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Riverlands: how we keep our rivers flowing

River Derwent, Borrowdale, north East of Castle Crag, Cumbria
River Derwent in Cumbria | © Simon Fraser

For centuries rivers have been the veins that run through our cities and countryside providing water for us to drink and grow crops, powering our industries and providing us with tranquil places to explore and escape. Today our rivers are in trouble, and so is the wildlife that depends on them. That’s why we’ve started our most ambitious waterways project ever.

What the Riverlands project involves

Intensive farming, pressures from development and the effects of climate change have all taken their toll on our waterways, and now only 14% of England’s rivers are in good health. This means that some of our most important plants, insects, animals and birds are also at risk.

As part of our project to bring riverlands back to life we're starting with some of the UK’s most precious rivers, ranging from the Derwent in Cumbria to the steep, narrow streams of Porlock Vale in Somerset. The work includes helping to slow the flow of water and alleviate flooding, repairing banks, creating new habitats and tackling the rise of invasive non-native species.

We’re also working with local communities to help them rediscover and reconnect with their rivers – as spaces for leisure and activity, to socialise, or simply take a walk beside the water and clear their minds.

We’re already hard at work to reverse the fortunes of our rivers, read on to find out what we’re up to across the country.

Restoring the River Bure in Norfolk

In Norfolk we’re creating places for learning, keeping fit and making memories – all on the banks of the meandering River Bure. The Bure is a chalk stream, an internationally rare habitat, and has been badly affected by land drainage.

We’re bringing it back to health by restoring precious grassland and floodplains, and creating 9km of new footpaths so that it can be easily accessed by local communities. Through arts projects we’ll tell the story of this historic river, ensuring it's valued and enjoyed for years to come.

Find out more about the River Bure restoration project

Water running through ancient Horner Wood at Holnicote Estate, Somerset
Water running through ancient Horner Wood at Holnicote Estate, Somerset | © Chris Lacey

Our work at Porlock

Reviving the Porlock Vale streams

Porlock Vale lies on the wild northern edge of Exmoor – a landscape of woods, streams and farmland cut through by steep gullies and combes. The waterways that flow through these confined sites respond rapidly to rainfall, and pose a flood risk to settlements downstream.

We’re working to slow the flow of these streams by reconnecting them with the floodplain, allowing the wider landscape to absorb the effects of the weather. This will also improve conditions for wildlife that lives in the streams such as eels and brook lampreys, as well as otters and the resident bat population that forages and breeds nearby.

Reintroducing beavers to Exmoor

In January 2020, an adult pair of Eurasian beavers were released at Holnicote Estate in Somerset to improve flood management and support wildlife on the rivers we care for.

The beavers are helping to make areas of the river more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring. The dams they create will hold water in dry periods, help to lessen flash-flooding downstream, reduce erosion and improve water quality.

The beavers at the Holnicote Estate have since had their first baby, the first beaver to be born on Exmoor for 400 years, and new footage of the kit in the wild was released to mark its first birthday.

Groundbreaking work on the River Aller

Reconnecting our rivers and streams to the surrounding landscape guards against severe weather and attracts a greater variety of plants and animals. In the first project of its kind in the UK, we're trialling groundbreaking work to protect our rivers from climate change and flooding and protect wildlife.

We've partnered with the Environment Agency and European programme Interreg 2 Seas Co-Adapt to restore a tributary of the river Aller, which passes through the Holnicote Estate.

Find out more about the Riverlands project at Porlock Vale

Protecting the Conwy Valley in North Wales

In Snowdonia’s Conwy Valley, rivers travel through busy tourist towns, hillside farms and lush meadows, feeding the landscape as they go. Sadly, extreme flooding has taken its toll, and the waterways that were once rich in salmon and trout are now in poor condition.

By planting trees and creating natural dams to slow the flow of the waterways, we’re restoring Conwy’s declining wildlife populations and protecting its communities from the devastating effects of flooding by building an environment that’s more resilient to change.

Find out more about the Upper Conwy Catchment Project

River Derwent, Borrowdale, north East of Castle Crag, Cumbria
River Derwent in Cumbria | © Simon Fraser

Repairing habitats on the River Derwent

The rivers we look after provide shelter for a myriad of wildlife and plants. None more so than the River Derwent in the Lake District, which is home to otters, Atlantic salmon and vendace – a rare freshwater fish.

These cherished species have struggled to cope with increasingly polluted waters and severe floods in recent years, and urgently need our care in order to thrive. With the help of local people, we’re repairing habitats and improving water quality to protect the river’s much-loved residents.

Find out more about the Derwent Riverlands project

The future of the Riverlands project

We face many challenges in the years ahead, and big questions in the historic and natural environment, but we can't tackle these alone. The Riverlands strategy will see us working more collaboratively with a range of partners to explore new approaches and solutions.

Read our full plans for Riverlands

Konik ponies on Bakers Fen at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

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