Who do we trust to ensure our rivers run clean?

Badge making on the Ribble Rivers Trust stand at Goosnargh and Longridge show
Badge making on the Ribble Rivers Trust stand at Goosnargh and Longridge show

A Lancashire based Trust working to improve the quality of our rivers has grown over the years from a small group to a thriving charity with more than 20 members of staff .

Go to any of the summer shows around central Lancashire and you are likely to see a stand for the Ribble Rivers Trust.

Harvey Hamilton-Thorpe

Harvey Hamilton-Thorpe

For much of the year its work in education and conservation proceeds steadily away from the public gaze.

The Trust operates from offices in Clitheroe and works to help ensure the ongoing health of our river network.

Harvey Hamilton-Thorpe, Programme Manager for the flagship partnership project Ribbble Life Together programme, said: “The Ribble Rivers Trust was formed in the 1990s. Originally it was a group of interested volunteers, mainly anglers interested in trying to improve rivers.”

There was, he said, a guiding awareness that improving rivers for wildlife generally also makes them better for fish. The Trust became a charity in 1998 and is now very much a project based organisation, growing in the last decade from having just a few staff to now having 20 full time and additional part time staff and many volunteers.

Volunteers tree planting at Cuerdale

Volunteers tree planting at Cuerdale

The reason for that growth is in part due to its pioneering work and its success in getting funding for its wide range of projects. Currently the Environment Agency says just over a fifth of the Ribble catchment’s rivers are of a good ecological standard, so there is still much work to be done.

Ribble Life Together is the Ribble Life Partnership’s £3.2m endeavour to improve the Ribble catchment, a 570 square mile area which stretches from source to sea from Yorkshire down to Preston. It includes the estuary in Lytham and the Rivers Calder and Hodder. Harvey sums up its task as “improving the river for people and for wildlife”.

From improving river quality to installing fish passes the Trust focuses on water quality, water quantity - this means working to reduce flooding and cope with drought conditions, conserving and improving habitats.

He explains that their work is not just the practical – planting trees, stabilising banks, removing litter, building fish passes and removing unnecessary weirs, but also educational: “In about 2013/14 there was a realisation that we can do all these improvements to the river, but we might do something amazing and two weeks later a pollution incident or something else happens that can ruin all we’ve done..This is a catchment wide project improving the rivers but also doing a lot of enjoyable and educational activities.”

Brash bundling to help conserve a beck bank

Brash bundling to help conserve a beck bank

Volunteers help the Trust in many ways from fence erecting to removing invasive plant species. The most recent report noted 7,791 volunteer hours donated by helpers.

Challenges to river quality continue to come from both agricultural and urban areas. A lot of work is in partnership with other organisations such as the Environment Agency and United Utilities, landowners and farmers. Harvey added: “They are really the key as most of our projects are on private land.”

He acknowledges the perception has been that the Ribble is “pretty clean” and in the past was “supposed to get cleaner as the Hodder comes in and get dirtier as the Calder comes in.”

Peat restoration work also comes into the Trust’s remit, including a recent project at Cam Fell, near Ribblehead.

Flora and fauna provide encouraging indications of water quality. Kingfishers can be spotted flying where least expected, including on a stream in East Lancashire that was once known as the River Stink.

Otters have been spotted in the Ribble which boasts sea trout and salmon among its aquatic life. White clawed crayfish can be found in parts of the Ribble, an endangered species, due to the invasive American signal crayfish. If you spot mayflies that is another welcome sign that the water is clean.

Harvey, who has recorded a series of podcasts called “Talking Rivers”, said: “I think the Trust has made a massive difference. With Ribble Life Together in the past couple of years we’ve done 14 fish passes, created 30 new woodlands and done 14 wetland projects. People are much more aware, whereas a couple of years ago they didn’t know who we were.”

* The Ribble Rivers Trust is based at the Ribblesdale Works, Clitheroe. See the Trust’s online tool to check river cleanliness in your area: www.ribbletrust.org.uk