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 now well underway, and we’ve got lots of events and opportunities for people of all ages and interests to get involved. 

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
Skell Valley project partners

Latest updates

20 Jun 22

Learning about wildlife in the Skell Valley

Summer is now in full swing and the Skell Valley Project is providing lots of opportunities for people to learn more about the wildlife living the valley. Friends of Hell Wath, working with the project ranger, are doing weekly butterfly monitoring transects on the nature reserve and have also hosted a bumblebee workshop this month. We have just run a wild flower identification workshop and next weekend (Sat 25th June), there’s a free workshop on dragonflies and damselflies too. Volunteer moth recorders have been running a series of moth trapping sessions at locations in the valley to better understand the species which live here. The most recent session at Eavestone Lake found an amazing 110 moths including this Pebble Prominent and several Poplar Hawk Moths:

Pebble Prominent moth in the Skell Valley

17 Jun 22

Designing wetland and river works

This coming autumn we’re planning to install 8 new ponds and 20 leaky dams on privately-owned farmland and forestry sites in the Skell Valley. These features will be installed in the upper sections of the valley, slowing the flow of water in peak rainfall events and increasing the capacity of the catchment to hold water and silt which would otherwise wash down the River Skell. We’re currently busy working up designs for these natural flood management works, with the help of specialist hydrology and ecology consultants. Bringing in this expertise will help us to design new wetland features that provide multiple benefits, not only intercepting heavy rainfall and silt, but also creating new habitat which will help nature to recover in the Skell valley.

Designing wetland and river works for the Skell Valley Project

19 Apr 22

Slowing the flow and creating wildlife habitats in the valley

The Skell Ranger volunteers and Open Country have been hard at work throughout the valley. They’ve finished planting 2500 hedge trees at a farm near Grantley which will slow the flow of water off the farmland to the river and connect the surrounding woodlands with wildlife corridors and have installed about 280m of fencing along the banks of the river; creating another buffer for water and more riverside habitat for wildlife.

Slowing the flow and creating wildlife habitats in the valley as part of the Skell Valley Project