Lancaster University Collaborative Visit to Lowther Estate, Cumbria

Nick Chappel installing hydrological monitoring equipment on the floodplain of the River Lowther in order to monitor the impacts of recent Natural Flood Management interventions.
Nick Chappel installing hydrological monitoring equipment on the floodplain of the River Lowther in order to monitor the impacts of recent Natural Flood Management interventions.

The Lowther Estate, near Penrith in Cumbria, is the home of an exciting new landscape-scale wilding initiative featuring extensive tree and wildflower planting, river and floodplain restoration and species reintroduction. On Tuesday 8th December, a collaborative team with representatives from Facilities, Lancaster Environment Centre and Green Lancaster were hosted for a scoping visit by the Estate’s conservation and management team. The purpose of the visit was to view the range of recent interventions and scope out the potential for replication of the innovative ‘Regenerative Land Management’ practices within the Lancaster University Estate. The collaborative visit formed part of a brand-new Green Lancaster initiative, ‘ECOWild’; monitoring and enhancing biodiversity on campus and collaborating with off-campus statutory and non-statutory nature conservation organisations. Following hot off the heels of the University’s Climate Emergency declaration in November 2020, the projects implemented at Lowther demonstrate significant potential as Natural Climate Solutions and approaches to Natural Flood Management.

The Lancaster team were hosted by Jim Bliss, Conservation Manager and Alice Robinson, Agri-Environment Administrator from the Lowther Estate team. The visit started in the heart of the Estate at Whale Farm where recent works to restore the floodplain of Whale Beck are resulting in a rejuvenated wetland habitat for wading birds. Crossing the River Lowther, the group then viewed the herd of Longhorn Cattle that via their ecologically beneficial grazing are being deployed as ecosystem engineers and will ultimately be allowed to free-roam a large unfenced landscape consisting of trees, scrub and species-rich grassland.

Following the west bank of the River Lowther for a kilometre revealed a further range of river channel and floodplain interventions that have been undertaken in 2019 and 2020 to enhance the river ecosystem and slow the flow of floodwater through the system. A restored rapids system provides in-channel retention whilst re-connecting former channels that were cut-off as a result of canalisation (channel straightening) in the past is providing vital capacity for storing more water across the floodplain. These initiatives are also providing vital spawning grounds for fish and wetland habitat for aquatic invertebrates and wading birds.

Nick Chappell (Lancaster Environment Centre) has installed a range of hydrological monitoring equipment across the Lowther Estate to monitor the impacts of the various interventions, with the research forming a key part of the NERC funded Q-NFM flood mitigation project, which has a range of monitoring sites across Cumbria.

In the heart of the Estate is the first Beaver release enclosure in Cumbria. Lowther was granted a license earlier this year from Natural England and in late-summer 2020, Eurasian Beavers ‘Glen’ and ‘Dragonfly’ were released into the 27-acre enclosure. Often referred to as Ecosystem Engineers, the Beavers at Lowther have already constructed a series of dams, canal-systems and the study at Lowther will specifically monitor the impacts of the Beavers on a stream within a mixed habitat of woodland, scrub and former pasture.

The team will now review the findings from the visit and discuss implications for Lancaster University through the various sustainability projects that could feature as part of a long-term plan to create a pioneering response to the climate and ecological emergency. The rural setting of Lancaster University, combined with the parkland-type estate of the main campus and pasture at Hazelrigg and Forrest Hills provides a significant parallel with Lowther and there is certainly significant potential for replication of Regenerative Land Management practices across land owned and managed by Lancaster University.

The Lancaster University visit team included Paul Morris, Director of Capital Development and Estate Operations (Facilities), Nick Chappell, Reader in Hydrological Processes (Lancaster Environment Centre), Ian Sturzaker, Landscape Manager (Facilities), Jonathan Mills, Carbon, Environment and Sustainability Manager (Facilities) and Darren Axe, Green Lancaster Manager (Lancaster University Students’ Union).

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