What’s in our rivers?

Our survey team searching for fish

Our survey team searching for fish

Over the summer the Trust have surveyed over 300 sites across the Ribble catchment. Our survey team do this to monitor fish numbers, particularly salmon and trout numbers. This helps us to gauge the health of our rivers and look for the areas which are doing well, and the areas which seem to be in poorer health.

This year’s summer has been extraordinarily warm and dry, leading to lower river levels and higher river temperatures. This caused problems both for our team (who are more used to summer rain!), and the catchments resident fish. 67 of our 333 sites had extremely low water levels and a further 6 were completely dry.

Fisheries Office Adam with his catch

Fisheries Office Adam with his catch

Despite this there has been a rise in the number of salmon found in the Ribble and Hodder, with the Hodder yielding the highest numbers of salmon. However, there has been a drop in their overall distribution. This drop has been attributed to the warmer weather, warmer river temperatures, and low water levels.

On the Calder trout appear to be thriving, with numbers doubling compared to last year. This is likely to be a sign of the species recovering following the Boxing Day floods, which decimated fish numbers in the Calder. However, salmon numbers here are still low here. Next year we are planning to survey more sites in this area and carry out further investigations into what could be preventing salmon from spawning here.

It’s not all about salmon and trout. There are many other species that we find and record across the catchment. One notable discovery this year is the number of sites supporting juvenile chub. The fisherman’s favourite has been found at another 20 sites this year!

To find out more look out for an extended report in our 2019 newsletter, or our official report which will be uploaded to the Ribble Rivers Trust website soon.

Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project


Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project (PLBGP) is an ambitious project to convert the former Primrose Mill Lodge into a pubic open space within the heart of Clitheroe.

The project is receiving £500,768 from the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, through the European Regional Development Fund, as well as section 106 funding from Ribble Valley Borough Council and charitable funding from Ribble Rivers Trust.

The project will achieve its aims by improving the habitats, providing public access, and connecting the river habitat, and as a result the site will boast a diversity of wildlife for people to explore and enjoy. This project is hoped to be one of several to convert the whole of this site into much valued green and blue space for people and wildlife, unique in its placement with an urban surrounding.

A present day Primrose Lodge

A present day Primrose Lodge

Why is this work necessary?

In 1787 a 7 metre high dam was constructed to provide a consistent source of water that could be utilised to power a cotton mill, and laterally a print works, paper works, and lifting equipment manufacturer at Primrose Works. The Lodge is now redundant owing to significant re-development of Primrose Works negating the need for water supply. The construction of the Lodge prevented upstream migration of a number of aquatic species, but also created an interruption to and artificial sediment regime downstream.

Primrose Lodge Dam

Primrose Lodge Under Construction in the 18th Century

The Lodge was never decommissioned as part of the wider redevelopment, so the negative impact on the aquatic ecology continues, and is negatively impacting downstream as well as upstream. However the unique nature of the site, and lack of human intervention has resulted in the site being given a local conservation designation (Biological Heritage Site). The designation is based on the fact that the industrial activity and artificial nature of the site make a contribution to biodiversity in their own right, as well as supporting flowering ferns and plants that are classed as vulnerable in the “Provisional Lancashire Red Data Lost of Vascular Plants”. The key features already present will be retained and enhanced, whilst new features are also created.

What will the work entail?

The project principally consists of three stages:

    • A fish passage project
    • The de-silting of the redundant mill lodge and planting of marginal and emergent wetland plants, as well as clearance of litter and fly tipping
    • Creation of a footpath, bridge, viewing area, and signage.

You can see a plan of the different pieces of work involved in these stages here


What will the outcome of the work achieve?

The fish pass will connect of 9 hectares of Mearley Brook and lead to salmon, sea trout, and eels being present not only in the heart of Clitheroe, but beyond to Worston and into the streams on the side of Pendle Hill.  They will in turn support other wildlife such as kingfishers, herons and otters.

The de-silting will create a permanent open water habitat, which will be home to wildfowl and invertebrates that will support bats and other species, as well as a significant improvement of  the aesthetic value of the site.

The footpath will connect Primrose Road, and the lower end of Woone Lane to Whalley Road, and enable children to walk to school through a woodland walk and nature park.  The viewing area will allow people a much better view across the site, for people to enjoy.

How will we determine the projects success?

We will use a range of measures to determine the project’s success.  These will link to the different aspects of the project.

For the fish pass we will monitor how fish use the fish pass using “PIT tags” (Passive Integrate Transponder Tags), and radio tags, to see how, where and when they migrate, and importantly if they migrate successfully through the fish pass.  We will then monitor the fish populations upstream, and other locations, to compare changes in fish populations to determine if there has been a positive response.

Radio tracking tagged fish on the River Ribble

For the de-silting, we will monitor the water quality coming into and out of the Lodge, but also the water levels and plants, birds and mammals that use the Lodge.  This will be done using “sondes” automated sampling devices that will assess the water quality, and compare how clean it is coming in and going out.  For the plants, birds and mammals, we hope to work with volunteers and run training courses in species identification to gather records on species present after the works are completed, and compare this with the surveys done prior to the works.

The footpaths and viewing areas, we will hold events and undertake surveys to determine how well used the footpath is used, and what people think about the site, and works carried out.  We also hope to use these surveys to identify future work

Who will look after the site post works?

Very excitingly a new Trust – Primrose Community Nature Trust (PCNT) – has been established to own, manage and maintain the site into the future and ensure that it continues and increases its value as a public nature park.   For more information on PCNT please visit their website:


This Christmas keep our sewers clear!

This festive season we’re asking people across the UK to help keep our rivers and beaches clean by making sure all their leftover cooking fats and oils are put in the bin rather than poured down the sink.

If leftover fat from cooking the Christmas dinner goes down the sink, even with hot water and washing up liquid, it soon sets hard in the cold pipes. When it mixes with other unflushable items, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, it creates what is known as a Fatberg.

The Fatbergs then clog the sewerage pipes and stop the waste water reaching the treatment works as intended. This means the risk of sewage spilling out into homes, streets, rivers and seas is substantially increased and this type of pollution is particularly bad for the invertebrates, fish, mammals, and birds that call the river their home.

However, this is easily addressed. Make sure you follow these simple steps this Christmas and give the gift of clean rivers and seas for 2018 and beyond:

  1. Scrape or pour leftover fat from roasting trays and pans into a heat resistant container then recycle or bin it once cooled
  2. Wipe out grease left in pans with kitchen roll before washing
  3. Use a sink strainer to catch any greasy food scraps

Work experience by Abigail Naylor, Clitheroe Royal Grammar School Sixth Form

Work experience with the Trust

Monday When I arrived, I was introduced to the team members and I was shown around the building. After a health and safety brief by Emily, I was given some leaflets and information about the trust and what they do within the catchment.

I then visited Bashall Brook with Adam and we checked the quality of a newly built fenced area to ensure it would be suitable and hold up in the winter months when the river levels rise.

At lunch time we went to a wooded location near the trust and did a cleanup of the litter in the area. I then went onto the trusts website and read the short summaries of each team member’s role and I spoke to Nick- whose job sounded interesting. He sent me a link so I could access a current project and read up on it.

I spoke to Ellie about her role in GIS and how it is used within the trust. This was particularly interesting as it showed the trusts impact on the environment in a visual format and how much they have done for the catchment.

Tuesday On Tuesday morning I went with Michelle to take part in some volunteer work picking invasive species called Himalayan Balsam which was introduced to England in 1839. The plant colonizes along river banks and it is a concern to the environment as when it dies back in the winter months, the earth underneath it is left bare and exposed, meaning it is vulnerable to erosion. To avoid this, we pull up the plants (this is fairly easy, as the roots are shallow and not too strong).

In the afternoon, I helped Emily gather kit and sort out activities for the family fun-day on Thursday.

Wednesday On Wednesday I went electrofishing with Adam and Jake. Before that day, I didn’t know what electrofishing was, or why it was done, however it was soon explained to me in detail by the staff. After observing at the first site, it was my turn to have a go with the net, and I caught: some trout and salmon fry, as well as many… many minnow and three eels.

In total we visited eight different sites, however after a month and a half of very warm weather, some sites we visited were all dried up!

Families at the Family Invert Fun Day

Thursday Thursday was the family fun-day at Peel Park in Accrington. We set up the tent and after talking to a few families for a while, we walked up to the lodges with some nets and trays to see what we could catch.

In the end, we ended up with a wide variety of species, the most interesting being newts and a tadpole.

Friday On Friday, I spoke to Jonny about his role with volunteers and he explained to me how he got involved with the trust and what he does when he takes volunteers out into the field.

I then went with Nick to a local farm which he was working with. The idea was to work with the farmers to put them onto a scheme whereby they would ‘get back’ for making adjustments to their farm to make it more environmentally friendly. I sat through the discussion between Nick and the owners and listened to both views. This was especially interesting as I hadn’t realized how many small adjustments to a space could have such a great impact on the environment.

Being the education officer, Emily explained that she often works with children and asked me to develop an idea for an activity about the time taken for different waste products to decay. This again was an intriguing task, as I am usually the one learning and completing tasks as opposed to designing them.

Overall, this week has been a very fascinating week, filled with new experiences and learning opportunities. Before this placement, I had no idea that there were so many diverse roles within organisations such as the Ribble Rivers Trust. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the trust, and I would highly recommend it to anybody looking to gain experience with environmental work, or to volunteer and do good for our environment.

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.