Geography student proposes management strategies to improve suffering canal

Environment Agency Fish

The Organisation

The Environment Agency (EA), with area offices based in Preston and Penrith, is an Executive Non-departmental Public Body responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The EA’s principal aims are to protect and improve the environment, and create better places for people and wildlife. The EA plays a central role in delivering the environmental priorities of central government through its functions and roles. They have a collaborative relationship with the University, and have a hot desk in the Lancaster Environment Centre.

The Challenge

The EA wanted to complete an assessment on the causes of water deterioration following the conversion of Savick Brook, Preston, to navigational canal in 2002. This deterioration had a drastic impact on fish populations, which dropped from 13 species to only 3-4 being sighted in certain locations.

Skills Sought

  • Hydrology knowledge
  • Professional communication
  • Competency with Microsoft Office products

      The Solution

      Liz Forde, a BSc Geography student recruited through the LEC 301 Industry Dissertation Project, carried out this research by using the data held by the Environment Agency on water quality conditions and electrofishing data. Through investigating the changes over a 24 year time period, Liz could assess the impacts before and after lock conversion and also assess any other impacts which have caused this decline in fish species. 


      LEC301 Industry Dissertation Projects are free for businesses, but businesses are expected to cover any out of pocket expenses for the student, which is usually between £50-100, in some cases this cost is covered by other university funded projects.


      Suitable management strategies were proposed to improve conditions working in line with the Water Framework Directive (a European Union directive on clean water), whilst also aiming to improve tourism and leisure within Preston. It has provided the EA with both the potential causes of the decline alongside an insight into ways this could be managed by looking at similar examples worldwide, which could result in improvements being made at Savick Brook.

      Benefits to the company

      • Determined the likely causes of the fish population decline
      • Delivered sustainable management proposals for the EA

      Benefits to society

      • Helped to understand a loss of habitat and consequently species of fish for the canal
      • Gave a greater insight into the effects of lock installation on canal systems, which is generally a fairly understudied area

      Student Feedback

      "Overall I have gained so much by completing this project and it has proved a truly priceless experience, not only have I managed to produce the largest piece of writing that I have ever done, but I have also acquired many new skills which I would not have gained through completing a standard dissertation project. Carrying out this project has been a great experience which I have learnt a lot from and very much enjoyed,” Liz Forde, BSc Geography.

      Company Feedback

      "The Environment Agency worked closely with Liz to look at solutions for improving water quality issues in the Ribble catchment which were failing their water quality objectives. The project was supported by an Environment Agency project manager who could organise access to expertise, resources and data.

      "The research that Liz provided has been used by several teams internally to look at solutions for the catchment and the report retained for future projects in the North West. The Environment Agency were able to offer Liz the chance to work with our water quality and fisheries experts and to spend time in the field gathering data we would not otherwise have had. We were also able to provide and pay for some extra sampling which increased our understanding of the failures as well as enabling Liz to learn new skills and techniques." Anne-Marie Quibell, Environment Agency.

      Future Plans

      The Environment Agency is working with the Environment Centre to strengthen current relationships and encourage collaboration and engagement in the future to deliver greater environmental outcomes through joint research and innovation.