We’re working with farmers and landowners across the River Cocker catchment area to develop landscape features inspired by nature that aim to help reduce flood risk to Cockermouth and Lorton, and provide other environmental benefits for watercourses and the surrounding land. We have funding secured until September 2021, and will be securing further funding to deliver more work after that.

The issue: Flooding in Cockermouth and Lorton

Cockermouth has a long history of flooding, with devastating floods occurring in 2005, 2009 and most recently in 2015, when properties were directly flooded and many more affected by surface water flooding. Historic land use changes, agricultural drainage and compacted ground, together with an increase in extreme rainfall events, have contributed to a high flood risk for Cockermouth and Lorton.

The River Cocker flows from Crummock Water to Cockermouth, and includes the catchments of Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater. It’s an upland river flowing 19km northwards from its source at the head of the Buttermere valley in the Northern Lake District fells. Its tributaries include Liza Beck, Whit Beck, Mill Beck and Dub Beck. The whole catchment covers an area of 145 km 2.

What we’re doing

We’re working with farmers and landowners across the Cocker catchment on a natural flood management (NFM) project. NFM comprises a range of techniques designed to keep water in the landscape and out of rivers for longer during heavy rainfall, with the goal being to reduce flood risk downstream by ‘slowing the flow’.

We’re putting a range of measures in place, including:

  • tree planting
  • creating and restoring kested (banked) hedgerows
  • improving soil
  • installing leaky barriers
  • increasing water storage on the floodplains

These measures complement hard engineering and flood resilience measures carried out by other agencies and organisations. The combined impact of lots of small measures across the catchment could have a significant effect on flood risk. We’re keen that these measures don’t adversely affect the farm business and that they improve water quality and habitat.

High Lorton area – Blaze Beck Project

As you’ll have seen when you drive along Whinlatter Pass, we’ve been fencing and planting around the area of Blaze Beck (just below Swinside Cottages). This is not only to create woodland and scrub habitat (to better connect native woodland amongst the conifer plantations) but also to capture surface water that comes down the surrounding hills. We’ve planted about 1000 trees and are leaving the rest to regenerate naturally.

Woodland along becks is fabulous for birds, and we’ve also seen the flowering plants thrive since the cattle were fenced out – orchids, wild thyme, heath bedstraw, self-heal, heather, bilberry, harebell, tormentil and bird’s foot trefoil. These are in flower at different times through the spring and summer, providing a valuable source of nectar for insects.

The next step in this project is to restore the floodplain. Floodplains are important for storing water and gravels in high water and storm conditions. Over the years, the beck has been managed to encourage the water to flow through but the result has been storm water bypassing the floodplain. We’re planning to reconnect the beck with the floodplain by introducing rapids. These rapids will raise water levels slightly over the 600m stretch of the beck. This encourages the beck to spill out into the floodplain, as well as flow through smaller adjacent channels. This should slow the flow of the beck as the floodplain will temporarily store water. More importantly, gravels are then able to be deposited onto the floodplain rather than be washed down the system in a storm. As the people of High Lorton will know, gravels accumulate at the bridge in the village, causing the beck to overtop, which results in properties being flooded. The design of the rapids (height, length, materials etc.) has been undertaken by AquaUoS (environmental consultancy), with extensive modelling undertaken to refine the designs. We aim to deliver this project in September 2020 and will be monitoring the gravels in the beck afterwards, in partnership with the Environment Agency.

George Heritage (of AquaUoS) and Annabelle Kennedy (WCRT) will be hosting site visits for anyone interested in hearing more about the work. These will take place early September. Please email by 30 August if you would like to attend:  annabelle@westcumbriariverstrust.org

Whinlatter Forest

We’re working with the Forestry Commission to put interventions in place in Whinlatter Forest to slow the flow of watercourses in the sub-catchment. These watercourses lead down to High Lorton (where properties are flooded), so this is a focus area. We’re planning to install leaky dams and earth bunds to use the floodplains more extensively, which are excellent areas for water and gravel storage. We’re also looking to plant native woodland.

The project aims to restore, create and improve habitats. One of these is working with a landowner to replace a 90m culvert with a meandering beck. This means that fish can spawn higher up the beck, and stream and riparian habitat is created for other species. We’ll also be planting wildflowers and trees.

Other progress

We’ve been working with a number of farmers in the catchment to plant hedges on contours, as well as installing fencing along becks to protect them from livestock, and leaky dams for holding back water in storm conditions. Some becks have been planted with trees and shrubs to help to stabilise the banks. We have also planted small woodlands and in-field trees across the catchment, with flood storage ponds planned. One of our projects is to return a beck to its floodplain, with a more meandering character, which slows the flow compared to a straightened beck. It will also have benefits to wildlife as there will be a greater mosaic of habitats.

Funders and partners

The project is funded by DEFRA and the Water Environment Grant scheme through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Work in this catchment was prioritised by West Cumbria Catchment Partnership to address multiple issues. We’re working with many of our catchment partners including the Environment Agency, Cumbria County Council, Natural England, United Utilities, the Woodland Trust, Farmer Network, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Cumbria Woodlands.

Evaluating success

We want to know how effective these measures will be as a key aim of the DEFRA funding is to increase the national evidence base and better understand the role of NFM in flood risk management. We’ll be monitoring all our interventions, working with Lancaster University.

Want to find out more?

We’re continuing to identify and develop NFM interventions across the catchment which have multiple benefits. If you’re a landowner in the catchment and are interested in NFM measures on your land or are just keen to find out more, please contact Annabelle Kennedy on 017687 75429 / 07947 221 054 or  annabelle@westcumbriariverstrust.org