The project restored a 350 m section of a heavily modified river, Whit beck, back to a more natural self-sustainable course. It has improved floodplain 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 is a small stream which drains off the Lorton Fells. It joins the River Cocker approximately half a mile upstream the village of Low Lorton. The River Cocker then joins the River Derwent at Cockermouth. The Rivers Derwent and Cocker are of national and European significance and are classified as both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Whit Beck had been heavily modified to create a straight course and the channel bed was raised above its natural level. This led to a number of problems:
- Lack of habitat diversity and no suitable habitat for salmon to lay their eggs.
- Water travelled quickly downstream increasing flood risk to Lorton village.
- The straight river had a lot of energy and washed gravel downstream. This was then deposited in the River Cocker, increasing flood risk.
- The stream was actively eroding its banks.
The project restored a 350 m length of the beck, creating a new winding channel that is 1200 m long.
This 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 (see below for video and time lapse footage of the construction)
The channel has been constructed out of mixed river gravels (large to small). Since the works were completed, flood events have determined shaped the channel features. This evolution of the channels shape 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). Our electro-fishing surveys show that Whit beck is now one of the best salmon and trout surveys in the Derwent catchment. There are hundreds of juvenile salmon and trout as well as eels, lamprey and sticklebacks. All fantastic news!
The scheme significantly increased the area of deciduous woodland and provided wildlife corridors which will improve the ease of movement of plants, animals and insects between the woodland blocks. These woodlands and the marginal vegetation are 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
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: