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Major project to reduce flooding in the Ripon area gets go-ahead from lottery fund

The flooding at Fountains Abbey in 2007.
The flooding at Fountains Abbey in 2007.

A major community project spearheaded by the National Trust and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been awarded funding to reduce flooding in the Ripon area.

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The Skell Valley Project has been awarded an initial £128,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to combat the effects of the river Skell on the landscape up and downstream from Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.

The innovative project will see the National Trust and its partners work with farmers to tackle flood management and improve the river’s water quality, as well as encouraging wildlife to return and thrive.

The project will also help to reconnect Ripon residents with unexplored heritage and history on their doorsteps, with activity days for schools and community groups, and new walking and cycling trails.

One such community project, developed alongside the Friends of Hell Wath Nature Reserve group, will restore the reserve’s natural habitats, repairing the Fairy Steps in Ripon and improving access.

The £128,900 will be match-funded by the National Trust, the AONB and its partners. The funding will be used to commission surveys along the river and develop community projects with input from residents.

Detailed proposals will then be considered by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2020, where a final decision will be made on the full funding application of £1.4 million.

If the second round of funding is successful, this will be match-funded by the Trust, AONB and its partners, taking the total cost of the project to £2.5 million.

World Heritage Site Co-ordinator and Conservation Manager, Sarah France, said “The Skell valley inspired one of the most ambitious designed landscapes ever created at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. But beyond its borders lies a riverbank bursting with unexplored and often neglected places like Chinese Wood and Eavestone Lake. This project will reinvent the landscape, making it more accessible, more open and more inclusive.

“The river Skell flows through the heart of the landscape, but historic sites and homes have been hit by serious flooding several times in recent years, and if we don’t find a different way to look after the valley, its irreplaceable heritage could disappear for ever. Unfortunately floods like these are not one-offs - we estimate that the National Trust has spent around £2.5 million dealing with the issue since it acquired the Fountains estate in 1983.

“The project has been made possible by the generous support we have received from the National Lottery and our partners. The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund means we can appoint a Project Officer and Community Participation Officer, who will develop the project. We’d like to thank the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for being a partner throughout the application, as well as the local community who have helped to shape our ideas.

"‘All in it together’ has been our guiding principle from the beginning and we are very excited to get started. It’s only by working together that the long-term future of the Skell Valley can be secured, so look out for news of events and workshops where we’ll be gathering ideas and making plans.”

Sarah Kettlewell, Nidderdale AONB Manager said “Fountains is Nidderdale’s crown jewel, a place rich in wildlife in a landscape that is renowned across the world for its historic environment. It is also in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for good measure and we have been delighted to work in close partnership with the Trust on a bid that highlights treasured and precious corners of the AONB outside the ownership of the National Trust.

"Wildlife doesn’t respect boundaries and there is a wealth of overlooked heritage features on the outside too. Recognition of its special qualities by the Heritage Lottery Fund at a time of intense competition for its funding is a great accolade and we are looking forward to developing and refining the project with the Trust, farmers and landowners in the valley and the wider community.”

The Skell catchment is an area of high flood risk; the last significant flood in 2007 had devastating effects on the ruins of Fountains Abbey, the historic features of the water garden, and downstream in Ripon.

The river also suffers from high levels of siltation, which has a direct effect on priority species including white-clawed crayfish, otters, dippers, kingfishers and yellow wagtail.