The Derwent catchment is of great environmental significance and protected as both a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This is primarily because of the presence of Atlantic salmon, lampreys (sea, river and brook), marsh fritillary butterflies, otters and aquatic plants.  

The Derwent rises at Styhead Tarn beneath England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and curls its way north through the exceptional Borrowdale valley and the villages of Rosthwaite and Grange and on to Derwentwater. As the Derwent emerges from Derwentwater just below Keswick, it is joined by the Greta, then makes the short journey through farmland to Bassenthwaite Lake. Once it resurfaces from the lake it snakes its way to the sea at Workington, joined en-route by significant tributaries, notably the Cocker at Cockermouth and the Marron nearer Workington.

The name Derwent is derived from a Celtic word for oak trees.

Issues and goals

Although the Derwent flows through the beautiful and predominately rural Lake District National Park, the catchment is not without its problems. Many of the rivers and streams in the catchment have been artificially straightened and modified in the past in a misguided attempt to get water off the land quicker. Currently, over 50% of the catchment is in unfavorable condition due to issues such as poor river management and invasive species. 

The overall target for the catchment is to avoid the deterioration of the natural habitats and the species contained within them and to restore the:

  • extent and distribution of natural habitats and and species
  • structure and function (including typical species) of qualifying natural habitats and species
  • supporting processes on which natural habitats and species rely
  • populations of species
  • distribution of species within the site

Primary rivers and waters

  • River Derwent
  • Derwentwater
  • Bassenthwaite Lake
  • Buttermere
  • Crummock Water
  • Loweswater
  • River Greta
  • River Marron
  • River Cocker

Catchment Information

Find out more about the Derwent catchment on our Catchment mapping portal.

Derwentwater. Credit: Val Corbett