Monitoring sediment and water quality on the River Skell

iCASP and the SORBY fluid dynamics lab at the University of Leeds have been commissioned, as part of the Skell Valley Project, to monitor fine sediments and water quality on a stretch of the River Skell.

We are working with the National Trust to understand where sediment is sourced from, and how natural flood management (NFM) interventions, like leaky dams, are impacting the amount of sediment in the river, and the river flow levels. These data will help inform the best places to install future NFM measures.

Previous extreme weather and flooding events in the Nidderdale Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) has resulted in damage to high profile sites such as Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. The high levels of sediment deposited from the River Skell is threatening the local ecology and contributing to a reduction in water quality.

Fieldwork and monitoring are currently underway. A new weather station has been installed, along with flow gauges, pump samplers, and turbidity sensors. Water and sediment samples have been taken at various points within the Skell Catchment, including a site at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sampling will be continued by National Trust volunteers at Fountains Abbey as part of community efforts to protect historical heritage and conserve nature.

Sampling water and sediment is also taking place at the historic Half Moon Lake, constructed in the 18th century as part of an Italian-style water gardens. The River Skell feeds directly into the lake which is prone to being infilled by fine sediments that is detrimental to local wildlife and results in regular, and costly, dredging of the lakes.

Five years ago the Skell Valley Project started

The Skell Valley Project started as an idea about five years ago, when local groups and individuals came together to look at opportunities to learn about, care for, and celebrate the natural and man-made heritage of this special North Yorkshire river valley. It includes 15 individual projects which together form an ambitious vision for the river and the landscape. The National Trust and Nidderdale AONB lead the Partnership working with various stakeholders and funders.

The scheme focusses on the 12 miles of the River Skell, descending from the wild remote moorland of Dallowgill Moor to the Vale of York and the historic City of Ripon. The upper and middle stretches of the river lie wholly within Nidderdale AONB and include the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate, named a World Heritage Site in 1986.The lower stretches flow through farmland and the open grasslands and wooded banks of Hell Wath before reaching the bustling historic city of Ripon.

“Our vision is to restore the River Skell to the heart of a unique and well-connected landscape where heritage is celebrated, nature thrives, and people are empowered to lead change which ensures the long-term sustainability of the Skell Valley for future generations.”

Find out more about the Skell Valley Project on the National Trust website.

About a year ago, a programme of natural flood management measures started to be delivered with farmers in the valley to slow the flow of water into the River Skell and reduce the impacts of flooding and silt on heritage sites and people living downstream.

So far natural flood management measures have been delivered with local farmers and landowners at 14 places in the river catchment including Grantley, Eavestone, Sawley, Fountains and Studley. This includes tree planting to reduce surface water run-off, building woody debris dams that slow the flow of water and creating storage ponds to hold excess water. As well as reducing the risk of flooding, these measures also benefit nature by creating new habitats for wildlife and improving water quality. Local farmers, contractors, project volunteers and community groups have helped to deliver these measures with much more to come over the next couple of years.