bypassed on the River Douglas

These weirs, which were once a vital part of Lancashire’s industry, helped the area thrive. While historically significant, these structures are now obsolete. However, they now present severe challenges for migratory fish populations such as brown trout and Atlantic salmon. This is because the majority of fish species need to move up and down stream to spawn, survive, and thrive. When movement isn’t possible, it impacts the delicate balance of river ecosystems. In turn, this impacts other much loved species including otters and kingfishers.

helping to heal the river douglas

As with all Ribble Rivers Trust projects, data was collected on each individual barrier, the river, local wildlife, and structures such as homes, roads, and utilities. Careful analysis of data like this helps to prioritise which weirs pose the biggest problem. The we can decide which removals would bring the most benefit to wildlife and local residents.

Addressing each weir presented unique challenges, reflecting the diverse nature of the project. Due to the urban nature of the area and the size of the structures not all of the weirs are suitable for removal. In fact, many of the individual removal projects were far from straightforward. Nonetheless, Ribble Rivers Trust implemented a range of innovative solutions. These include the construction of rock ramps and complete removals, to restore natural water flow and enhance aquatic habitats.

“The completion of Gathurst fish pass and the removal of Cobbs Clough Weir bring to a close an exciting programme of fish passage projects in the Douglas Catchment. Both projects were very challenging – Gathurst was a complex engineering problem with difficult access issues including an old canal swingbridge, and Cobbs Clough had to be developed in half the usual time. But thanks to hard work by our team, and the help of our partners, particularly the West Lancs Countryside Ranger Service, we were able to pull it off. And we’re very happy with the results!“

Adam Walmsley, Head of River Conservation at Ribble Rivers Trust
Cobbs Clough weir- one of the eight weirs removed or bypassed on the River Douglas

Comprehensive pre-construction surveys were conducted to gather extensive data on river health, ensuring a robust evaluation of the project’s impact. These surveys will be replicated to determine how successful the impact of the work is. Early results have been very promising, with surveys showing a dramatic increase in the number of fish successfully migrating upstream, and an increase in the speed at which they are able to move.

“The removal or modification of eight weir/barriers within the River Douglas Catchment is a huge achievement and something to be proud of. The Cobb’s Clough removal is one close to my heart as I have grown up along the banks of the river Tawd and its such an amazing, beautiful valley. The speed of its removal just shows the importance of partnership and working together. The organisations and members that make up the Douglas Catchment Partnership  is what makes it special and I’m glad Friends of Tawd Valley are part of it. I look forward to witnessing the fish and wildlife thrive in the river Tawd now that the weir is gone. Thank you to everyone that worked hard to make this happen.”

Mike Flaherty of the Friends of the Tawd Valley

For over 25 years Ribble Rivers Trust have been removing barriers and weirs on Lancashire’s waters and are now leading the work on the River Douglas. The Our Douglas project is possible thanks to backing from Groundwork CLM and funding from the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, through the European Regional Development Fund. A special thank you goes to contractors Bailey Contracts Ltd, Wade Group and Askam Civil Engineering.

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