£2.5m scheme to protect Fountains Abbey and surrounding valley from flooding

Flooding in 2020 at the Studley Royal Water Garden. Photographs: Tom Rafal / National Trust
13 Jan 2021 @ 8.13 pm
| Environment

A £2.5 million project to protect an historic river valley, which includes the famous Fountains Abbey, from the effects of climate change has been given the go-ahead.

Work to revive 12 miles of the River Skell in North Yorkshire to reduce flooding will get under way after the scheme secured a £1.4 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The project, spearheaded by the National Trust and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), includes planting trees and creating meadows and new ponds to slow the flow of water and stop soil run-off.

It is hoped the project will protect homes, businesses and important heritage, including the 12th century ruined abbey, from flooding as well as improve habitat for wildlife and provide better access to green space for people.

The Skell, which takes its name from the Viking word for “resounding”, descends from Dallowgill Moor in Nidderdale AONB, and runs through moorland, farmland and the World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, to the city of Ripon.

The National Trust, which looks after the abbey and gardens, warns they are at risk of being irreparably damaged by flooding, which has worsened in northern England in the past 50 years as the climate warms.

There have been several instances in recent years when the heritage sites have been deluged by water, including in 2007, when a significant flood had devastating effects on the abbey’s archaeology, the water garden and Ripon.

Wildlife in the Skell Valley is also threatened by poor water quality driven by an increase in sediment washed into the river.

Boost wildlife

Studley Royal Water Garden. Photograph: Chris Lacey / National Trust

It is hoped the plans will boost rare wildlife such as curlew, white-clawed crayfish and golden plover as well as reducing the risk of flooding.

Farmers will be rewarded for delivering conservation measures as part of the scheme, there are plans to open up the wider Skell Valley with new walking trails, and local people will have the chance to learn drystone walling, wildlife and river monitoring and hedge laying.

There will also be a focus on other “lost” heritage sites, including researching a sulphur spa used by visitors 200 years ago and restoring the landscape of Eavestone Lakes, popular with 19th century tourists, the National Trust said.

The four-year scheme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other funders, including the European Regional Development Fund, is set to get under way in March.

Harry Bowell, director of land and nature at the National Trust, said: “This is a significant marker in the history of this fascinating valley – and an important moment for the Trust.

“Climate change is eroding away nature and heritage and only by working across our boundaries, with local people and partners, and with nature, will we be able to make a real difference.”