We need to install natural flood management measures along North Yorkshire’s Skell Valley to restore nature and protect the precious Fountains Abbey site from the effects of climate change; reducing flooding, erosion and siltation.
Threatened Unique World Heritage Site
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and managed by the National Trust. The spectacular ruins of the 12th century Cistercian abbey and water mill, the Jacobean mansion of Fountains Hall, the Victorian masterpiece St Mary’s Church and one of the most magnificent Georgian water gardens ever created, make this an outstanding landscape located in Nidderdale National Landscape (formerly Nidderdale AONB).
The World Heritage Site’s most significant threat is the increased risk of flood damage as the River Skell floods more frequently due to extreme weather events. Restoring natural habitats in the valley can reduce the risk and impact of flooding by slowing the flow of water in the catchment, intercepting silt and other pollutants before they enter the river and reducing the volume of water in the river channel during flood events. Working with nature to build landscape resilience is essential to protect Fountains Abbey from the threats of climate change. It is vital to ensure this major visitor attraction of international repute continues to support the local economy and growth.
Over the past two years the Skell Valley Project has been reducing flood risk to hundreds of homes and businesses by delivering natural flood management (NFM) works on sites in the Skell Valley, in partnership with local landowners/managers. The local community have worked with the National Trust team to plant new hedgerows, install fencing, manage woodlands and remove invasive species. The University of Leeds have also installed river monitoring equipment in the catchment, to monitor the impact of the work on farms and whole river catchment.
What we’ll do
We’ll accelerate the reduction of flood risk by building on the pilot’s success and extending its approach with additional work on 10 sites. This work will also:
- enhance landscape resilience
- protect the World Heritage Site
- help nature recover through habitat restoration
Farmers and landowners will be supported to manage their land sustainably; providing opportunities to diversify, sustain their businesses and help nature recover.
The community will be able to volunteer for practical conservation work or as citizen scientists, helping monitor the project’s impact on the river’s health. Public events will be held for local people to learn about the restoration of local habitats and the benefits of this work on landscape resilience.
The project will run from July 2024 to June 2026. Most of the capital work is seasonal, particularly hedgerow planting and wetland creation, so it’s essential the project delivery timetable spans two winters.
All the costs listed below incorporate staff time (0.1FTE Project Manager 0.6 FTE Project Officer, 0.2FTE Project Support Coordinator) and overheads shared between the workstreams.
Restoring natural habitats will
- support recovery of declining species including tree sparrows, bats, amphibians and insects
- improve water quality to help safeguard aquatic wildlife
- capture carbon and mitigate the impact of climate change
These measures will also
- reduce flood risk downstream in the city of Ripon
- prevent closure, damage, and disruption at two heritage sites. As well as Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal World Heritage Site, the Grantley Hall & Estate is affected by adverse flooding events. Together, these sites attract around one million annual million visitors, contributing significantly to the local economy.
Nidderdale National Landscape (NNL) is a key landscape within our Local Nature Partnership - the Northern Uplands LNP. Nidderdale sits within the North Yorkshire Local Nature Recovery Strategy. We have a long-established partnership with NNL and with North Yorkshire Council to identify and deliver species and habitat restoration projects.
Following the pilot project, the National Trust created a permanent Skell Area Ranger post. Alongside our volunteer team, the Ranger will maintain the improvements we’re seeking funding for leaving a lasting legacy for the World Heritage Site and local wildlife.
The total cost of this project is £571,100 to be delivered in four workstreams
Restore riverbanks and improve water quality
- Install 3km of riverside fencing to prevent livestock from eroding the banks and fouling the water.
- Create buffer strips of marginal vegetation to trap sediment and slow the flow.
- Improve 1km of farm tracks to reduce erosion and prevent sediment entering watercourses.
This will improve water quality in the River Skell, helping aquatic wildlife including white-clawed crayfish and otters, while also reducing the risk of siltation in the Studley Royal Water Gardens.
- Plant 5km of species-rich native hedgerows to slow the flow of water and reduce flood risk.
Hedgerows provide connectivity in the landscape, acting as ‘nature superhighways’ linking up existing wildlife habitat and creating feeding opportunities and shelter for a range of species, including bats and threatened bird species such as tree sparrows, a UK red list species present on three of the sites.
- Create two hectares of wetland habitat within the Skell Valley, by installing new ponds, scrapes, bunds and leaky dams.
The wetlands will collect and hold water during heavy rainfall events, reducing the risk of flooding at Fountains Abbey and downstream. Pond creation has huge benefits for wildlife, providing habitats for frogs, toads, newts and aquatic insects such as dragonflies and damselflies. New wetlands also provide feeding opportunities for wading birds such as snipe and curlew and can supply vital drinking water for a range of wildlife during prolonged dry weather. In the pilot, dragonflies were recorded breeding within six months of new pond creation.
Involve local people
- Hold a series of workshops for local farmers to highlight opportunities to participate in nature recovery and natural flood management work.
- Deliver a public events programme to connect local people with nature, providing learning opportunities about local wildlife.
- Work with University of Leeds to undertake a river monitoring programme, training up local volunteers to work as citizen scientists to monitor the River Skell.