Local contractors begin ambitious in-stream project after adapting working practices to comply with COVID-19 safety guidance.
The Ribble Catchment Partnership has seized on the opportunity provided by exceptionally low spring water levels to start work on a transformational project to return the river to its natural course at Samlesbury.
In what is believed to be the widest weir removal scheme currently underway in Britain, excavators moved in this week to begin removal of the redundant 50-year-old weir to increase biodiversity and ease the movement of migratory fish like salmon, smelt and eels.
The works are part of the new Ribble Life for Water Scheme supported by the Water Environment Grant administered by the Environment Agency, and funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. A programme of 10 large-scale engineering projects, delivered largely by local contractors, will restore natural flows and improve water quality, habitat and biodiversity.
To date, planning and preparation have been the principle activities of the programme, but during the winter, work started on Pendle Hill to restore areas of degraded peat that were causing diffuse water pollution, increased downstream flood risk, emitting carbon and reducing biodiversity. The peat work has had to be paused due to the coronavirus pandemic and is hoped to be completed this coming winter.
Following a review of the most recent government guidance, discussions with the contractor, local landowners and tenants and requirements of changes to working practices to ensure safety for workers and the public, all parties agreed that it was safe to begin work on removal of the weir.
Samlesbury Weir was constructed in the 1970s to monitor low flows on the Ribble, but its effectiveness led to it being permanently decommissioned. The weir itself causes significant problems for the river and riverine wildlife and has also been the site of several serious injuries to members of the public.
Weirs impound water and sediments, interrupting natural processes and habitat creation, which reduces the biodiversity and abundance of wildlife that would otherwise be expected. Samlesbury weir also slows the movement of fish upstream and downstream – both locally and much further.