Salmon fishing in Accrington - the people changing Lancashire’s rivers

The Ribble Rivers Trust is helping salmon and trout reach Accrington and Burnley (C) Wild & Free/Get

The Ribble Rivers Trust is helping salmon and trout reach Accrington and Burnley (C) Wild & Free/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

New fish passes mean salmon and trout can reach parts of our rivers they’ve not visited for centuries

Eagle-eyed nature lovers may have noticed a rare sight in certain stretches of the River Ribble and its tributaries recently – salmon and trout are back.

A multi-million pound ten-year fish pass campaign by Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT) is resulting in salmon and trout being able to swim to parts of Lancashire where they’ve not been seen for 200 years.

A fish pass at Dunkenhalgh Weir was recently completed, allowing salmon and trout to swim as far as Accrington for the first time in two centuries.

Dunkenhalgh Weir required a ‘pool and traverse’ fish pass with small ‘steps’ and resting pools for the fish to ‘climb the ladder’ between the river downstream and upstream of the weir.

Work is now underway on the Trust’s single longest fish pass at Holland Wood on the River Darwen.

The history of the Ribble area, particularly during the Industrial Revolution, meant around 1,000 weirs were constructed to power mills and works. In turn, these weirs prevented or slowed fish migration, impacting on fish populations and the species they support.

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Although removing a weir or barrier is the best way of reconnecting river habitat, improving fish migration and reducing erosion, it’s not always possible, says RRT chief executive, Jack Sprees.

‘In some places there is a strong and important cultural or historical heritage and in other places there are services and utilities built within the weir, or removal might cause damage to building foundations which means fish passes are the right option,’ he said.

In 2009, the charity which protects and restores rivers, streams and watercourses within the Ribble catchment, decided to make fish passes a priority.

The first was on the shortest river in Lancashire, the Don, which flows out of Thursden Valley before joining the Brun in Burnley and onwards to the Calder. By 2010, the number of brown trout upstream had already increased.

Since then the Trust has completed passes through Burnley that have seen salmon not only return to that town but also upstream and it’s hoped that they might appear in the River Don soon too.

Fish passage is beneficial for all fish but salmon and trout are particularly sensitive to weirs and will often avoid migrating over them, exposing them to pollution and predators.

To date, 60 fish passes have been created, opening up 840 km of river. They include Cow Hey in the Forest of Bowland; Sabden; Hoghton Bottoms on the River Darwen; and Bluebell Wood, part of Towneley Farm at Burnley.

Prior to tackling Holland Wood, the biggest pass the Riblle Rivers Trust had completed – at 24m long and rising almost 3m – was on the River Brun.

The most recent 14 passes are part of the Trust’s Ribble Life Together project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This ambitious scheme brings organisations together to improve water quality, reduce the risk of flooding and droughts and increase river connectivity and biodiversity.

The fish pass project has been so successful that there’s hundreds more to come including a three-year programme, Opening Up the River Douglas, which will see eight more passes delivered.

‘Fish passage is key to protecting and boosting our populations of fish which for many will support better angling and more recreation on rivers. Each rod caught salmon is worth around £500 to the local economy,’ adds Jack.

‘They also support a wider range of other species, such as otters, herons, kingfishers and freshwater insects.’

But the passes not only boost fish and wildlife. Most of the work has been completed by Lancashire-based contractors, supporting hundreds of jobs.

Jack says: ‘It’s often forgotten, but investing in our environment can really help the economy too. We’ve also conducted surveys that show a healthier river is something that influences where people choose to go to walk and exercise. There is nothing like the presence of salmon to give encouragement to visit locations.’

For more information on the Ribble Rivers Trust’s fish passes, visit

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