AN AMBITIOUS river restoration project will help flood-hit communities in the Ullswater valley and restore dwindling populations of wildlife.

The National Trust project has been in planning for 20 years and will see a stretch of river moved from its current course alongside a main road into the Lake District and re-meandered, creating a series of bends and smaller channels that will reduce flooding risk.

Properties in the valley have been devastated by flooding in recent years, including during Storm Desmond in 2015. As damage, landslides and flooding is set to become more widespread by 2060, the trust is taking action.

Led by the Riverlands programme, a partnership between the National Trust and the Environment Agency, the scheme will reverse historic changes to Godrill Beck which have artificially straightened the river channel, meaning it is quickly overwhelmed by water.

Instead, project organisers aim to reconnect the beck with a floodplain, slowing the flow of water and allowing the wider landscape to absorb the effects of the Cumbrian weather.

The works will also create new and complex habitats to allow nature and wildlife to thrive.

This includes the river’s Atlantic salmon population, wading birds and reptiles.

Work is being delivered by the National Trust and Environment Agency with the support of a number of partners including the National Trust’s tenant farmers, Natural England and Cumbria County Council. National Trust Riverlands Project Manager Rebecca Powell said: “Over many hundreds of years the rivers in the Ullswater Valley have been straightened, initially for land reclamation and then more recently to protect that land from the impact of these modified river systems.

“These interventions have disconnected rivers from the surrounding landscape and resulted in channels which are highly efficient in transporting large volumes of water, gravel and natural materials downstream quickly. This then undermines defences and causes catastrophic damage to local infrastructure, farmland and local communities.

“We’ve been working with partners in Ullswater for decades to explore options for increasing flood resilience in the valley. The National Trust looks after 18km of riverbank in Ullswater and have spent over £50,000 in the last 5 years rebuilding breaches in walls. Despite our best efforts, nature continues to reassert itself and defences regularly breach.

“Recent flood events and the impact these have on land, habitats and people who live, work and visit the area have emphasised the need to work with nature, rather than against it, and explore sustainable solutions for managing the valley’s waterways.

“By reconnecting Goldrill Beck with the land that surrounds it and accommodating natural processes by removing old defences, we’re equipping the river to manage the future impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.”