Demonstration Projects

River Restoration > Demonstration Projects

River restoration in the UK

Since the early days of the Cole and Skerne restoration there have been a number of projects with a lot of investment, plenty of outputs and excellent learning opportunities. Showcased here is a selection of innovative projects that have contributed to the understanding and progress of river restoration in the UK and beyond.

Where it all began - restoration of the rivers Cole and Skerne

RRC was formed from the River Restoration Project, an EU LIFE funded project aiming to demonstrate best practice urban and rural river restoration and encourage river restoration in Europe. The River Restoration Project was a joint initiative between the UK and the South Jutland Council and included three demonstration sites: the River Skerne in Darlington (County Durham), the River Cole at Coleshill in Wiltshire and the River Brede in Denmark; projects which were carried out between 1994 and 1997.

The River Cole was re-meandered following its original course, demonstrating a wealth of different river restoration techniques, such as backwater creation, river narrowing and soft bank protection. Similarly the River Skerne was restored using instream deflectors, the creation of meanders and by reconnection of the river to its floodplain.

The restoration of the Cole and the Skerne have been of major importance for building confidence to carry out larger scale integrated river restoration schemes in the UK and led to the publication of the Manual of River Restoration Techniques. Today, RRC provides a focal point for the exchange of information and expertise regarding river restoration and enhancements of fluvial ecosystems.

Use the links below to find out more.

River Cole:

RRC Manual of Techniques

RiverWiki - River Cole

River Cole Brochure

REFORM - River Cole

River Skerne:

RRC Manual of Techniques

RiverWiki - River Skerne

River Skerne Brochure

REFORM - River Skerne

List of other publications

Reviving rivers in the cityscape - the Ravensbourne catchment

Urbanisation, pollution, habitat degradation and climate change are challenges that demanded a joined-up approach to bring the Ravensbourne and its tributaries (such as the River Quaggy) back to the heart of Lewisham in London. The London Borough of Lewisham, the Environment Agency and others have worked in partnership to improve the rivers for people and wildlife, using restoration measures to mitigate against the effects of these pressures.

The heavily managed rivers have been restored using a number of techniques, demonstrating best practice urban river restoration. Key projects include; the deculverting of the Ravensbourne at Norman Park, and the re-meandering of the Quaggy at Chinbrook Meadows.  The LIFE funded QUERCUS project re-meandered the Ravensbourne at Ladywell Fields, and at Cornmill Gardens replaced the concreted channel with more natural regraded banks. Similarly the River Quaggy Flood Alleviation Scheme worked to increase the level of flood risk protection in an environmentally sensitive way including de-culverting, the novel creation of flood storage areas and solutions to urban drainage problems.

Use the links below to find out more.

RRC Case Study Series

RRC Manual of Techniques - Norman Park

RiverWiki Case Studies

List of other publications


River Tweed and Eddleston Water: A catchment wide focus

Eddleston Water is a small tributary of the River Tweed which was extensively altered and straightened, largely in the early 19th Century. These changes led to increased flood risk to Eddleston and Peebles, and damaged the river environment leading to a loss of important habitats and therefore biodiversity.

The Eddleston Water Project is a partnership initiative created to address this degradation. It was led by Tweed Forum, alongside Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Government and the University of Dundee, supported by other partners. This project was part of the Tweed Catchment which was awarded the 2015 UK River Prize at the 16th annual RRC Conference, and provides a good case study of catchment scale restoration.

The three main aims were to:

  • Reduce the risk of flooding to the communities of Eddleston and Peebles by restoring some of the natural catchment features.
  • Improve the river habitat for wildlife and fisheries.
  • Work with landowners and communities in the Eddleston valley to maximise the benefits gained from such work, while maintaining the profitability of local farms.

This was achieved by introducing small changes to land management practices, for example by fencing off the river banks and planting native trees, creating floodwater storage areas (ponds and wetlands), reconnecting the river to its floodplain and re-meandering 1.8km of the river’s length.

Use the links below to find out more.

Tweed Forum – The Eddleston Water Project

RiverWiki – Eddleston Water

The Eddleston Water Project Leaflet, 2015

List of other publications

Image Credit: Wye and Usk Foundation

The Wye and Usk: Irfon Special Area of Conservation (ISAC)

The Irfon Special Area of Conservation (ISAC) project was a four year €1.27 million partnership between the Wye and Usk Foundation, Environment Agency Wales, the National Museum of Wales and the Rivers Trust, supported by the European Union LIFE+ Nature fund.

A number of issues threatened the River Irfon, including; climate change, acidification, land use intensification, invasive species and the inappropriate management of the riparian zone. These concerns were addressed in a number of ways;

  • Coniferous forestry in the upper catchment was responsible for exacerbating the acidification problem. After an agreement with the Forestry Commission, forest drains were blocked and trees removed to restore ten bogs to their natural hydrological function, mitigating against acidic flashy flows and reducing flood peaks.
  • Whilst this upland restoration came into effect, sand liming - the annual addition of ungraded limestone sand into the channel, was used as a temporary solution to buffer against acidification.
  • In the middle and lower reaches the aim was to enhance 30km of the riparian corridor to improve river habitat for a number of key species (including white clawed crayfish and freshwater pearl mussels). This was addressed via stock exclusion, tree planting, coppicing, barrier removal and buffer strips.

Use the links below to find out more

RiverWiki – The Irfon Special Area of Conservation Project

Wye and Usk Foundation – The ISAC Project

Wye and Usk Foundation – ISAC End of project report, Jan 2014

LIFE Report – ISAC 08 – Irfon Special Area of Conservation Project

List of other publications

River Irwell Good Ecological Potential Project: Focus on weir removal

The legacy of late 19th century industrial development in the Irwell catchment is that many of the watercourses are heavily modified with culverts, weirs, locks and dams. The Irwell WFD Good Ecological Potential project was a catchment scale restoration project aiming to address river disconnectivity by strategically removing redundant structures within the catchment. Delivered by the Environment Agency, Irwell Rivers Trust, and Partners, the project has successfully delivered 21 weir removal and fish easement projects with many more assessed for the years ahead. This is a useful example of where restoration objectives were planned to a catchment level to achieve catchment-scale improvements. This was achieved by linking a number of discreet projects with the overall aim of restoring the rivers form and function. For example;

  • The Goshen weir removal project on the River Roch in Bury, was the largest attempted at the time. The weir was severely constraining the river corridor and restricting fish passage upstream.
  • Restoration of the River Medlock through Clayton Vale and Philips Park in Manchester involved the removal of the rivers red brick lining and concrete base layer, which earned its nickname the ‘Red River’.
  • The Kirklees brook is a tributary of the River Irwell near Bury. This Catchment Restoration Fund supported project included a range of weir and culvert removals and fish easement projects.

Use the links below to find out more

River Wiki Case Studies

Irwell Rivers Trust – The Irwell GEP Project

BBC News – Britain’s lost ‘red river’ resurrected, 100 years on

List of other publications


Rottal Burn; a rural, re-meandering case study

The Rottal Burn is a high energy, rural river tributary of the River South Esk in Angus, Scotland. The 1km reach was straightened to improve agricultural drainage in the 1830’s, but this caused aggradation problems. Historically this was addressed by unsustainable dredging and the material used to build agricultural embankments, destroying existing habitat and disconnecting the river from its floodplain. This was of particular concern as the River South Esk and its tributaries are designated for the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), and although the site contained spawning habitat the lack of habitat diversity meant unusually low numbers of salmonids reached adulthood.

The Esk Rivers and Fisheries Trust led this project, primarily funded by SEPA, aiming to restore natural river processes and in-stream and riparian habitat, particularly for the Atlantic salmon and freshwater pearl mussel. Restoration took the form of an ambitious re-meandering scheme, reconnecting the river to its floodplain and increasing the diversity of habitats using large woody debris, embankment-won sediment and marginal planting.

Use the links below to find out more

   RRC Manual of Techniques – 1.8 Restoring a meandering course to a high energy river

RiverWiki– Rottal Burn

River South Esk Catchment Partnership – Rottal Burn

Esk Rivers and Fisheries Trust – Restoration of Rottal Burn Glen Cova

List of other publications

River Brent; demonstrating benefit to communities

The River Brent is an important tributary of the Thames running through West London, which experienced large straightening and concrete reinforcing of bed and banks between the 1940s and 1970s during a programme of flood alleviation. This channelization led to the loss of in-channel features and a disconnection of the river from its floodplain. A number of projects have been completed on the Brent in recent years, challenging problems of urbanisation, canalisation and culverts, lack of recreational value, and poor water quality.

The River Brent Restoration was a key scheme restoring 2km of the river and delivered in two phases; the first 1999-2003 and the second 2010-????. Phase I restored two sections of the river removing the concrete flood banks and creating a new meandering channel along the same alignment as a historical course of the river. The river banks were re-naturalised to earth banks but stabilised in some areas using crushed concrete from the channel and live willow revetments. Phase II delivered similar work but in the central area, linking up the areas restored in Phase I. The river restoration was used as a flagship project for restoration of the whole park including planting new trees and creating wild flower meadows, providing new street furniture, CCTV cameras, a footbridge, new paths, and refurbishing the children’s play area, providing important social benefits.

Use the links below to find out more

RRC Case Study – River Brent at Tokyngton Park

RiverWiki Case Studies

Thames Rivers Trust – River Brent (West London) Projects

Brent Council – Brent River Park project

List of other publications