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.

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: Selside

River: Gayle Beck

Length connected: 9.4 km

Area connected: 5.9 Ha

Completed: June 2017

Contractor: Marsden AES Ltd

The removal of Selside Weir is proof that with habitat improvement small changes can have a big impact; this project was completed in just one day but improved 9.4km of river!

The work took place on Gayle Beck, high in the Upper Ribble area of the catchment and close to Ribblehead. The weir was constructed from loose stone (mostly cobbles and boulders) and topped with stone slabs.

Although not as big as some of our other fish pass projects, the weir still created a barrier to migrating fish, including Atlantic salmon and resident brown trout. It also contributed to geomorphological issues in Gayle Beck as it prevented the natural movement of gravel downstream.

Little is known about the history and origin of the weir. We’ve not been able to find out what the weir was used for in the past, even after completing an archaeological survey of the site. Assessment of the National Library of Scotland Map Archives found that the ‘weir’ was part of the old walled boundary between Selside Common and what is now Lower Birkwith Farm. So it may be that the weir was simply a boundary marker.

By partially removing the central section of the weir but retaining some of the original structure on each side, we were able to create a suitable channel for fish to swim past the weir. This also protected the river banks from erosion and limited the overall impact on the geomorphology of the river channel.

Fish Pass Fact File: Sabden

River: Sabden Brook

Length connected: 8.3 km

Area connected: 1.2 Ha

Completed: June 2017

Contractor: Bailey Contracts Ltd

Sabden Weir was an old stone-built weir on Sabden Brook which originally supplied water for the Sabden Print Works and may also have provided water to an earlier cotton mill in the late 18th century.

Having served its purpose, the weir stood redundant for many years. However, it continued to restrict the natural migration of fish species such as salmon and trout, limiting the amount of habitat available for spawning and impeding their population growth. Until now!

The creation of a natural looking rock ramp allows migratory fish such as salmon and eels to reach the upper sections of Sabden Brook. This is increasing the habitat available to them. The project has connected 8.3km of river and 1.2 hectares of habitat giving a boost to local wildlife.

As well as salmon, eels and trout, this project will benefit other species that depend on them, such as otters and kingfishers.

The response of the human resident of Sabden was hugely positive, but to find out how the fish feel about this we’ve been revisiting the area to look at fish numbers!

A mark- recapture study was carried out which involved capturing fish that were upstream of the fish pass with rod and line and electric fishing over a one day period. The fish were then displaced below the fish pass with the hope that the fish’s natural homing instinct would prompt them to ascend the fish pass.

A total of 41 fish were marked and displaced, of these 41 fish 13 were found to have returned upstream- including adult fish up to 31cm and this years’ fry down to 10.8cm. Another 8 of our marked fish were found in the weir pool. This means that over one day period we could only account for 21 of the 41 fish we moved downstream.

Yorkshire grit ensures Ribble clean up goes ahead

Storm Hannah failed to stop local people from clearing plastic and other rubbish from the Settle to Long Preston stretch of the River Ribble last Saturday, 27th April.

Local organisations including the Ribble Rivers Trust, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, Settle Anglers’ Association and the Churches Together Justice & Peace group in Settle joined forces with members of the public to help protect the natural environment.

They hauled a trailer full of rubbish from the area in blustery conditions.

Jack Spees, CEO of the Ribble Rivers Trust, said: “We were really delighted by the strong turnout of volunteers despite the weather forecasts. We welcomed 28 people from local charities and organisations to help maintain this important stretch of the river.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and thanks to Booths of Settle their efforts were rewarded with tea and biscuits kindly donated by the store.

“We were also enthused by the number of volunteers who stated that they would return to help next year.”

Adrian Shepherd, of the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, added: “The Long Preston Floodplain is a unique wetland habitat blighted by plastic waste washed downstream during storms.

“It is to the credit of committed locals that we have been able to restore the upper Ribble to its natural beauty.”

Known locally as ‘The Deeps’, the Long Preston Floodplain area is managed by local farmers and landowners for livestock and wildlife.

In 2004, a consortium of charities and conservation groups, led by Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT), formed the Long Preston Floodplain Project and part of their purpose is to re-create and enhance the rare wet grassland habitat found on The Deeps, together with restoring the River Ribble and reducing flood risk downstream.

The area attracts a lot of interest from local and national conservation bodies including Natural England and the Environment Agency because it is an important haven for wildlife. A significant part of the area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and many nesting and migratory birds rely on the unique floodplain habitat.

Steve Rhodes, Chair of Settle Anglers Association, said: “As well as improving the environment for fish, birds and other wildlife, local initiatives like this bring different groups of people together, making our community stronger.

“We’re looking forward to the next event!”

Our latest short films!

We have had two new short films produced by Northern Heart Films as part of our Ribble Life Together project. The first short film looks at the work we are doing with farmers in the Ribble Catchment, and how it not only benefits our environment, but also the farmers who care for it. The second looks takes a light hearted look at how important it is to educate the next generation of river guardians, equipping them with the knowledge and skills that they need to look after the environment, and ensuring that it will stay with them forever.

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.

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

River walks in the Ribble catchment

A wonderful view of the Ribble from our Preston Docklands walk

A wonderful view of the Ribble from our Preston Docklands walk

Enjoying nature and being active often go hand in hand. Spending time outdoors in natural spaces is known to provide a range of benefits from increasing fitness and activity levels to improving mental wellbeing. This is one of the many reasons why we are producing a range of river walks across the Ribble catchment.

In total there will be 15 river walks which will take in a variety of locations; many which have benefited from our river restoration and habitat improvement work. The walks vary in length from 2 to 9 miles so there will be walks for everyone to enjoy.

The Park View 4U gates feature as a waypoint on the Ribble Estuary walk.

The Park View 4U gates feature as a waypoint on the Ribble Estuary walk.

Walk guides will be available on paper and as downloads on our website. Our Ribble Life app also contains a section for the walk guides which incorporates audio clips, photographs, short film clips, and animations to help users learn more about the catchment’s heritage and wildlife.

So far we have completed four circular walks,

  • Calder and Brun, Burnley
  • Rivers and Bridges, Preston
  • Ribble Estuary, Lytham
  • Riversway Docklands, Preston

The next routes to be created will focus on Hyndburn Brook, Sabden, Chipping, Slaidburn, and Barrowford.

Walk guides can be downloaded our website, and the Ribble Life app can be downloaded for free from the app store- simply search ‘Ribble Life’. Paper walk guides are also available at all of our public events and shows.

The Calder and Brun walk takes in the impressive raised straight mile of the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

The Calder and Brun walk takes in the impressive raised straight mile of the Leeds-Liverpool canal.