The Skell Valley Project

River Skell runs alongside Fountains Abbey

What is the Skell Valley Project?

The National Trust and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are the lead partners of sixteen organisations who have come together to deliver the Skell Valley scheme, which will create a sustainable future for the Skell Valley. Over the last five years partners, farmers, landowners and communities living, working and visiting the valley have worked together to develop and shape the scheme.

Where is the Skell Valley?

The scheme focusses on the 12 short but glorious miles of the River Skell, descending from the wild remote moorland of Dallowgill Moor to the Vale of York and the historic City of Ripon, while traversing at least six millennia of human history. Some of the most ancient human objects in this living landscape are the names of the rivers, the Skell name may have come with the Vikings and their word skjallr, meaning ‘resounding’ from its swift and noisy course.

The upper and middle stretches of the river lie wholly within Nidderdale AONB and include the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate, inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1986. The lower stretches flow through  farmland and the open grasslands and wooded banks of Hell Wath before reaching the bustling historic city of Ripon.

Map of the Skell Valley

How can you get involved

The Skell Valley project is underway, and we’ve got lots of events and opportunities for people of all ages and interests to get involved. Click the link above where you'll be able to learn more about the project, what's coming up and what might be of interest to you. 

Why is the scheme so important?

The Valley and its unique cultural and natural heritage are under threat from a number of forces.

Climate change is causing extreme weather conditions around the world. Extreme flooding events have caused irreparable damage to Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal and the high level of silt that is deposited in the river is threatening its ecology. Silt is also affecting the water features at Grantley Hall, Eavestone Lake and Ripon Canal. If a different approach to looking after the land and the water that flows through it can’t be found, then the heritage of the valley could disappear forever.

Due to neglect there is a significant risk of loss of heritage along the Skell Valley. At Eavestone Lake maturing trees and silt in the lake are closing in on the designed landscape and obscuring views. Poor condition of built and landscape features in the Chinese Garden, at Aldfield Spa and the WW1 heritage in Ripon means we risk losing part of our heritage forever.

Throughout the valley there is a decline in nature. Poor water quality due to the amount of sedimentation in the river threatens wildlife and there is an increase in invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam and Signal Crayfish.

When we undertook research for the project it was clear that there were significant barriers to people accessing nature, heritage and the outdoors. Some groups were less likely to use the natural environment for recreation and barriers include money, access to travel, lack of information and confidence about going to the countryside.

" This is a significant marker in the history of this fascinating valley – and an important moment for the Trust. Climate change is eroding away nature and heritage and only by working across our boundaries, with local people and partners, and with nature, will we be able to make a real difference. "
- Harry Bowell, National Trust Director of Land & Nature

The story so far

In 2019 the National Lottery Heritage Fund gave us stage one funding to help develop our plan for the project. We worked with farmers, landowners and communities to make sure that the Scheme reflected the views and needs of a wide range of people living and working in the Skell Valley. Over 1000 people either attended an event, workshop or presentation about the project and offered us their views. From this, we submitted our stage two application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a further grant of £1.4 million in autumn 2020.

In December 2020 we were given confirmation that our stage two bid was successful! The delivery of the projects will start from 2021 and run to 2024 and will cost approximately £2.5 million. The rest of the Scheme will be funded by contributions from project partners and a fundraising appeal.

What is the Skell Valley Scheme going to do?

The project is made up of fifteen individual projects which all fit together to form a clear and ambitious vision for the river and the landscape. These projects are set out under four key themes:

Landscape is resilient

Projects: Healthy Land Healthy River, Enterprising Landscape, Tourism development in the Skell Valley

We’ll help tackle the threats of climate change and ensure we play our part in a ‘green’ recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic- making the landscape, its people and the local economy more resilient

Nature Thrives

Projects: Native & Ancient Woods of the Skell Valley, Hug an Ancient Tree, Hell Wath- Green gateway to the Skell Valley

We’ll reverse the decline in nature, conserve ancient trees and woodlands and the wildlife they support and create nature-rich spaces where people live.

People are empowered

Projects: Skell Valley Task Force, Digging Deep in the Archives, Volunteering City of Ripon, Nature on Your Doorstep Watery Wildlife

We’ll empower people to deliver projects for nature, heritage and landscape by supporting them in learning the skills they need and removing current barriers that stop people accessing the outdoors and nature around them.

Heritage is celebrated

Projects: Revealing the Serpent Valley & Chinese Garden, Sulphur, Springs and Spas, Exploring the Skell Valley, Enhancing Eavestone’s Lakes

We’ll save our heritage from the threats of climate change and general neglect and create new and exciting opportunities for people to explore the nature and history of the Skell Valley and be involved in its care. 

Skell Valley Project funders logos

Latest updates

07 Dec 21

Restoring a pond at Hell Wath to help nature thrive

This January we’re continuing work to help nature thrive at Hell Wath nature reserve in Ripon by restoring a pond. Wetlands are an important habitat as they support a wide range of wildlife; particularly amphibians and insects which provide feeding opportunities for birds. The pond here is fed by a spring and once the weather warms up it will rapidly revegetate and become a haven for nature. The pond at Hell Wath has become heavily silted up over time, particularly with leaf litter. As a result, it dries up regularly and loses its value for wildlife as species such as frogs, newts and dragonflies can’t breed and thrive. In line with the Friends of Hell Wath nature reserve management plan, the Skell Valley Project is pleased to be funding the restoration of the pond.

Restoring the pond at Hell Wath

07 Dec 21

Giving nature a helping hand at Hell Wath

This December, nature will be given a helping hand as work begins at Hell Wath Local Nature Reserve in Ripon, to restore precious wildlife habitats. Hell Wath is a wildflower rich grassland, home to species such as common spotted orchid and cowslips as well as botanical rarities such as adder’s-tongue fern and bee orchid. Invasive scrub is spreading across the open grasslands, swamping the wildflowers and reducing the feeding opportunities for butterflies and other pollinators.  Scrub, the bushes and thicket that develop at the edge of the woodland, is an important habitat but left unchecked it loses its value for nature and overwhelms the delicate grassland. A mosaic of different habitats is best for biodiversity therefore contractors will be removing some of the scrub on the open grassland and playing fields to help wildlife thrive. The Skell Valley Project is working with Harrogate Borough Council and the Friends of Hell Wath (FOHW) group to deliver the Friends of Hell Wath Nature Reserve Management Plan. The scrub removal is part of a wider scheme of work that will be delivered at Hell Wath, funded by the Project to help nature thrive at this much- loved green space in Ripon. During the winter a silted-up pond will be reinstated which will restore habitat for amphibians and a range of dragonflies. In coming years, the Project will be working to improve footpaths on the reserve with better waymarking and interpretation.

Red admiral

29 Nov 21

A huge response to 'Digging deep in the archives' volunteer call

The West Yorkshire Archive Service Leeds team has been blown away by the number of people volunteering their time to help us with the Skell Valley’s ‘Digging Deep in the Archives’ project. Over 60 transcription volunteers are working their way through 18th century estate correspondence and in just three short weeks they’ve already transcribed over 17,000 words! So far we’ve been working on a bundle of letters between William Hallot and John Aislabie which detail the planting of trees, flooding and flood prevention and the names of local residents working on the land around the Studley estate. There have been stories of mad dogs running loose, cases of small pox in the area and masses of building works giving a fantastic insight into Skell Valley life.

West Yorkshire Archive Service logo