The source of the River Ellen, as with the other Lakeland rivers, is from the high Lakeland Fells. In the case of the Ellen, this is the Skiddaw massif. These base poor rocks mean that the upper reaches are nutrient poor and are characterised by stony beds and riffles and pools. The main form of agriculture is sheep and beef cattle. However, once the Ellen drains into the North Cumbrian plain, then this is where the similarities with other Lakeland rivers end. The middle and lower Ellen soon finds itself meandering through fertile fields that not only support beef and dairy cattle, but also grow a variety of cereals.
The river supports a good population of both salmon and sea trout as well as the none sporting fish such as eels, lamprey, minows and stickleback.
The rich rolling farm land and intensive agriculture have an impact on the river in that there is more sediment and nutrient input.
The key goal for the river and its tributaries are to ensure that water quality and habitats are maintained or improved to support the existing diverse flora and fauna and help to improve stocks of key species and communities.