Upper Ribble Weirs

The Upper Ribble weirs, which are being addressed thanks to our Ribble Life for Water project, are a set of four weirs on the River Ribble close to Horton in Ribblesdale.

Despite being close to its source the Ribble is still not achieving ‘good’ status in this location. This is due to a number of factors such as agricultural diffuse pollution, land management issues, and modifications in the river, such as these upper Ribble weirs.

These four structures have been identified as having significant impact on the morphology of the river. Having been created some time ago by anglers who hoped to create resting pools for fish, which would improve fishing prospects and the likelihood of catching a fish, the weirs are now negatively affecting the river.

Species such as trout and salmon are sensitive to changes in the river and need particular spawning and nursery habitats. The modifications that have been carried out here are affecting the pool and riffle sequences which are so important for fish.

Although we are in the planning stage, modelling and ecological surveys have been carried out, and we are monitoring for signs of otters.

Pendle WINNS and the fight against balsam

The Trust are now in their second year of the Pendle WINNS invasive species control, which is being carried out in partnership with Forest of Bowland AONB as part of their Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership project.

Ribble Rivers Trust is helping the project achieve its aims by involving local volunteers in the control of invasive species and planting of new woodland around this iconic landmark.

An area of riverbank in Barley before and after clearance.

An area of riverbank in Barley before and after clearance.

This year we have been tackling key strategic sites in the Pendle area. These sites have been carefully researched to ensure that the removal will have the maximum impact. By starting in the upper reaches of rivers and streams and travelling downstream we can increase the effectiveness of our work and prevent the areas we have worked on from being reseeding.

The three sites we are targeting as part of Pendle WINNS are Barley, Ravensclough Wood, and Swanside Beck. These sites were first visited in 2018 and are being revisited this year. As the seeds of Himalayan balsam can remain in viable in the soil for many years, we will need to keep revisiting these sites until no further balsam grows.

The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership project, led by the Forest of Bowland AONB, was awarded £1.8 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2018. The grant is being used to restore, enhance and conserve the heritage and landscape of Pendle Hill, reconnecting people with their past and their landscape, and creating a sustainable future for the environment.

Some of our lovely volunteers who are helping us in the fight against balsam

Some of our lovely volunteers who are helping us in the fight against balsam

Holland Wood fish passage

Holland wood weir lies on the River Darwen, close to its confluence with the River Ribble and the limit of the tidal Ribble area. The weir once helped to supply Walton Mill, a corn and flour mill in Walton le Dale, Preston, with water. Although the mill, which is now operated by Massey Bros, still exists only the weir remains, although the route of the mill race is still clear from aerial photographs.

The weir itself is 3.15 meters high, 10 meters long, and 26 meters wide and at the moment there is little opportunity for fish to pass the weir. The weir is also causing other problems, with the creation of incision downstream, and gravel and silt deposition upstream.

In order to improve fish passage and the rivers geomorphology the Trust will be creating a close-to-nature bypass channel, similar in design to the one created at Oakenshaw in 2017. This channel will redirect 5-10% of the rivers flow into a separate, specially designed channel which can be used as an alternative route upstream for migratory fish. It is hoped that when the bypass channel is completed it will enable increase the numbers of salmon, brown trout, and eels, as well as bullhead, chub, roach, and even some fish more commonly associated with saltwater, such as flounder.

As well as the bypass channel we are tackling the giant hogweed, Himalayan balsam, and Japanese knotweed that is growing in the area, and carrying out engagement activities with Scouts and other local groups.


Work on the fish passage is due to start later this year and has been made possible thanks to funding from the Water Environment Grant, as part of the Ribble Life for Water project.

Work Experience, by Emma Tabernacle


When I arrived, I was met by Jonny who showed me around the office and explained what the trust did and what I would be doing for the week. I then went electrofishing with Adam and Kate. The fish were caught using an electric current relative to the conductivity of the water, which caused the muscles of the fish to twitch and meant they were easier to catch. We caught a lot of bullhead and mallow, as well as trout, a few salmon and an eel.


On Tuesday I went to Stainforth with Helen and Amelia where we set up a ‘River Explorers’ walk along the river. This involved children using an app to find boards with a trout, kingfisher and otter on. The app would then play an animation and give some information about the animals. Once they had finished, they were able to colour and make a River Explorer badge.


On my third day I went to a volunteer day where I helped remove tree guards from trees that had been planted 6 years ago. The trees are important to rivers because they help stabilise the river banks and provide shade that cools water temperatures.


Today Helen and Ryan took me to Edisford Bridge for another ‘River Explorers’ day. It was a lot more successful than Tuesday because the weather was so hot, and lots of families came to make badges with different river animals on. They were also really interested in the using virtual reality headset that showed videos and information on two river sites the trust has worked on.


On Friday I went to a volunteer balsam bashing with Jonny, Amelia and Ryan. Himalayan balsam is an invasive species that outcompetes native flora in the summer and dies in the winter. Because its roots are very short it is unable to provide support for the river bank and means its susceptible to erosion.

I’ve had a very enjoyable week with the Ribble Rivers Trust and I’m pleased I chose to do work experience here. It has taught me a lot about what it is like to work with the environment and the importance of volunteers in helping to make improvements to rivers.

Fishing equipment appeal success!

Over the last few months we’ve been appealing to the angling community to try and gather together more equipment for our angling coaching, and we are delighted to announce it has been a great success.

Thanks to generous contributions we now have a range of equipment including rods, nets, reels, feeders, floats, and much more!

Ribble Trust recently introduced angling into the schools packages to educate young people about the benefits of rivers and teach them how to care for their local environment. This equipment will be a huge help to us with this work.

Our angling sessions go hand in hand with our Rivers in the Classroom sessions. By introducing young people to angling we hope it will promote a sense of responsibility towards rivers and encourage young people to look after their local environment whilst enjoying sport and learning new skills.

The angling tutoring also help to improve young people’s communication and team work skills, physical and mental wellbeing, and increase confidence. Experiencing nature and the outdoors, enjoying peace and quiet and positive interactions with like-minded people will reduce stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem and result in happier, more positive people.

As a sport angling has multiple benefits, plus it is relatively low cost and accessible with the majority of people able to get involved. By getting people involved with the sport at an early age it is hoped that they will develop lifelong love of angling and of course, rivers!

Photo courtesy of Todmorden Angling Society

Photo courtesy of Todmorden Angling Society

Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project Progress

The Ribble Rivers Trust’s (RRT) ‘Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project’ which is receiving £500,768 from the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, through the European Regional Development Fund, is now near to commencing work on the site.

Over recent months a key step forward for the project was the establishment of a new Trust who will own and maintain the site into the future – Primrose Community Nature Trust (PCNT). Primrose Community Nature Trust has been formed by three local people keen to see the site changed into a public space that will enable the community to enjoy nature right on their doorstep.

Primrose Community Nature Trust, Ribbe Rivers Trust, and Ribble Valley Borough Council have been working together to prepare a management and maintenance plan for the site following Ribble Rivers Trust’s works, but also thinking about the future. Richard Stephenson, Chair of Primrose Community Nature Trust said “this first phase of work is fundamental to establishing a high-quality public space, but it is only the beginning. There is much more that can be done to improve the site and bring benefit to the local community and the environment”. The two trusts are planning an event in the summer to discuss the current plans, but also to gather thoughts and ideas for further improvements from the local community.

Jack Spees CEO of Ribble Rivers Trust said “The establishment of Primrose Community Nature Trust is fantastic, Ribble Rivers Trust’s work over an area of 700 square miles, so we are pleased there are local dedicated people who will work to maintain the site for the benefit of us all, and we will work with to try and deliver further improvements to the site.”

You can find further detail on the Project on the project page, and a new website has also been created for Primrose Community Nature Trust www.primrosecommunitynaturetrust.org

Michelle’s apprentice success story!

When I first arrived I knew nothing!  Or at least I felt like I didn’t.  It was something completely new to me and I wasn’t sure if I would make the grade.  However, that soon became irrelevant and unimportant.

Changing careers can be a daunting prospect as you can never be totally sure whether it’s something you’ll be good at or even like.  I somehow knew though that my decision to change from working in an office doing admin to working as an apprentice for an environmental conservation charity would be the best professional decision I would ever make.

From sitting at a desk, where the only amount of  lifting and carrying I did was to pick up a telephone/biscuit, to working in the countryside where lifting things (very heavy things!) became the norm, was a big change but as I’m always up for a challenge, I persevered.  What could be better than exploring Lancashire’s green hills and getting fit at the same time?

I have been doing a horticulture apprenticeship at Ribble Rivers Trust since October 2017 where I’ve been able to get involved in a wide range of activities, for example fitting eel tiles on a fish pass, to allow eels to migrate upstream (see picture).  Having never used a chisel and hammer (seriously) before, this was a first for me, and only on my second day!  I was going in head first.

Next on the agenda, was planting trees.  And oh boy, was there a lot!   The first site had over 7000 trees and it was the first step I took into learning tree identification.  I remember having a conversation with a friend a few months earlier about how I wished I could identify trees just by looking at their leaves; well now I’m well on my way to doing just that with native trees from the North West of England.

Not long into my apprenticeship I was given the opportunity to lead on activities with volunteers.  My first task was to organise Balsam Bashing sessions during the summer months.  Himalayan Balsam is an invasive and non-native plant that contributes to riverbank erosion and out-competes our native flora, hence why we encourage pulling it out.  On my first day I was nervous to lead my own volunteer day, however my nerves soon dissipated when I met the volunteers who came.  I’m proud to say they are still volunteering with us today, so I must have made a good impression. Or perhaps it was the ground coffee I put in their cups instead of instant and they couldn’t resist teasing me about it again!

My skills were developing quickly, and I  was feeling more confident carrying out practical tasks. During the glorious summer of 2018, I spent most of it outdoors in the sunshine… I sense a bit of envy?  Hmm you should be.  I helped to construct a post and rail fence and made a hurdle to fit between the fence posts (see pictures).

Other activities I was involved in were creating woodland footpaths, hosting community litter picking sessions and creating leaky dams to help slow the flow of water downstream.   Aside from the practical learning, these types of activities helped to explain the importance of caring for our environment and making it a safer, cleaner and more enjoyable place to be in for wildlife and people.

During my apprenticeship I received qualifications in how to apply pesticides using a knapsack, and training I was desperately keen on doing was using a chainsaw, so I gained a qualification in maintenance and cross cutting.  These were things I could never have imagined doing, even a year before the start of my apprenticeship.  Another milestone I reached recently was reversing the utility terrain vehicle onto its trailer (not the easiest of tasks), and it’s something I have struggled to do without assistance in the past, but I managed it once and for all.

I was able to go on a placement to work in the grounds of Whalley Abbey with the Head Gardener (see picture).  Whilst there, I did a variety of tasks that ranged from planting up flower beds, to taking cuttings, to mowing and scarifying lawns.  I liked finding out what plants worked well together, on what aspect and in which soil type.  Having had both experience in horticulture and conservation, I feel I have been able to learn more and gain a wider range of practical experience in both areas which are closely linked.

Now, as I approach the end of my apprenticeship, I have made another leap and will be venturing into the world of amenity horticulture and working alongside other gardeners in a historic garden setting.  For me, working in a garden surrounded by plants is where my passion is and I’m excited to see where it will take me.

Working at Ribble Rivers Trust has meant that I have grown in confidence in my own abilities to do practical tasks but also notably my family have regularly commented on how I seem a much happier person, because I am doing something that I enjoy.  The apprenticeship has had its challenges, but I think it has only proven to me how determined I am to persevere and make sure I finish whatever task I started.  It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills and meet like-minded people and I will take away so many fond memories, even of the singing and awful jokes!

Tidal Ribble

The Tidal Ribble area is a unique landscape characterised by large spreads of urban areas and agricultural land, both of which have significant impacts on the quality of water in our rivers and streams, as well as at the coast.  The project looks at working with farmers and communities to try to reduce the amount of pollution entering our watercourses, with work carried out in partnership with United Utilities, the Environment Agency, Catchment Sensitive Farming, the NFU and Blackpool Borough Council.

Set up in 2015 this project aims to work with farmers and rural communities to protect vulnerable bathing waters and shellfish waters along the Fylde coast which are being impacted upon by the Ribble estuary.

Research has identified that the main impact on the water quality is faecal matter from both urban and rural sources entering the watercourses with diffuse pollution from agriculture and discharges from private septic tanks being identified as the main contributors to this issue.

Since the project began, we have worked with 20 farms to implement schemes to reduce the amount of pollution coming from agricultural land.  This work includes fencing off watercourses to prevent livestock accessing the water, planting trees along riverbanks to intercept run-off, and improving farmyard infrastructure, this has all helped to reduce the amount of faecal matter, chemicals and sediment end up in our rivers and along our beaches.

In addition to this we have delivered 36 community events and worked with 17 schools in the area, promoting ways for the public to be more water friendly around the home by raising awareness of the impacts of household waste water mismanagement and waste disposal.

Locations where dwellings are likely to have septic tanks and other private water treatment facilities have also been identified and a targeted campaign has been created in order to help people within these communities better understand how their systems work, how they can be maintained and what the consequences can be when these systems fail.


Our first project to restore Blackburn’s rivers is now complete. Bypass channels, or fish passes, have been constructed alongside two large weirs near Hoghton Bottoms and Lower Darwen, these channels will allow fish such as trout, salmon, and eels to migrate further upstream into river habitat that has been inaccessible for decades.


The weirs were originally built in order to harness the water for the local mills, which, at one time, were abundant in this area. However, the mills at these sites have long since been demolished some time ago. Despite this the weirs have remained and continued to affect the ecology and habitat quality of the river, as well as providing a barrier to the upstream migration of spawning fish.

Now that the bypass channels are working it is expected that there will be an increase in the fish populations here, and with more fish other wildlife will also return to the river such as otters and kingfishers.  This is also good news for the people of Blackburn and Darwen, with these improvements in the rivers and associated habitats providing more diverse green spaces for people to visit and enjoy.

Following the success of these fish passages further work will be carried out on a section of the River Roddlesworth near Feniscowles in 2019. The section of river that is being improved is currently flowing through an underground culvert on the site of the former Star Paper Mill and is completely devoid of wildlife with no natural features. The area is now being redeveloped into housing which is providing us with the opportunity to return this section of river to a more natural state, allowing it to see daylight for the first time since the mill was built in 1875.

The River Roddlesworth flows down from the moors above Darwen, passing through woodlands and reservoirs before finally joining the River Darwen at Feniscowles. Just before this confluence the river is diverted into an underground culvert beneath the site of an old paper mill. It is here that our latest project is taking place.

The site of the old paper mill is now being developed into housing. Initially the plans for the development included the removal of the old culvert and the creation of a new concrete lined channel across the site. However, after discussing the project with the Ribble Rivers Trust the developer’s plans were changed and a project was set up to construct a ‘close to nature’ river channel around the site instead.

An example of a ‘closer to nature’ river channel

With support from the European Regional Development Fund and with our project partners Edenvale Young the new channel will be designed with features that will mimic those of a natural river. Following the course prefabricated by the developers, the new channel will have features such as pools and riffle sequences which will create a variance in flow that will provide the best habitat possible for several species of fish and invertebrates. It is hoped that in time these invertebrates and fish will attract different species of birds to the area and perhaps even mammals such as otters. The quality of the river habitat above and below the site is already good and so by renaturalising this section we hope to connect the habitats and create a wildlife corridor.

In addition to the renaturalisation of the River Roddlesworth there are three fish passage projects taking place above and below the mill site which will reconnect the fragmented habitat and open a further 19 hectares of river habitat for migrating fish and other wildlife.

Houghton Bottoms weir

The lowermost of these is Hoghton Bottoms Weir which was originally constructed to power a mill and cotton factory but is now surplus to requirements. It is proposed that a rock ramp be constructed on the left side of the weir, providing a channel that fish can use to bypass the structure.

The uppermost weir to be targeted is Lower Darwen Weir. A map from 1845 shows a mill race running from this weir to Ewood Cotton Mill with another, later map showing a second connection to a paper mill. Lower Darwen Weir is close to a swimming pool, nursery and industrial estate meaning that removal of the weir is not an option. Instead a rock ramp bypass channel will be built to the left of the weir which will encourage fish passage and help to stabilise the areas of erosion on the riverbank.

Thirdly the weir located just upstream of the ‘close to nature’ channel will enable fish to move along the length of the River Roddlesworth as far as the Roddlesworth reservoirs.

A map showing the current route of the River Roddlesworth in blue and the new route in red

Why is this work necessary?
The North West of England has a rich industrial heritage but this industry has resulted in environmental damage and neglect. Blackburn and Darwin’s rivers have historically been used for the disposal of sewage, waste and chemicals and dyes from the mills. In addition to this the towns expansion and the resulting mills, factories and houses meant that the rivers were subjected to greater controls with many being forced through stone and concrete lined channels which created a fragmented river habitat capable of supporting very little life.

A decline in industry and the introduction of environmental regulations has meant that water quality has already improved dramatically as has the diversity and abundance of wildlife. However, weirs and culverts are still proving problematic for wildlife and people; weirs and culverts can be barriers to fish migration, reducing their breeding potential and limiting the amount of number of species that can rely on them for food. Culverts also provide limited space for water and during periods of heavy flow they are often overwhelmed which causes flooding.

How will we determine the project’s success?
One of the ways we can measure the success of fish passage projects is by using Passive Integrated Transponders or PITs (which are similar to microchips in cats and dogs) to track the movements of brown trout. This tracking data will show us how easy the fish find it to ascend the rock ramps and continue their migration upstream.

Water level loggers will also be installed upstream and downstream of the site to collect baseline data then, once the ‘close to nature’ channel is constructed the loggers will again be used to measure the flow. It is predicted that the project will have a positive impact on the size, duration and timings of peak flows.

It is also hoped that following the project Blackburn with Darwen will see an increase in the abundance and diversity of wildlife across the district, helping to encourage a greater understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the outdoors.

Ribble Life Together

Ribble Life Together is the ambitious flagship project of the Ribble Catchment Partnership, which is made up of environmental organisations, businesses, local authorities and interest groups, all with a vested interest in improving the catchment’s water environment for the benefit of people and wildlife.

After a two-year development phase, Ribble Life Together was awarded £1.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable its delivery until 2020, together with a further £1.6 million of match funding from partners and external sources.

Our Vision: Working collaboratively, we’ll deliver a substantially healthier Ribble river system by 2020 for the benefit of people and wildlife.  We’ll celebrate the heritage of the river, improve access and use the river to inspire and educate.  Through practical environmental action, based on science, we’ll leave a positive legacy for future generations.

According to the Environment Agency, only 21% of the Ribble Catchment’s rivers currently achieve a good ecological standard. The remainder suffer from urban and industrial pollution, agricultural impacts, fragmented habitat and mistreatment by the general public – predominantly littering.  Floods and droughts associated with climate change and rising temperatures have exacerbated the problem in recent years, putting significant stress on river habitats and endangering certain species.

Ribble Life Together

Ribble Life Together has been set up to address some of the issues.  30 new riparian woodlands are being planted and 15 new wetlands are being constructed in priority areas to help reduce pollution, increase biodiversity, provide natural flood risk management and reduce climate change impacts, creating a lasting legacy for the catchment and the communities that live and work here.

14 new fish passes are also being installed on weirs that currently prevent the natural migration of fish.  Scientific monitoring will determine how much the river environment improves as a result of these interventions.

At the heart of the project is a determination to establish a better relationship between communities and their rivers by developing people’s understanding and appreciation of river environments.  People are being invited to get involved in the project in a variety of ways, from attending volunteer events and conservation training workshops, to geocaching competitions, guided river walks, augmented reality videos and oral history.

Schools are also being offered educational visits that will help children learn about the importance of healthy rivers and the wildlife that lives within them, encouraging them to get into the habit of caring for the environment from an early age.

The physical improvement projects and activities being delivered as part of the Ribble Life Together project span the entire Ribble Catchment, from the source of the Ribble in the Yorkshire Dales, down to the estuary at Lytham, taking in the rivers Calder, Hodder and Darwen.

A new website has been set up for the project – ribblelifetogether.org – which acts as a hub of information about the project and our rivers in general.

Project partners and funders:

Ribble Life Together - partners and funders