The River Hodder and riverbanks
Copyright: Jon Hickling
Map(s): Major rivers in Lancashire showing river quality in 1990. (1A=Excellent)
Lancashire has a range of watercourse types, from major rivers to canals and small man-made drainage ditches. This plan covers main rivers and the streams that feed them. It also encompasses riverside or streamside (‘riparian’) habitats. Estuaries with a salt water or brackish influence are beyond the plan’s scope.
‘Rivers and streams’ is a very broad habitat category and within it there are a diverse range of features that support differing communities of plants and animals. Such features include riffles, shingle banks and pools within the natural course of the river or stream as well as bankside features such as earth cliffs, stands of reed, grasslands and wet woodlands. These are valuable habitats in their own right and are covered by other action plans.
The geology of the county primarily defines the physical nature and underlying water chemistry of its rivers and streams. Water chemistry alters along the length of the watercourse as the water flows over different substrates. It also changes due to natural and man-made inputs.
The structure of the water course is determined by the energy of the water and the underlying substrate. Small fast-flowing upland streams change into broad, meandering rivers in their lower reaches. Rivers flowing through sandstones can have steeper, higher-sided banks than those on other rock types.
Much riverine habitat is highly modified, and little can be said to be in a "natural" condition. Flood defence works, impoundments, canalisation and the removal of bankside trees alter patterns of sedimentation and the ability of rivers to create new habitat. For much of Lancashire, habitat management for wildlife has to start from a very realistic acceptance of physical and economic constraints. However there are attempts in some areas to restore heavily modified watercourses.
Rivers are vital parts of the landscape. As well as their intrinsic value, rivers and streams act as wildlife corridors linking other wildlife features, and providing safe routes for animals to move between sites. Nowhere in the county is more than a few tens of metres from a watercourse.
The UK BAP contains a habitat statement for rivers and streams. This highlights the threats posed to wildlife by such factors as pollution, excessive abstraction, unsympathetic engineering works, inappropriate floodplain development and poor bankside management.
The UK BAP proposes that degraded rivers and streams should be restored "taking account of water quality and quantity, structure and hydraulic connection with the floodplain".
The County contains stretches of river that are recognised in the North west Biodiversity Audit as being ‘regionally important’. Rivers that are mentioned in this context include the Douglas, Hodder, Lune, Ribble and Tawd.
No Lancashire rivers are specifically notified as SAC, SPA or SSSI. Much of the Hodder and parts of the Wyre and Lune are in the Bowland SPA and/or the AONB.
Both the Lune and Ribble are important rivers for fish; the Lune for salmonids, the Ribble for both salmonids and coarse fish.
The Lune, Ribble, Hodder and plus parts of the Wyre, Tawd and Yarrow are notified as County Biological Heritage Sites.
The Lancashire stretch of the Lune is one of the best in the country for its birds.
Many sites notified as SSSI for other reasons have watercourses flowing through them
Lancashire’s two biggest rivers, the Lune and Ribble rise outside the county. Conversely, some Mersey catchment tributaries (Irwell, Croal) rise in the county and flow out into Greater Manchester.
The county’s other catchment systems can be broadly grouped into two physical types based on their geographical location in the County.
The west Lancashire coastal plain –the Fylde and Amounderness – has a maze of small watercourses (ditches, dykes, sluices and drains), that have the potential to support a rich aquatic and riparian flora and fauna.
The north and east of the county has rivers that rise on the uplands – Howgills, Pennines and Bowland. These are characteristically very fast-flowing spate rivers. Their floras are limited by periodic scouring. There are mosses, liverworts and a few specialist river plants such as water- crowfoot and, in slower reaches, water-milfoils. A characteristic habitat is exposed shingle both at the margins and in mid-river. These are now recognised as valuable habitats for a large number of invertebrates as well as birds and plants. Where water quality permits, trout are a characteristic fish.
Long stretches of watercourse in industrialised areas of east Lancashire are heavily canalised and culverted. One example is the upper Irwell in Rossendale.
Current factors affecting the Habitat
Water quality in Lancashire’s rivers is generally improving. A number of habitat improvement schemes are in progress.
The main factors that tend to reduce the biodiversity of Lancashire’s rivers include:
Current Action / Mechanisms
The Environment Agency (EA) is the main statutory body engaged in regulating the quality of riverine and riparian habitats. The Agency is a statutory consultee on planning applications affecting watercourses.
The Environment Agency is a major regulator and has control of:
In all of these both regulation ("consenting") and enforcement actions are taken.
A statement of the main issues that the Agency perceives in each catchment along with its proposed actions is to be found in their Local Environment Agency Plans (LEAPs). LEAPs are statutory documents that the Agency has to prepare and periodically review for each river catchment.
There are numerous EC Directives and pieces of environmental legislation that apply to rivers and streams. The main ones are:
The EA is the main organisation responsible for constructing new flood defences and maintaining existing structures. From July 2001 the Agency will have to report on all gains and losses of UK BAP habitats that result from their flood defence works.
Rehabilitation work on rivers or streams is occasionally undertaken. An example from a neighbouring area is the Alt 2000 project. Meanders and other ‘natural’ features have been restred successfully to sections of the Alt in Merseyside. Action to improve polluted watercourses is also underway in several areas. These include a major scheme to treat acid mine seepages into the Irwell near Bacup. A locally based group is taking forward rehabilitation of a degraded stretch of the River Keer near Carnforth. Local anglers groups are actively undertaking habitat improvement works (e.g. Lune Habitats Group, Ribble Conservation Trust).
The Environment Agency is generally opposed to the culverting of watercourses because of the adverse ecological, flood defence, and other effects that are likely to result. The Agency also encourages the re-opening of culverted watercourses where new opportunities arise to improve wildlife corridors and flood defence maintenance. The Agency also operates a presumption against development on the functional floodplain which can form an integral part of riparian corridors.
There are a number strategic partnership initiatives in place, such as the Sustainable Rivers Project and the Mersey Basin Campaign, that seek to improve riparian and riverine habitat in the region. The Campaign acts as an umbrella organisation for River Valley Initiatives focused on whole catchments. An example is the ‘Source to Sea’ initiative dealing with the River Ribble from its source in the Yorkshire Dales through to the internationally important Ribble Estuary.
MAFF’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme is a potential source of funding for landowners that wish to improve riparian habitat. MAFF also encourage best practice through its Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water.
The Environment Agency undertakes monitoring of water quality and quantity, fish stocks, and monitors and maintains the state of flood defences.
Flood Defence works are reviewed to ensure best environmental practice consistent with operational requirements.
Indicators of Habitat Quality:
Possible biodiversity indicators for rivers include:
Table 1: NVC Communities associated with rivers and streams in Lancashire
Table 2: Species of vascular plant associated with rivers and streams in Lancashire
Table 2: Animal species associated with rivers and streams in Lancashire
Objectives, targets and proposed actions for rivers and streams in Lancashire
Links to other Action Plans: Broadleaved & mixed woodland HAP, bats SAP; otter SAP; water vole SAP; freshwater white-clawed crayfish SAP; freshwater pearl mussel SAP: Reed bunting SAP; Great crested newt SAP: Environment Agency Salmon Action Plans (See below).
References & additional reading:
1. RSPB Rivers and Wildlife Handbook
2. Environment Agency Pollution Prevention Guidelines
3. UK Biodiversity Steering Group (1995) Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report. Volume 2: Action Plans. Rivers and Streams Habitat Statement. Pp 291 – 292. HMSO, London.
4. Environment Agency (2000) Focus on Biodiversity. The Environment Agency’s contribution to wildlife conservation. Environment Agency, Bristol.
5. Environment Agency, North West Region, Land Drainage Byelaws.
6. Environment Agency, Lune Salmon Action Plan.
7. Environment Agency, Ribble Salmon Action Plan.
8. Environment Agency, R&D Report, Invertebrates of exposed riverine sediments, Phase 1 & 2.
Date: April 2001.