The Urban River Enhancement Scheme (URES) for Burnley was delivered by the Ribble Rivers Trust between 2011 and 2015 with the majority of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Environment Agency.
The town of Burnley in Lancashire has a rich industrial heritage but since the decline of the cotton industry, the rivers have been left in a poor physical state. URES set out to not only improve the straight, fast-flowing artificial channels and enable better fish passage through the town, but also to work with the local people to devise ways to enable and encourage them to engage with the rivers in their town.
URES set out to not only improve the straight, fast-flowing artificial channels and enable better fish passage through the town, but also to work with the local people to devise ways to enable and encourage them to engage with the rivers in their town.
The in-channel works and fish passes were carefully designed, modelled for flood risk and delivered by local contractors. The community activities were selected by the project steering group and delivered in partnership with existing organisations in Burnley including Burnley Borough Council, Burnley Leisure Trust and Burnley Youh Theatre.
Designed to directly engage local people with their rivers in a variety of creative and positive ways. URES worked to encourage people of all ages, backgrounds and interests to enjoy, protect and enhance their local rivers. Activities included drama and creative arts, photography, town center events, guided walks, presentations, tours and treasure trails, oral history research, training courses, practical conservation, song writing, storytelling and the raising of hundreds of trout fry in the classrooms of primary schools and children releasing these into their local rivers.
With support from Durham University, scientific monitoring techniques were employed before and after the physical works to assess the effectiveness of the river channel alterations on fish and invertebrate populations. Results showed that the numbers of brown trout in the urban rivers increased significantly within a year after the works were completed. Eye witness accounts have also reported sightings of herons and kingfishers feeding along the rivers in Burnley Town Centre now improved by URES. A large trout has also seen in a modified section of the river channel which is evidence that the fish passes and shelters are functioning well and that fish are beginning to migrate up river to spawn.
Dozens of local people also completed training courses through URES and gained valuable work experience as well as nationally recognised qualifications. Young people achieved Arts Awards whilst learning about and exploring their local rivers. NPTC courses in the safe use of herbicide enabled volunteers to help manage areas of non-native invasive species. The RRT course in River Habitat Management included invertebrate monitoring and First aid as well as a wide range of practical skills from surveying to building otter holts and organising volunteer events. Delivering dozens of talks and presentations to local groups and schools helped to raise awareness of environmental issues more widely. The identification and delivery of practical habitat restoration projects enabled hundreds of volunteers to participate and enjoy the experience of making a difference to improve their own environment for both themselves and the local wildlife.
Access to the town’s rivers has been significantly improved with the installation of a new bridge over the river Brun and new and improved riverside footpaths. The publication of a ‘River Calder’ book, guided walks and treasure trails, installation of interpretation boards and viewing areas ensures that URES is leaving behind a legacy for the communities of Burnley to continue to explore and enjoy their rivers.
The dual approach taken by the URES project, i.e. both physical improvements coupled with community engagement, was designed to ensure and deliver longer-lasting and more sustainable improvements to Burnley’s rivers than ‘under the radar’ restoration alone could achieve.
As well as an improved physical habitat that is able to support greater numbers of fish, invertebrates, birds and mammals, evidence shows that local communities in Burnley now have a better understanding and greater respect for their rivers than they had prior to URES. Beneficiaries are reporting that they are already passing on their experiences to their families and friends, newly qualified people are progressing onto further education, employment and self-employment. Groups and organisations continue to develop local projects, raising interest and funds to further enhance their rivers and streams with a greater inclination to enjoy, protect and enhance their natural assets beyond the scope of the project.