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Skell Valley Project

Skell river flows past the ruins of Fountains Abbey as it makes its way into the Studley Water Garden
River Skell flows past the ruins of Fountains Abbey as it makes its way into the Studley Water Garden | © J Shepherd

The National Trust and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are the lead partners of 16 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. Keep up to date with the latest project updates.

Sixteen organisations and community groups have come together to restore the Skell Valley.

They are:

Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

National Trust

Eavestone Estate

Environment Agency

Forestry Commission

Grantley Hall Estate

Grantley, Sawley, Skelding and Eavestone Parish Council

Harrogate and District Community Action

Friends of Hell Wath

Natural England

Nidderdale AONB Joint Advisory Committee

North Yorkshire County Council

A representative of the Farmers Facilitation Fund Network

Ripon Museums Trust

West Yorkshire Archive Service

Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust

Where is the Skell Valley?

The scheme focusses on the 12 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 6,000 years 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, named 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.

Why is the Skell Valley scheme so important?

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

Fighting climate change

Climate change is causing extreme weather conditions around the world. Extreme flooding events have caused irreparable damage to Fountains Abbey and 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 for ever.

The success of this project was featured in a recent UNESCO report on Sites for Sustainable Development.

To find out more about what we're doing to safeguard the future of Skell Valley to make it more resilient to climate change you can watch a short video here.

The full report is also available here.

Protecting heritage

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. The poor condition of built and landscape features in the Chinese Garden, at Aldfield Spa and the First World War heritage in Ripon means we risk losing part of our heritage forever.

Conserving nature

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.

Providing access for everyone

When research for the project took place, 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.

Progress so far in the Skell Valley

In 2019 the National Lottery Heritage Fund provided stage one funding to help develop the plan for the project. Farmers, landowners and communities were all consulted 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 1,000 people either attended an event, workshop or presentation about the project and offered their views. From this, the stage two application was submitted to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a further grant of £1.4 million in autumn 2020.

In December 2020 confirmation was given that the 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.

The delivery phase of the project started in April 2021, with a core team of four staff working alongside partners from HADCA, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and West Yorks Archives to deliver the Skell Valley landscape conservation action plan.

What is the Skell Valley Scheme going to do?

The project is made up of 15 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

Help to tackle the threats of climate change and play a part in the ‘green’ recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic, making the landscape, its people and the local economy more resilient.

Nature thrives

Seek to 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

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

Save 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.

Get involved in the Skell Valley Project

The Skell Valley project is under way, and there are lots of events and opportunities for people of all ages and interests to get involved. Take a peek at the Fountains Abbey 'What's on' page for information on upcoming project events where you'll be able to learn more about the project, what's coming up and what might be of interest to you.

Skell Valley Project funders logos
Our funders | © Skell Valley Project

Latest updates

28 January 2024

Community Archaeology recording completed

Our hard-working Skell Community Archaeology volunteers have completed their programme of field recording of heritage features in the 18th Century designed landscapes in the Skell Valley. With the help of archaeology contractor Richard, ranger Gabby, lots of tape measures, poles, string lines and laser measurers, they have produced some great scale drawings to record this beautiful bridge over the River Skell, built by the Aislabie family in the mid-late 18th Century.

Volunteers recording Aislabie bridge
Volunteers recording built heritage in the valley | © NT/Nabil Abbas
Skell Valley Project partnership lockup
The Skell Valley Project is a partnership scheme co-led by National Trust and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty | © Skell Valley Project partnership

From Yorkshire’s Skell Valley to Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains

Tackling climate change is a global challenge. Discover how the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) has facilitated a practical exchange of skills in flood mitigation and community engagement, connecting the two World Heritage Sites of Skell Valley and Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains through the Melting Snow and Rivers in Flood project.

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Past conservation projects at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal 

Learn about some conservation projects we’ve undertaken to conserve the 18th-century vision of John and William Aislabie.

Birds eye view of the kitchen garden project at Florence Court, County Fermanagh

Grants and funding 

Find out more about the funding the National Trust receives from grants, and the projects it has helped support.