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Upper Aire Land Management

The Upper Aire Catchment covers a surprisingly large area of North and West Yorkshire from Malham on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales in the north across to Earby on the Lancashire border in the west and down to Keighley near Bradford in the south.

Of the 20 waterbodies encompassed by the catchment, over half are failing to meet good ecological status as defined by the EU-driven Water Framework Directive. The reasons include diffuse sources of sediments and phosphates, and physical modification.

These are issues that concern not only government departments and conservation organisations but also most landowners and users of watercourses throughout the UK. However, as waterbodies run through multiple landholdings it is often difficult to identify where the source of the problem is located. In addition, landowners may not have the resources or the knowledge to deal with these issues.

In 2011 the Upper Aire Land Management Project, as a collaboration between Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency and the Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership (YFWP), was set up with the aim of addressing these watercourse failures by working with landowners and others to improve agricultural practices, manage diffuse agricultural pollution and restore physical habitats.

The main issues that we had to deal with were:
Erosion and increased sediment caused by the lack of fencing, buffer strips and bankside vegetation and intensive grazing of riverbanks. This was exacerbated by the erodible nature of the fine loamy and clayey soils which dominate in the catchment.
Diffuse pollution inputs from farm manures and fertilisers due to inadequate nutrient planning, poor timing of spreading and farm infrastructure problems, including the lack of clean/dirty water separation.
Lack of awareness of these issues within the farming community.

Surveying and Landowner Engagement

Initially, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust undertook a series of detailed walkover surveys along 85 km of watercourse, over a dozen waterbodies, pinpointing problem locations and ‘ground truthing’ previously collected data. In addition to this, YWFP began a series of landowner engagement activities including 45 farm visits covering 7500 ha of land with Whole Farm Appraisals and Farm Infrastructure Audits, the farm reports highlighting key opportunities for beneficial action and offering Practical Advice on Nutrient Management Planning to 11 farms.

In addition, a series of events and demonstrations was arranged to engage and raise awareness amongst the farming community and promote best practice.
These covered topics such as slurry and grassland management, alternative stock watering, riparian woodland creation and riverbank restoration.

Work on the Ground

Using the data collected we were, over the next 4 years, able to target practical, ground-based interventions such as river bank restoration, woodland planting and management, fencing to exclude stock to protect banksides and tree planting, hedgerow planting and restoration and the installation of in-channel water flow features.
Working with 33 different landowners, we have to date installed almost 14 km of fencing and 14 stock drinking bays. We have also installed 600m of living willow and log/brash revetment and have planted over 80 ha of woodland and 800m of hedgerow. In addition we have managed 10 ha of woodland through coppicing, thinning and pollarding and restored 250m of hedgerow through re- planting and laying.

Natural Flood Management

An additional impact of the work has been to help with natural flood management, with tree planting increasing soil porosity and revetment work intercepting overland flow into watercourses. Reinforcing this aspect, we have installed 22 leaky and brash dams, slowing the flow at the headwaters and thus reducing the impact of flash flooding into the main channel. We are continuing this particular aspect on the EA-funded Eller Beck Project which will be working with 4 separate landowners not only planting trees and fencing off vulnerable watercourses but also installing brash dams, channel constrictors and off-line ponds. This work will also benefit native white clawed crayfish along this watercourse.

Over the lifetime of the project further funding and support from a range of organisations such as the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust, SITA Trust, Biffa Award, Natural England, the Wild Trout Trust and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust has more than doubled the initial EA input helping us extend the range of works and sites.

Over 2016/2017 we will be looking to continue this work, with a complementary Biffa Award-funded Restoring Wet Woodland Project on the Upper Aire and focussing particularly on Eastburn Beck where we will also be working with the Wild Trout Trust to improve riverine habitat and fish passage.