Team working for the River Esk

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

The River Esk Volunteer Group was established at the start of the WREN funded Esk Pearl Mussel Recovery” project and have been going ever since. The aim of the project is to improve the habitats of the River Esk in order to secure the pearl mussel population and to increase the populations of salmon and trout in the River and its tributaries. By promoting river friendly land management within the catchment hopefully healthy river habitats will subsist into the future.

Our local volunteers carry out river restoration work* and at the same time learn about river habitats and species that depend on them.

Number of volunteer days (December 2011 to January 2015) = 389

Number of volunteer tasks (December 2011 to January 2015) = 62

Average number of volunteers per task = 6

* River clean-ups, River bank stabilisation, Willow spiling, Tree planting, Hedge planting, Fencing work, Leaky dam installation, Boardwalk repair, Track improvement, Drainage ditch modification, Conifer thinning, New Zealand pigmyweed control, Rhododendron control, Himalayan balsam control.

Here are a few photos of the River Esk Volunteers and other volunteers at work in the Esk catchment over the last few years. A big thank you to everyone.

4 thoughts on “Team working for the River Esk

  1. Its interesting to me that in that in every old photograph of the esk valley there are far, far fewer trees than there are today. (Sutcliffe pictures are good start)

    Rivers and streams were regularly used to water cattle and wash sheep, and until relatively recently farmers sowed more arable crops than they do now, so there was potentially more run off from the fields then. I’m not aware of any studies to show the numbers of pearl mussels in the river then but we make the assumption that water quality was perhaps better then, so the main focus now has been on bank stablisation, prevention of run off from fields and so on.

    Is there any evidence that all this will actually benefit the pearl mussel?

    • Dear David

      Apologies for the late reply it has been a hectic few months working on the River Esk.

      In response to your question, we now have a very good understanding of the requirements of freshwater pearl mussels. They require pristine water quality (very low nutrient levels – nitrate and phosphorous) and very low levels of silt.
      There are now less than 1,500 adult mussels in the River Esk, all of which are over the age of 40 and we don’t think we have any young mussels at all. This is due to silt levels and water quality problems and a host of other issues such as declines in host fish and historic pearl fishing (see the links below for further information):

      We are working to address these issues in the Esk catchment through a wide range of projects and work (see the current Esk Action Plan –

      Click to access RiverEsk3YearActionPlan.pdf

      We have also been working with Durham University to carry out water quality and sediment studies to help us understand the current conditions in the Esk. We can then compare this with the water quality in “reference” rivers (which have healthy and recruiting populations of freshwater pearl mussels).

      A project in the River Lutter in Lower Saxony, Germany has been successful in restoring active recruitment in a freshwater pearl mussel population, by employing similar restoration techniques to those we are employing on the Esk, see the link for further details:

      Click to access RAPPORT.FPM%20projects%20in%20Europe.pdf

      Simon Hirst
      River Esk Project Officer

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