A PROJECT to restore habitats in the valley of Swindale near Haweswater in the Lake District has won the 2022 UK River Prize Project-scale Award.

The Swindale Valley Restoration Project involved a partnership between the RSPB, United Utilities, the Environment Agency and Natural England, working together to restore watercourses, bogs, meadows and woodlands, transforming the valley for the benefit of water, wildlife and people.

Why a restoration project?

More than 160 years ago the Swindale Beck was straightened, deepened and embanked.

According to the RSPB, the natural environment suffered, and the effects of this were continuing to be felt into the present day.

Peatland was drained, species-rich hay meadows were fertilised and overgrazed, and native woodland was degraded.

The restoration project which began in 2016 set out to deliver a range of interventions in Swindale that would 'reverse impacts of the past'.

One of the most visible changes was the reintroduction of bends to the river, slowing the flow of the water. Not only has this benefited wildlife and improved water quality, but also reduced the risk of downstream flooding and enhanced the natural landscape, the charity says.

The main phase of the work was completed in 2016, but further work has seen additional areas of floodplain reconnected, new wetlands created and further meanders restored.

Lee Schofield, senior site manager for the RSPB at Haweswater, said: “Restoring Swindale Beck closer to its natural course is probably the most visible part of restoration work we have done so far at Haweswater. It is a great example of how positive environmental improvements can be delivered within a farmed landscape.

“Finding ways to ensure these upland habitats perform once again for water, wildlife and people is at the centre of everything we do.

"The project was a true team effort and we are delighted to have been honoured with this award by The River Restoration Centre.”

Restoration of bogs and planting trees

Another part of the project involved restoring a large area of blanket bog at the top of Swindale Valley.

The blocking of 29 miles of moorland drains will lead to increased carbon storage which helps combat climate change, raise the water table, naturally purify the water and provide a home to a wide range of specialist wildlife.

Newly-planted trees in the valley will also store carbon, slow the flow of surface water and help reduce the risk of flooding downstream. The hay meadows in the river’s floodplain are also managed sensitively for the wildlife living there.

Award for the project

Members of the project team were presented with this year’s UK River Prize Project-scale Award trophy during a ceremony at Chesford Grange in Warwickshire on Tuesday night (June 28).

The UK River Prize is hosted and awarded annually by the River Restoration Centre (RRC) as part of the River Restoration Network Conference.

Ann Skinner, UK River Prize judge and RRC Board, said: “This year's river prize entries covered a fascinating range of projects from catchment scale to reach scale, rural to urban. All had achieved amazing outcomes within challenging circumstances.

"As usual, it was difficult choosing between them, but all four finalists are great examples of excellent river restoration projects. Well done and keep them coming!"

Organised in partnership with the RRC, Arup, Atkins and Natural Resources Wales, the awards aim to celebrate and recognise the achievements of individuals and organisations committed to restoring the UK’s rivers.

John Gorst, Catchment Partnership Officer for United Utilities, said: “It’s fantastic that the work carried out at Swindale Beck has been recognised with this award.

“Schemes like this show what can be done to improve the health of our rivers by working in partnership and it’s testament to the approach that has been taken across the wider Haweswater catchment.”

Oliver Southgate, River Restoration manager at the Environment Agency, said: “This project, like many others, not only helps to improve the natural environment, but creates a more sustainable place for wildlife and our local communities to thrive.”

And Helen Kirkby, area manager for Cumbria at Natural England, added: “Natural England is really proud to have been part of the partnership that has won the 2022 River Award prize.

"It is great to see this ambitious project, in Cumbria, getting national recognition."

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