The salmon run; an epic upstream journey

A salmon jumping at Stainforth, one of the best places in the catchment to see the salmon run.

A salmon jumping at Stainforth, one of the best places in the catchment to see the salmon run.

Salmon are one of the most well known creatures in our rivers, and every year they provide one of natures greatest spectacles; the salmon run.

This amazing annual journey takes salmon from the ocean to the rivers they were born in.

The journey begins with a gathering in the sea, where the salmon have spent between 1-4 years maturing, growing, and gaining strength. The salmon then wait at the river mouth for the autumn rains which will raise river levels, helping them to start their journey. Once they enter the river the salmon stop eating, with their sole focus being to return to the place they were born.

Over the coming weeks the salmon will risk their lives in their mission to reproduce (or spawn) whilst they take part in a literal uphill battle on their way home.

An area of stream where salmon have spawned; the lighter coloured gravel shows areas where redds have been made

An area of stream where salmon have spawned; the lighter coloured gravel shows areas where redds have been made

Successful salmon reproduce by creating dips in the bottom of the river known as ‘redds’ by flapping their tails. Females lay eggs in these redds, the male fertilises them, and the female covers the eggs back up. With their mission complete the salmon leave their eggs in peace and make the journey downstream to the sea.

It is estimated that only around 10% of salmon survive this journey, but those who do survive will make their way back to the same spawning ground every year.

It might seem that the odds are stacked against our brave warriors, and this is true. Not only do they make this journey on an empty stomach, losing weight, muscle and energy; they also face the risk of being eaten, attacks from other fish, and some man-made issues.

Perhaps one of the more troubling of these are rivers which have been modified by dams (or weirs) which the fish waste valuable energy that they just don’t have spare trying to jump. Some of these dams and weirs are so big that the fish simply cannot complete their journey.

Making rivers more salmon friendly is a huge part of our work. There isn’t a single resolution which will help, it takes time, teamwork, and many smaller changes to improve rivers. But we’re proud that one step at a time we’re making rivers a better place for salmon, as well as other wildlife, and as our rivers improve, we hope that in the future a greater percentage of the area’s salmon will be successful in their journey.

If you want to try and spot a salmon yourself the run usually starts from mid-October and carries on throughout November and December, ideally following a period of rain after a dry spell. As always make sure to be careful around water.

A dam, or weir, at Hoghton bottoms, which would have been impossible for fish to jump before we created our fish pass up the side of the weir.

A dam, or weir, at Hoghton bottoms, which would have been impossible for fish to jump before we created our fish pass up the side of the weir.

Terrific trees and wonderful woodlands- why we plant trees

Trees at one of our older woodland sites, which also features a woodland

Trees at one of our older woodland sites, which also features a woodland

With help from grants, donations, members, and volunteers we’ve planted over 150,000 trees across more than 180 hectares in the last 21 years. Over winter 2019/2020 we will be planting another 10,000 trees, with an even bigger number planned for winter 2020/2021.

It’s safe to say that the catchment is looking greener, but why is this important?

We all know that the planet is facing a climate emergency, and we’re already starting to see the effects of climate change. Luckily, we know we can partly mitigate these effects by planting trees and helping our habitats to grow, become more joined up, and naturally regenerate. Woodlands have the potential to capture huge amounts of carbon as they grow, removing it from our atmosphere and locking it up whilst giving us clean air.

An oak flourishing inside its protective tube, which will protect the tree as it grows and after a number of years it will be removed and recycled

An oak flourishing inside its protective tube, which will protect the tree as it grows and after a number of years it will be removed and recycled

Climate change and biodiversity decline are pressing issues and the effects are already causing a clear decline in some species. By planting small woodlands, woodland corridors, and hedges we are providing new habitats for insects, birds, and mammals, and providing them with a way of moving around. Increasing the amount of available habitat and the potential ranges of animals also increases their resilience to future changes with a bigger genetic pool, larger, more joined up populations, and greater access to food and homes.

Trees are particularly important alongside streams and rivers as they provide shelter and keep the water temperature cool

Trees are particularly important alongside streams and rivers as they provide shelter and keep the water temperature cool

Extreme weather has caused problems for many, but the solution may partly lie in natural flood risk management. Natural flood risk management encompasses numerous natural processes that take place in our water and river systems, including peat on hills which sucks up excess water like a sponge, to ponds and leaky dams which holding flood water back and release it slowly. Trees are a key part in this process, absorbing a proportion of the water, slowing it’s journey into river systems, and releasing it slowly and steadily over hours and days.

If none of this inspires you then remember that trees and woodlands are beautiful!

A weekend wander wouldn’t be the same without taking in the calm, tranquil presence of trees and watching all the wildlife they’re supporting and our gardens, streets, footpaths, canal sides, and parks would be bare without trees; the outdoors simply wouldn’t be the same!

Our lovely volunteers help us with our habitat improvements again and again- we couldn't do it without them!

Our lovely volunteers help us with our habitat improvements again and again- we couldn’t do it without them!

Linking modern rivers with Lancashire’s industrial past

Oakenshaw weir, on Hyndburn Brook, which once powered the large Oakenshaw Print Works, Clayton-le-Moors

Oakenshaw weir, which once powered the large Oakenshaw Print Works, Clayton-le-Moors

Lancashire is well known for its industrial history, with Lancastrians grafting hard for centuries in quarries, coal mines, and cotton mills.

During the Industrial Revolution the textile industry expanded rapidly. Mill owners were drawn by the hardworking communities, the damp climate (which was ideal for working cotton), and the areas rivers and potential for waterpower.

To harness waterpower weirs were constructed across rivers. These weirs worked by holding water back in mill ponds and then forcing it through a narrow straight mill race where it built up speed and power, before being sent through water wheels. The water wheels were linked to gears and shafts which ran machinery across multiple floors.

Construction work in progress on the Dunkenhalgh weir fish passage, this weir once served Holt Corn Mill and Rishton Paper Mill

Construction work in progress on the now completed Dunkenhalgh weir fish passage

Lancashire’s mill towns grew with thousands of terraced houses built to house workers and their families. There were no planning laws in the 1800s and so often there was no infrastructure for the houses. Instead sewage and waste was transported away from towns in rivers, which were lined with concrete and straightened, a bit like the mill races. This meant that the waste was quickly taken away from the towns downstream. Rivers were also used as abstraction points and reservoirs for drinking water.

Thankfully we now have proper sewage treatment works, and our drinking water is controlled and regulated much more closely- but what about the weirs?

 

An aerial view of our bypass channel at Oakenshaw on Hyndburn Brook

An aerial view of our bypass channel at Oakenshaw

Many still stand today and are causing problems hundreds of years later. They break up habitats by restricting the movement of species which is vital for healthy populations, species resilience, migration, and breeding. They also change the flow of the river which can reduce habitat diversity and disturb the natural transportation of sediment. This can, in turn, increase flood risk.

The good news is that we are working hard to make as many of the area’s weirs passable by fish, either by removing them completely, or creating fish passes. This work is costly and takes months of careful planning using computer modelling to measure different options and outcomes. Many factors have to be considered, such as how our work will impact river flow, how much it will decrease flood risk, whether any other species will be affected, and how it will affect landowners and other river users.

The catchment will never be free of weirs, but as long as the rivers are healthy we’re happy to see these reminders of our past. They serve as monument to a time that helped make Lancashire the amazing place it is today!

A completed fish passage on Houghton Bottoms weir on the River Darwen, which once served Higher Mill and Livesey’s Cotton Factory

A completed fish passage on Houghton Bottoms weir on the River Darwen, which once served Higher Mill and Livesey’s Cotton Factory

 

Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway update

Ribble Rivers Trust are proud to announce that the first phase of the Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project (PLBGP) is now complete!

The first phase of this ambitious plan involved coppicing trees then desilting the redundant mill lodge, as well as clearing the area which, over the decades in which it has remained redundant, had attracted fly tippers as well as general litter.

Over time the lodge had attracted silt which has washed down from upstream. 4,000 cubic meters of this silt has now been excavated and used to build up the land surrounding the water. This winter the banks will be planted up with trees, and wildflower seeds will be sown.

Surveys have already identified 231 plant species, and 28 bird species with the lodge being frequented annually by migrating birds. With the habitat improvements we have already made we are hoping that more invertebrates, birds, and mammals will be attracted to the site.

What’s next?

The next phase of the PLBGP project will focus on the creation of a fish pass, thought to be the longest in England. This will connect 9 hectares of upstream habitat on Mearley Brook and, in time, will lead to migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout, and eels in the heart of Clitheroe and beyond. In turn this will attract other wildlife such as kingfishers, herons, and otters.

Once further funding has been secured we will also create a footpath through the site connecting Primrose Road through to Woone Lane, and Whalley Road which will not only provide a wonderful nature park for the people of Clitheroe to enjoy, but also allow pupils from the nearby St James Primary School to walk to school in a safe, traffic free environment.

For more information about the project, or to sign up for volunteer updates please visit the Primrose Community Nature Trust website.

1000 Rivers Project

Ribble Trust are excited to be taking part in the 1000 Rivers Project. This project, led by the University of Hull aims to take eDNA samples from 1000 rivers in the British Isles, Continental Europe, and Canada. The Trust will be collecting 5 samples from the Ribble catchment and 5 samples from the Douglas catchment.

As we already know our rivers have the potential to support a huge variety of wildlife, but centuries of river mismanagement and pollution have severely damaged river habitats and reduced water quality. In turn this has resulted in severely reduced wildlife populations.

Thankfully massive improvements have already been made, and much needed improvements are still ongoing. To measure the results of these improvements we use a variety of monitoring schemes, including the brilliant Riverfly Monitors scheme which is led by our amazing volunteers.

The 1000 Rivers Project is another way of monitoring our rivers but uses new eDNA technology to look at the fish community. All river dwellers release their DNA into the water, this project involves collecting water samples, which are then filtered, before being passed to a laboratory for analysis. This will help us find out which species are present in the river at the time of sampling. Additionally, it will help us to determine whether or not the invasive pink salmon Onchorhynchus gorbuscha are residing in the Ribble.

Rivers Trusts including East Yorkshire, Eden, Mersey, Northumberland, Ouse & Adur, Tyne, South Cumbria and West Cumbria are participating in the project alongside Marine Scotland Science and Cefas.

For more information on the project please visit the 1000 rivers website.

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

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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