Channel naturalisation on Swindale Beck
The view that our rivers are largely static systems continues to pervade the restoration environment with the desire to minimise change expressed by regulators and practitioners alike. Such an attitude probably stems from the ‘successful’ engineering and management of our watercourses over historic time that has created a perception of stability. Great environmental benefit can, however, be achieved by considering rivers as dynamic systems, restoring erosional and depositional processes and re-establishing floodplain links. This philosophy underpins the naturalisation of Swindale Beck in the Lake District where the historically constrained watercourse has been restored to create the planform and morphology encouraging active meandering across the upland SSSI floodplain.
The early success of the works is clear at the site with the river quickly adopting the new course and morphology following a series of bankfull flow events. Erosion, deposition and sediment movement has been dramatic compared to the former watercourse but the basic morphology remains that of an active meandering system. Monitoring of the fine sediments downstream has shown an expected increased load but no significant change to the bed sediment character. The strong resolve of the RSPB and project partners in pushing the project forward and the courage and far sightedness of staff in Natural England and the Environment Agency who have balanced the positive project aspects against short term potentially negative effects downstream has resulted in dramatic early environmental gains and a similar ethos and attitude is encouraged for future opportunities across the UK.