A major restoration project has started on the River Leith near Penrith in Cumbria to reverse historic straightening and widening and return the river to a more natural state.
The work is being managed by Eden Rivers Trust in partnership with the tenant farmer, land owner, Environment Agency and Natural England as part of the River Eden River Restoration Project.
Local company Waitings have been awarded the contract to excavate a new winding river channel on land at Thrimby Hall, Little Strickland, just south of Penrith.
The first phase of work will involve digging out the old river channel, adjacent to the straightened section of the River Leith where it runs alongside the railway line. The river will then be diverted into the restored channel next summer. The impact upon river wildlife will be minimised by diverting the channel gradually, with fish transferred from the old channel to the new one.
The work is being undertaken to reinstate a more natural gradient and meandering channel to the river. Meanders are beneficial because they slow the flow of the river and alter the way it moves stones, gravel and silt along its length. This will recreate a variety of features that are currently lacking from the straightened river. Examples include pools capable of supporting larger fish, shallow margins where freshwater plants can establish, shingle banks which are important for insects, and gravel beds where fish can lay their eggs. This diversity supports a much wider variety of insects, fish and other wildlife than man-made channels. Examples of animals which will benefit from this scheme include salmon, trout, bullheads, stone loach, otters, kingfishers and dippers.
Artificially straightened, widened and deepened channels make the river flow faster and can lead to greater erosion and flooding downstream. This work will tackle these issues on the River Leith by re-creating natural meanders that help slow down the flow of the river, benefitting local wildlife and people.
Eden Rivers Trust Project Officer Gareth Pedley said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to allow the river to function more naturally with significant benefits for wildlife and people. We hope that we can continue this type of work in future years in different areas of the Eden and its tributaries, working with a variety of land owners and organisations interested in the river."
Oliver Southgate, Project Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We are delighted to be helping drive a project which will help restore the River Leith to its former glory, boosting biodiversity in the process for the benefit of generations to come.”
Through this project, the land owner is gaining environmental benefits such as entry into an Environmental Stewardship Scheme Higher Level agreement, more stable river banks with less erosion, and new riverside fencing and trees.
Richard Gordon who farms at Thrimby Hall is very enthusiastic about the plans to restore the River Leith where it flows across his land. He said, “I am supportive of this project because it will help return the river to what it once was, and I would like my own children to see and enjoy it that way. The partnership between Eden Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England has enabled it all to happen.”
A further restoration project will begin later in the year on the River Lyvennet near Maulds Meaburn.