Letting the River Dove flow in Dovedale

Weir breaching in Dovedale

We are working in partnership with other organisations to make the River Dove in Dovedale a better habitat for wildlife.

The River Dove forms a key part of Dovedale’s beauty as it meanders through the valley below steep woods and wildflower-rich grassland. Later this summer you might see some of our work to make it even better for wildlife as we breach three weirs between the stepping stones and Lover’s Leap to let the river flow as nature intended. There’ll also be some work taking place in Wolfscotdale.

We’re working with local fishing clubs and other partners to re-naturalise the river, improving the habitat it provides for fish including trout and grayling and birds such as kingfishers and dippers - as well as all the freshwater invertebrates they rely on for food. We work in partnership on this project with: Natural England, the Wild Trout Trust, the Environment Agency and the Peak District National Park, as well as with local fishing clubs including Leek and District Fly Fishing Association and the Beresford fishery.

Dipper
Dipper
Dipper

Anglers in the early twentieth century built over one hundred weirs across the river to create pools that they could stock with farmed trout. The weirs trap silt, blanketing the gravels on the riverbed that invertebrates like river-flies need, and where trout lay their eggs.

The partnership works together to slowly breach some of the weirs, restoring the natural, fast flow of the river across the rocks, allowing gravel beds to become exposed and providing places for fish to spawn and invertebrates to live. Large woody debris (fallen trees) will also be carefully secured in the river to create even more habitat by increasing variety in the way the river flows.

The National Trust’s ecologist in the Peak District, Chris Wood, describes the current dammed areas of the river as ‘wet deserts, with no food and no variety for wildlife.’ But the beauty of this project is that it’s not just wildlife that benefits.

The angling clubs involved prefer nowadays to fish for wild trout rather than stocking the river, so this increases their enjoyment of their pastime. Tim Jacklin of the Wild Trout Trust says, ‘Catching a domesticated animal that’s been released into a modified artificial environment is nothing compared to the satisfaction of deceiving a cunning wild fish.’

We believe the project will also improve the beauty of the valley for visitors by making the river ‘wilder’ and more natural looking, returning it to the rugged landscape admired by pre-Victorian painters and writers like Izaak Walton.

There’s been a lot of background work to the project. We’ve carried out a full heritage assessment of the weirs so we know which ones are particularly important in terms of the history of the valley – some are associated with old mills, for instance. We’ll only be working on the ones that aren’t significant in this respect. Similarly, we’ve tested the silt to make sure that it won’t pollute the river once it starts to move, and carried out modelling to ensure none of our work will increase the chance of flooding.

The changes to the river will be slow and subtle, but when you visit Dovedale keep an eye open for areas of gurgling, rapidly flowing water; this is where the wildlife thrives and where you’re most likely to see a dipper bobbing on the rocks. If you visit in late summer this year you might even see some of the work happening on site – be sure to stop and say hello!

Your membership and donations help the White Peak ranger team work with partners to create more of these riffles and rapids, improving the river for people and wildlife.