Goldrill Beck and the  Ullswater Riverlands Project

by Hannah Haydock

Banner Image: © National Trust

Goldrill Beck runs from the outlet of Brothers’ Water through farmland and past Patterdale to join the south end of Ullswater. In the late 1700s the river had been canalised – moved away from its natural course to an artificial channel – for much of its reach. Canalisation is a common feature of waterways in the Lake District with rivers moved to one side of a valley in straight, walled channels disconnected from their floodplain in order increase the amount of usable land for grazing. These rivers are generally fast moving and their uniform depth and lack of natural features makes them poor habitat for wildlife. The rate of flow was a particular issue for Goldrill Beck as its position alongside the A592 caused the river to continually undercut the road, whilst the high embankments meant the surrounding fields couldn’t drain into the river and became boggy and reed-filled as a result.

Overlooking the site from Dubhow in 2019  © National Trust

The restoration of Goldrill Beck was part of the National Trust’s Riverlands programme, in partnership with the Environment Agency and working with the farm tenants, Natural England, The Lake District National Park Authority and Cumbria County Council. The aims of the restoration were to mitigate the risk to the road, increase the capacity of the site to store water, slowing the flow of water and sediment downstream, and to create better habitats for species such as trout, eels and Atlantic Salmon which are key to the River Eden and Tributaries SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Whilst the project will only have a small impact on downstream flood risk it will compliment other work by the Ullswater Catchment Management CIC and local Rivers Trusts.

Goldrill Beck completed  © National Trust

Designs for the new river were produced by AECOM and Dynamic Rivers and the works were led by specialist firm Ebsford Environmental between April and August 2021. The project was funded by the National Trust and The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas. The designs sought to improve outcomes for nature and flood risk whilst being sensitive to the location of the beck in the World Heritage Site, and to ensure that the site could still be used for grazing cattle as it had in previous years.

The Environment Agency carried out a fish rescue to move fish out of the old channel before the river was diverted to its new location  © National Trust / Rob Grange Photography
Bags of soil were placed in the river to act as a dam before the final section between the old and new channels was removed. The river was given time to settle in its new location before being opened at the downstream end to prevent sediment being washed downstream © National Trust 

The works moved Goldrill Beck out of its canalised channel to a new route lower on the floodplain with features such as gravel bars, riffles, and meanders to promote a more natural action of the river. These features create more diverse habitats as the river varies in depth and speed, and the lack of embankments mean when the river is high it can gently spill onto the surrounding fields before draining away as the water levels drop. The river splits into multiple channels through the woods at the bottom of the site, creating valuable wet woodland habitat as it moves to join Angletarn Beck, whilst the old channel has only been partially filled so that it may act as a back water, increasing water storage on the site and leaving a legacy of the heritage of the beck.

When the river levels rise during periods of high rainfall the river spills onto its floodplain, storing water and slowing the flow downstream © National Trust
As water levels drop the fields drain back to the channels © National Trust

by Hannah Haydock, National Trust Ullswater Riverlands Project

For more information on the continuing work of the Riverlands project in Ullswater visit

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