Diffusing the Issue

Diffusing the Issue

Background to the project

The Middle section of the Ribble Catchment is an area of transition between upland extensive agriculture and lowland intensive agriculture. Many of the sub-catchments within the area are farmedCRF project locations DI intensively and as a result are impacted by the associated problems of diffuse pollution and poor habitat. Five catchments are particularly affected:

  • The River Loud
  • Stock Beck
  • Skirden Beck
  • Easington Beck
  • Swanside

All of these are failing or at risk of failing to meet Good Ecological Status (GES) under the Water Framework Directive. Identified reasons for failure are related to diffuse pollution and associated impacts. However other reasons have also been identified that may be contributing to this, such as fish passage.

River Loud

The River Loud prior to the last ice age flowed out to the Fylde coast directly. The last ice age carved a new river channel away from the coast, draining the Loud into the Hodder and then the Ribble. The new river channel, valley and flood plain created near ideal conditions for intensive agriculture. Drainage of the flood plain then occurred and the progression of agriculture lead to degraded habitat and diffuse pollution.

Stock Beck

Stock Beck flows from the South Pennines through the industrial town of Barnoldswick. The last ice age created iconic drumlins, and the resulting geology created the perfect conditions for intensive agriculture particularly dairy farming. The intensive agriculture combined with the industrial heritage has resulted in significant diffuse pollution issues, impacting on the ecology of both the river and surrounding countryside.

Skirden and  Easington

The streams both drain the same area of upland moor before flowing through similar land uses, but into separate sub-catchments (The Ribble and Hodder). The drainage of the upland moors and agricultural activities of the catchments have resulted in similar issues, diffuse pollution and pH fluctuations.


The Swanside catchment borders the catchment of Stock Beck and although not suitable to intensive agriculture the catchment has been intensified. Although in recent years the intensity of agriculture has been reduced certain key areas have been identified as contributing significant amounts of diffuse pollutions (Arable and Pig farms). Additionally habitat has been fragmented, although in other catchments this has been caused by the Industrial Revolution, on Swanside the weirs are more historic and date back to corn mills that are no longer active.


RRT have four aims for the diffuse pollution project:

  • Combine shared objectives to collaboratively deliver a holistic conservation project
  • Encourage a sustainable return to natural river processes
  • Improve physical habitat and habitat connectivity to create sustainable populations of wading birds, invertebrate, fish, and other relevant priority habitats and species
  • Reduce diffuse and point pollution from rural sources


This project has seen the delivery of 7 fish passage schemes, 50 farm visits, and 100 “quick fixes” delivering solutions to farm yard infrastructure.


This project has been monitored using a variety of techniques from invertebrate and fish population responses to compaction studies.  To find out more about why we did the work and the outcomes we achieved view our publications page.