A MAJOR restoration project is currently underway – and the team is thrilled to have reached the halfway point.

Under a project organised by West Cumbria Rovers Trust, the River Keekle's plastic-lined riverbed is being transformed, with the harmful base being replaced with natural stone and gravel.

And the scheme is officially halfway through its task, with 1.25km of the riverbed being replaced so far.

Luke Bryant, project manager at West Cumbria Rivers Trust, said: “After many years of planning, it’s incredibly exciting to see the first section completed and the river returning to a natural, resilient condition.

"We’re very hopeful the weather will continue to be kind to allow us to complete the works before the end of summer."

The river runs from Pica to Cleator, where it joins the River Ehen.

To enable work to take place, a section of plastic had to be successfully removed from a 170-metre test site last year, and the river was dammed and water diverted into a channel that runs alongside it.

Mr Bryant added: “Last year’s trial site was a huge success and we’re seeing natural gravel and sediment deposition which is proof the river is re-naturalising itself.

"In time we’ll see this along the whole 2.5km stretch which has the potential to become great habitat for fish spawning.”

The original liner was installed in the 1990s, but had failed and was breaking up. Researchers at the University of Salford estimated that the liner has been shedding plastic particles at a rate of 500 kg per year since it was installed, in findings first reported by The i.

West Cumbria Rivers Trust is leading the project with support from the Environment Agency, DEFRA, Natural England, principal contractor OpenSpace, AECOM, AquaUoS, the Rivers Trust, Esmee Fairbairn and United Utilities.