New phase in river improvement – River Petteril

The latest phase in a long term plan to reduce pollution and improve conditions for wildlife on the River Petteril in north Cumbria is underway. 

A study – called the Evidence and Measures project - was undertaken to identify the problems with the river, the possible causes and what could be done about them.  This involved the Environment Agency, Eden Rivers Trust, Natural England and the Highways Agency.  It looked at all the available information on the River Petteril and led to agreement on what should be done next.  Some of these steps are being undertaken in this new project.  

Pollution was identified as a major problem with this river, arising from various sources such as farms, roads, inadequate sewage systems and domestic septic tanks.  This in turn has led to problems for the wildlife.  Now this latest phase in the “River Petteril Restoration Project” aims to combat some of these issues. 

The money for the project is being given to Eden Rivers Trust from the Environment Agency and has come from the government’s Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).  The government’s aim is to make sure the river meets the strict requirements of the European legislation known as the Water Framework Directive.  The Petteril is currently failing to meet the criteria of this Directive and is classed as “poor” in terms of water quality and its fish populations.

Eden Rivers Trust is working to tackle pollution arising from farm animals and create the right conditions in the river for wildlife to thrive.  The priority area to address pollution and loss of wildlife is high up the river near Newton Reigny, just outside Penrith.

A large part of the project is to reduce the amount of animal waste being washed in to nearby rivers.  To do this the Trust is working with farmers to make improvements on their farms to keep contaminated water out of the river.  For example, farmers on several farms are repairing or putting up new roofs over their farm yards and buildings, to stop rainwater mixing with animal dung and urine.  Gutters, drains and storage tanks are also being improved to keep clean rainwater separate from water made dirty by dung and urine.  The farmers concerned are contributing to all the schemes as well as receiving the grants from Eden Rivers Trust.

In addition, trees will be planted along the river to stabilise the banks and allow more wildlife to feed and breed in the river.  Not only do trees provide shade over the river but insects and leaves fall into the water and are a source of food for fish and other insects.  

River banks will be fenced as part of the project to prevent farm animals from reaching the river.  Fencing and tree planting both help to reduce erosion – something which leads to too much soil ending up in the river and preventing insects and fish from laying their eggs amongst the river’s stones.

Simon Johnson, Director of Eden Rivers Trust, said, “This is a fantastic initiative which will make a huge difference to the River Petteril.  It will help all those concerned with the river and it surroundings to work together to make it a better place for people and wildlife.”

Jeremy Westgarth, Environment Agency Manager for Cumbria, said: “By working with the Eden Rivers Trust we are able to carry out practical projects to support landowners and farmers in reducing their impact on the environment.  Our rivers are the healthiest for 20 years, and by working with others we can do even more to further improve water quality and biodiversity in this part of Cumbria”
A total of £180,000 will be spent over eight months up until March 2012.  It is the next step in work which has been underway since 2009 to investigate the issues on the River Petteril and identify ways to tackle them.  It is hoped that the project will continue for a further three years on this important Cumbrian river.