Swindale Beck rewilding


“Nature needs chaos, it needs randomness,” says Lee Schofield from the RSPB.

After two centuries, nature has made a triumphant return to Swindale Beck, a river stretch near Haweswater Reservoir in Cumbria, UK.

In an effort to increase farmland, the community of Swindale had straightened the beck around 200 years ago, inadvertently disrupting the ecosystem. The faster water flow hindered fish spawning and increased sediment downstream, resulting in murkier water. Recognizing the need for restoration, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and its partners, including the water company owning the land, embarked on a remeandering project in 2016.

By studying the valley and identifying the river’s original path, the RSPB enlisted a team of diggers to recreate the meandering channel. The new course is approximately 180 meters (200 yards) longer than the straightened version that had persisted for two centuries. The transformation was almost immediate.

“About three months after the diggers left – we had salmon and trout spawning in the river again,” he recalls.

The reestablished curves slowed the water flow, creating diverse aquatic habitats at each bend.

“We now have vegetation in the river, where young fish can shelter,” explained Lee. “There are gravel banks, deep pools and riffles – shallow, turbulent parts of the river where the water draws in oxygen. It all benefits the whole food chain.

“It’s like a living thing moving through the valley now, while the old, straightened river was just like a sad canal.”

Restoring the river came at a cost of just over £200,000, with funding provided by the RSPB, the Environment Agency, Natural England, and United Utilities, the water company that owns the land. The government’s Landscape Recovery Scheme supports similar conservation initiatives by providing funding for farmers to enhance biodiversity on their own land, such as through river remeandering or the establishment of wild spaces like woodlands.

However, according to Alice Groom, the RSPB’s head of sustainable land use policy, more funding is required to address the decline of nature throughout the country.

“Last year’s Landscape Recovery pilot was massively oversubscribed,” she says. “The Government should move swiftly to bring sufficient funding online to match the demand for those groups of farmers and landowners wishing to deliver for nature, climate and water quality.”

The government’s plan to impose unlimited fines on water companies for sewage dumping could serve as a potential funding source for restoration projects.

John Gorst from United Utilites, who worked on the Swindale project, said: “There are issues and we’re addressing them.

“[But] this landscape is critical to us as a business. The reservoir is our single biggest supply, so we’re investing in these catchments and managing them in a way that safeguards water quality and has all these additional benefits for biodiversity.”

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has proposed reinvesting the fines into a water restoration fund dedicated to community-led river conservation initiatives. United Utilities, which recently disclosed a high frequency of raw sewage releases into rivers compared to other water companies in England, could contribute to the restoration efforts.

The RSPB has demonstrated the compatibility of conservation and farming by managing its own farm in Swindale. This approach showcases the potential for both sectors to coexist and mutually benefit each other.

Witnessing the return of clear, meandering water and the revival of wildlife in the river has been an inspiring experience for Lee Schofield and the conservationists involved in the project.

“We as a species can rebuild and restore places like this. We can create space for nature,” he says.



At Natural World Fund, we are passionate about stopping the decline in our wildlife.

The declines in our wildlife is shocking and frightening. Without much more support, many of the animals we know and love will continue in their declines towards extinction.

When you help to restore a patch of degraded land through rewilding to forests, meadows, or wetlands, you have a massive impact on the biodiversity at a local level. You give animals a home and food that they otherwise would not have had, and it has a positive snowball effect for the food chain.

We are convinced that this is much better for the UK than growing lots of fast-growing coniferous trees, solely to remove carbon, that don’t actually help our animals to thrive.

This is why we stand for restoring nature in the UK through responsible rewilding. For us, it is the right thing to do. Let’s do what’s right for nature!

Support our work today at https://naturalworldfund.com/ and join in the solution!


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