Smithies Brook weir removal

We’re happy to announce Dam Removal Europe have awarded Ribble Rivers Trust funding after a Europe-wide crowd funding appeal.

The capital is for the removal of a weir across Smithies Brook near Clitheroe, Lancashire. The weir is currently a barrier to fish migration, by removing it we will reconnect a 12km stretch of river, providing access to spawning grounds upstream as well as creating a new area of riffle habitat. Riffles help to aerate our rivers and streams, attracting important invertebrate populations; the base of our riverine food chains.

The work is due to take place at the end of June; not long to wait! Before the physical works can start the fisheries team here at Ribble Trust will be carrying out a fish rescue above and below the weir. This involves trained staff netting off a section of the brook, then catching and relocating any fish within the nets upstream of the weir.

Our wonderful volunteers will then be on hand to help to put sediment traps in place to catch any silt disturbed during the work. Together our volunteers and staff will the work to remove the weir by hand to reduce the impact that using heavy machinery might have on the site. Once the work is complete the sediment traps and nets will be removed, and the rivers natural recovery will begin. Monitoring of the site will continue in the following years to provide evidence of the effectiveness of the works for future projects.

For more information about Smithies Brook and Dam Removal Europe visit the Dam Removal Europe website damremoval.eu

Work commences on Dunkenhalgh Weir

Ribble Rivers Trust are pleased to announce that work has started on Dunkenhalgh Weir.

Dunkenhalgh Weir is a large concave, vertical stone-built weir that lies on Hyndburn Brook. As with all weirs Dunkenhalgh is posing a barrier to the migration of fish.

The weir is close to a public footpath and easily accessible through pasture fields, making it a popular recreation spot for walking, swimming, and picnicking. On the other side of the weir is a disused industrial site. This is the site of Holt Corn Mill, and it is thought that the weir once provided water for this mill to help power the machines. More recently the weir provided water for the Rishton Paper Mill.

Our pool and traverse fish pass will be constructed along the right-hand corner of the weir. This will provide the duel benefit of making the weir passable to fish and reinforcing the structure as there is some erosion damage in this area.

As the site is so well used consideration has been given to public safety and aesthetics and the opportunity will be taken to include additional public engagement features, such as interpretation boards.

Fish Pass Fact File: West Bradford

River: West Bradford Brook

Length connected: 7.2 km

Area connected: 1.6 Ha

Completed: September 2018

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd


West Bradford Weir was a concrete clad stone structure which lies in the heart of the village of West Bradford, where it runs through a wall lined channel. On the left-hand side of the weir there are gardens and houses running down towards the brook, and the main road runs along the right side.

Despite these constraints and the village location there is some excellent habitat upstream of the weir, and the weir itself is close to the confluence with the main River Ribble, making it a valuable spawning stream. The weir was only small at 0.5 metres high, but the lower step made it almost impossible for fish to make the jump.

Because of the location of the weir and the surrounding houses and other infrastructure it was decided that a rock ramp built over the existing weir would be the safest option and would cause the least amount of disruption to the village.

However, during the pre-construction fish rescue a white clawed crayfish was discovered in the brook. These endangered species have not previously been known to live in the brook, and the crayfish found was a female carrying hundreds of eggs. White clawed crayfish are a relatively rare sight in the Ribble catchment, and the overall European population has declined by 50-80% in the last 10 years.

This is largely due to the invasive American signal crayfish which carries a disease known as crayfish plague, this doesn’t affect American signal crayfish, but is fatal to the native white clawed crayfish. American signal crayfish are also larger and more aggressive and can outcompete white clawed crayfish for food and habitat and have even been known to predate the white clawed crayfish.

All crayfish in the area around the planned fish passage site were carefully caught and relocated upstream whilst the work was carried out. By locating the crayfish to an upstream location, we can ensure that the crayfish is able to easily migrate back down stream when the work was completed. This only caused a minor delay and, in this case, it was a delay caused by a welcome discovery!

Fish Pass Fact File: Cow Hey

River: Cow Hey Brook

Length connected: 6.2 km

Area connected: 1.5 Ha

Completed: June 2018

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd

Cow Hey Weir was a weir on Cow Hey Brook, near its confluence with Bashall Brook in the historic Forest of Bowland. This weir was built to provide water for a mill which was once located downstream of the weir, next to the brook. There is now little evidence of this mill, with even the mill race having almost completely disappeared.

This weir is located come distance away from any other houses or infrastructure, which made it an ideal spot for a full weir removal. In place of the weir a rock ramp easement was constructed. This will ensure that fish can move up Bashall Brook unhindered and will return the Brook to a more natural state in terms of river hydrogeomorphology whilst limiting lateral erosion and scour.

Fish Pass Fact File: Old Laund

River: Old Laund Clough

Length connected: 3.5 km

Area connected: 0.1 Ha

Completed: June 2018

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd

Old Laund Clough is a potentially valuable nursery stream, particularly for salmonids. However, a 1.5m weir was blocking fish migration. The weir is part of the historic Old Laund Hall Farm, and it is thought that the weir was created in the early 1900s to supply water to a local mill, although no direct link to any mill can be found.

The weir is also next to a well-used public footpath, close to the Pendle Way and the Old Laund Booth circular walk.

Removal wasn’t possible as the weir supported the upstream man-made channel, so a rock ramp was created, enabling fish migration and supporting the upstream channel, and existing structures. Natural rock was used to create a close-to-nature cascade feature is in keeping with the surroundings.

Fish Pass Fact File: Hoghton Bottoms

River: River Darwen

Length connected: 14 km

Area connected: 11.2 Ha

Completed: July 2018

Contractor: Wade Group Ltd

Of the many barriers to fish migration in the River Darwen, Hoghton Bottoms was the largest, and of all the weirs being tackles through the Ribble Life Together project the alterations to this weir will re-connect the greatest amount of habitat.

Hoghton Bottoms weir once provided water to Higher Mill, 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.

The weir itself at the top of a picturesque sandstone gorge which is the only feature of its type in the Ribble catchment. Additionally, there is a well-used footpath running alongside the left hand bank of the river which has meant that the weir itself has become a well known and often photographed local landmark.

It is due to this historic importance and it’s attraction to residents and visitors large changes to the structure of the weir were not possible. The most feasible option for this was 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 forms part of the channel, over which fish are able to swim.

Subsequent fish radio tagging study has found that brown trout can successfully use the fish pass to traverse the weir.

Fish Pass Fact File: Lower Darwen

River: River Darwen

Length connected: 2.5 km

Area connected: 1 Ha

Completed: September 2018

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd

Lower Darwen weir dates back to the mid-1800s when it supported the local mills and is one of many structures on the River Darwen which link back to Darwen’s industrial history. Like many of these structures the weir no longer serves a purpose but has remained on in situ blocking the migration on fish.

The weir is located on a relatively secluded section of the river and is not accessible to the public, although it is in close proximity to residential, recreational, and businesses and can be views from the River Darwen Parkway Local Nature Reserve.

An appraisal deemed a full or partial removal too high risk due to this weir close proximity to this developed area. Instead a rock ramp bypass has been created around the left-hand side of the weir which follows the approximate path of the overspill from the river. This serves a duel purpose as not only will it enable fish migration but will also stabilise the weir structure and the banking.

A radio tagging study of brown trout carried out after the fish pass was opened confirmed that fish were using the pass to easily pass the weir.

Fish Pass Fact File: Oakenshaw

Length connected: 1.3 km

Area connected: 2.5 Ha

Completed: September 2017

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd

Oakenshaw weir is the first of two large weirs on Hyndburn Brook, and with a 4 metre steeply sloping stone-built face the weir posed a serious barrier to fish migration. Despite the name Hyndburn Brook is, at this stage, a large main river with the potential to support a variety of wildlife.

The weir was created for the Oakenshaw Print Works, which was a large industrial site that included two large reservoirs which the weir diverted water to. One the printworks closed the reservoirs were used as landfills, before being sealed and planted with woodland. However, the weir has never been removed, in fact it has been further utilised for utilities, with a large sewage pipe passing behind the crest of the weir.

Various factors had to be taken into consideration when planning this weir removal. Not only was the presence of the sewage pipe an issue, but the weir is on a tight bend surrounded by woodland.

An appraisal concluded that a bypass channel was the best option for enabling fish passage at this weir. This bypass channel was created through the rough grassland on the inside bend of the river channel, with a whole new 90-metre-long and 3.5-metre-wide river channel being constructed through the grassland, bypassing the weir and allowing migratory fish to access the river upstream. It is thought that the route of the new bypass channel was probably the route that the river originally took before it was diverted for the mill.

In addition, a woodland planting scheme has also been created which will slow the flow of rainwater, increase shade on the river and help to control water temperatures, and increase tree cover and habitat connectivity in the area.

Overall this by pass channel has improved approximately 2.5ha or 1.3km of habitat with the associated woodland improving a further 1.2ha of habitat. Our 2017 and 2018 electrofishing results showed that the bypass channel is already being utilised by migratory fish who are making their way up Hyndburn Brook for the first time in many years.

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!

Fish Pass Fact File: Dean Brook

River: Dean Brook

Length connected: 1.6 km

Area connected: 0.5 Ha

Completed: June 2018

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd

Dean Brook Weir is a complex stone and concrete weir at the foot of Dean Brook near its confluence with the River Calder.  The original purpose of the weir is not known, although it may have been created in an attempt to protect surrounding land from flooding from the main river. However, it was in a state of disrepair and was preventing the upstream migration of species such as trout and salmon.

Studies showed that it would be feasible to remove the weir, but there was a potential risk to nearby fields and properties, so a rock ramp was created instead. By making this weir passable over 2 kilometres  of habitat have been opened up to migratory fish, and the risk of erosion to the surrounding brook banks has been reduced.