Project Description

Whit Beck is an actively eroding stream which drains off the Lorton Fells. It joins the River Cocker approximately three quarters of a kilometre upstream the village of Low Lorton. The River Cocker then joins the River Derwent at Cockermouth. The River Derwent is of national and European significance and is classified as both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The project has restored a 350m section of heavily modified raised river channel back to a more natural self-sustainable course. The new channel is 1200m long. It has improved flood plain connectivity, boosted wildlife, improved channel morphology (shape), is natural and has significantly expanded the area and diversity of habitat. This has improved the spawning opportunities for the various fish species and increased wildlife benefits.

Whit Beck Site Schematic

Whit Beck Site Schematic

The scheme will also significantly increase the area of deciduous woodland (plant winter 2014/15) and provide wildlife corridors which will improve the ease of movement of plants, animals and insects between the woodland blocks. The project involved three landowners and a tenant, so close liaison and co-operation with both the farming and the local community was essential. The funds for this project were specifically earmarked for River Restoration projects and could not be used in flood alleviation works (Lorton experienced large scale flooding in 2005 and 2009). Once this fact was established, the community showed a keen interest and support for the project. Public presentations / meetings and site visits were all well attended. 

It is important to note that negotiations with land owners and project planning (site surveys, flood risk modelling, design, planning permission (National Park), access agreements & obtaining the necessary consents) is a long and involved process and took a year before work could commence on site.

Construction started mid June 2014, the stream was diverted late August and the contractor left site by the end of September 2014.

The channel has been constructed out of mixed river gravels (large to small). The fine design of the channel features has been undertaken by flood events since the diversion. This process is being closely monitored by both WCRT and Aberystwyth University.

During the autumn of 2014 twenty salmon, sea trout and trout redds (patches where the fish lay their eggs) were counted. Previously, the stream was so straight and steep that it only contained cobbles and boulders and the fish couldn’t spawn (lay their eggs). During this summer (July), single pass electric fishing surveys through three 50m sections of the new channel found there to be significant numbers (hundreds) of juvenile salmon and trout as well as eels, lamprey and sticklebacks. All fantastic news!

In addition, to the channel itself evolving, the marginal vegetation and new woodlands are already growing at a great rate. Otters, herons, dippers are regular visitors and there has been an occasional sighting of a kingfisher.

Short film of Whit Beck Construction

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Short Aerial Film of Whit Beck Post Restoration

Construction Time Lapse Videos

We have three short timelapse films which show some of the construction work on the channels during summer 2014 as follows:

Upper section timelapse   

Middle section timelapse

Lower section timelapse


Foot note – background and impact of modified rivers

Many sections of the River Derwent and other rivers and streams within the Lake District National Park have been heavily modified over many decades. The impact of modifications can be seen in one or more of the following river features:-

·rivers isolated from the flood plains by embankments

·re-enforced river banks e.g. using blockstone or gabions etc.

·straightened rivers with no meanders or bends

·rivers straightened, diverted and artificially raised above the valley floor and along the top of embankments

None of these states are natural and over time the structures will fail and the river will break out (many stretches of river are reaching this point now). Additionally, in straightened and modified river channels where natural processes are restricted, the variety of river bed habitat is very limited. This means that fish cannot carry out all the necessary stages in their lifecycle and aquatic plants struggle to become established in the fast flowing Lakeland rivers and streams.

The impact of the above and the speed of change (channel failure) is being exacerbated by the increase in size and frequency of floods (climate change). Finally, the damage caused by a flood is increased when the storage on the floodplains is limited by embankments. River restoration projects which re-connect the river channels with their floodplains will help mitigate this.

Photo Gallery