Emma Wright, Project Officer at South Cumbria Rivers Trust, reports on what the team has been up to in the last year on the LIFE R4ever Kent project

Words & photos: Emma Wright, Project Officer

This 5-year project, which will finish in 2026, aims to restore the River Kent Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), through habitat improvement works largely focusing on providing habitats suitable for fish (including salmon and trout), freshwater pearl mussels and white-clawed crayfish. The project has four partners: Natural England, South Cumbria Rivers Trust, Freshwater Biological Association and the Environment Agency.

Our objectives are very clear – monitor, conserve, protect, rehabilitate and improve the biodiversity of rivers and streams within the Kent catchment. More specifically, this includes riparian/in-channel improvements, fencing, fish refuges, green engineering, tree planting, embankment and revetment removal, de-culverting, weir removal and more.

We will also positively engage with local communities, schools and recruit volunteers to help with practical delivery.

Now half way through the project, we’ve been busy bees, delivering a wide range of restoration and volunteer days in the River Kent Catchment.

Fish refuges

We have installed fish refuges across the catchment. What are fish refuges I hear you say? They are either completely felled or partially felled trees that are positioned within the channel, putting woody material back into our rivers and becks. These are positioned no more than half the width of the channel, so movement and access are still available. They provide crucial habitats for fish, invertebrates, birds and other wildlife,  providing shade, shelter and clean gravels for fish of all life stages to use. These are secured into place using 10-tonne steel cable – that way, they won’t disappear downstream. Previous fish refuges have remained in place post Storm Desmond!

After a short period, new gravels deposit where they weren’t before, forming new gravel bars and additional in-channel habitats.

Tree planting

2,350 trees were planted across the catchment in 2023.  In Longsleddle, 24 Year 4 children and accompanying adults from St Thomas’ Primary School helped to plant a mixture of native willow, alder and birch trees.  Volunteers from local communities also came out to various sites in the catchment and planted more native trees, giving a whopping 86 volunteer hours to the project. Once these trees have matured, they will provide shade to the watercourse over the summer months, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Emma Wright (left), planting trees with volunteers.

Leaky dams

A volunteer day was held to construct several leaky dams to help slow the flow and reduce nutrient runoff from a nearby road entering the watercourse. Nine volunteers attended and had a really enjoyable experience!

Volunteers building a leaky dam.

Fish surveys

As part of our ongoing monitoring programme, we carry out fish surveys of the becks and rivers. These fish surveys are important, as they help us to understand the current fish populations throughout the catchment and provide crucial evidence to show how our restoration works are having a positive impact on increasing fish numbers.

As part of the survey, we record the different species caught, measure them and carry out a visual inspection to see if they look healthy before releasing them back into the river.

Fish surveys are conducted each summer between July and September and volunteer help is vital. We had a few issues with high river levels this summer, meaning we couldn’t survey as much as we had hoped. Yet, seven volunteers donated 40 hours in 2023 and we have more coming up in 2024, so get in touch if you want to join in!

It really is a fabulous opportunity to learn more about our work, get hands on and see some amazing fish species up close. It’s also a great way to see how restoration techniques really make a difference to fish abundance and species in our rivers.

Volunteers measuring and recording fish caught from one fish survey, summer 2023.

Fencing

We have installed over 2.5km of riparian fencing for landowners and farmers to keep livestock safe and out of rivers and becks. As such, we also provide access to water for livestock, whether that’s a drinking water point, solar powered troughs or newly trialled papa pumps. Simple interventions like these reduce the amount of fine sediment and excess nutrients going into our rivers, which helps improve overall water quality.

Drinking water point for livestock to access the beck, with an additional solar powered trough.

Invasive species

Sammy, our Invasive Non-native Species Officer has been highly active, with the help of 276 volunteer hours tackling Himalayan Balsam in the River Kent catchment. This mammoth effort by wonderful volunteers has led to approximately 35,000 Himalayan balsam plants removed from the catchment!

Tackling Himalayan Balsam.

Engagement

In 2023 we engaged with two schools: Grayrigg CE Primary and St Thomas’ Primary, Kendal.

At Grayrigg, Years 3,4,5 and 6 learnt all about the LIFE R4ever Kent project, how special the Kent catchment is and what amazing species can be found. The children also got to hear about river restoration and even had a go at restoring a river themselves. Towards the end of the summer term, Years 3 & 4 walked down to Lambrigg Beck and spent a glorious morning investigating freshwater invertebrates. St Thomas’ Year 4 spent two days planting 600 trees in Longsleddale, braving cold weather and frosty conditions.

We’ve also been involved in a number of successful and informative soil health workshops in the catchment. Optimising Farm Resources: Soil, Plants, Livestock, led by Charlie Morgan (Grassmaster Ltd) was attended by farmers and landowners in the Kent catchment. The project also hosted an event led by Neils Corfield, which looked at how to improve soil structure, what type of grasses to sow, how to alleviate compaction and more. Those who attended learnt that if a soil is free draining then you are more likely to receive a larger yield of crop, whether that’s arable or higher weights gained on livestock.

Charlie Morgan, assessing soil samples.

Emma and Sammy gave a public talk about the LIFE R4ever Kent project and invasive species at Fell Bar Kendal, as part of a collaboration between Fell Brewery and SCRT. Fell Brewery have kindly agreed to donate 5p of every pint of Ghyll sold to SCRT. This will help deliver river restoration and habitat improvement works in the Kent catchment. The Fell Brewery team have already joined us to plant trees along the River Kent and will be looking to escape into the hills to help with more practical delivery in 2024!

Sammy Greaves and Emma Wright at the Fell Bar, Kendal.

This project is truly a team effort. All of us at SCRT we would like to thank our amazing volunteers and to all those who helped the project have a successful year. Together, we clocked in 412 volunteer hours! Let’s see if we can improve that for 2024 – if you would like to support the project, please get in touch and drop us an email at [email protected]

image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
Make an impact, become a volunteer
Get involved