Restoring Nature’s Holme

A project to create ‘nature-rich’ corridors along nearly 22km of river and tributaries and revive endangered species along the River Holme in Huddersfield has been given the green light by the government.

Nature’s Holme, led and managed by South Pennines Park, will be supported by cross sector partners including River Holme Connections, Palladium, the University of Huddersfield, landowners and farmers. It covers an area of 2,800 hectares.

South Pennines Park, situated between the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire, is the largest non-statutory national landscape in the UK and home to rare birds such as merlin, short-eared owl and twite.

The scheme, based in the south-east corner of South Pennines Park, will improve the River Holme – flowing from Holme village through towns including Holmfirth, Honley and Meltham, to Huddersfield town centre.

The pilot, one of 22 across the country to receive government funding through the Landscape Recovery scheme, and backed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will involve groups of farmers and land managers working together to deliver environmental benefits across farmed and rural landscapes – improving soils, flood alleviation and water retention, increasing biodiversity carbon storage, and improved water quality.

With its high rainfall and local geology, South Pennines Park is a key area for water supply, with many reservoirs supplying water to nearby towns.

The two-year project development phase of landscape recovery will commence in winter 2022/23, which will determine the scope of work and deliverables. This will be met by a mixture of public and private investment.

Engagement with communities, farmers, landowners and key stakeholders will form a key part of the process – stimulating discussions, sharing knowledge and forming plans.

The project will also be supported by a PhD student from the University of Huddersfield who will be assisting with measurement and research.

Simon Hirst, River Steward with River Holme Connections – who are providing ‘boots on the ground’ support, said: “The environment has suffered historically due to industrialisation. The weirs and urbanisation of the river channel have meant the river has been heavily modified. There is an opportunity to make it more natural by creating biodiversity-rich corridors to benefit people and wildlife.

“We didn’t want to narrow the scope of work. Although we were successful with our bid for river and stream restoration, we can do a lot of work that will bring benefits to the watercourse – like planting and providing habits for wildlife.”

Helen Noble, Chief Executive of South Pennines Park, said: “This fantastic project will put our mission into practice. A project that is very much nature and landscape focussed but led by people and communities.

We have a great partnership team and our role is to build resilience, sustainability and long term resources for this unique and spectacular landscape of the South Pennines Park, based on scientific evidence, and provide nature based solutions for our farmers, land owners, businesses and communities so that they can sustainably look after their place now and for future generations.

This project is just the start of joining up the dots of landscape and nature recovery programmes across the Park at scale, working with our custodians, communities and partners to look after nature and each other.”

Fish migration:
The project will include a feasibility study into options to improve fish migration. Nine man-made weirs which remain from the rich industrial heritage of the area will be investigated.

Simon said: “A lot of the weirs are redundant and remain from the mill industry from the area. These barriers are impassable to fish and they don’t allow rivers to function naturally by beneficial for silt and gravel.”

Hedgerows and planting:
Ambitious schemes include supporting farmers and landowners to restore nature and reduce flooding while still producing food. This will be achieved by hedgerow and tree planting. This element will help improve water quality, create wildlife corridors, keep rivers cool by providing shade, and slow the flow of the water. Work will include extending existing woodlands and creating new planted areas.

Wildflower meadows:
The project also aims to create wildflower meadows – which will help support the bee pollination and other pollinating species which provide a vital service in pollinating farming crops. Wildflower meadows require less fertilisers which will help improve water quality. They also have carbon storage benefits and enhance biodiversity. The priority will be working with landowners to help advise farmers on how to make improvements that will benefit their livelihood, their surroundings and their pocket.

Simon explained: “We will be helping farm businesses by looking at their infrastructure and advising them on improvements – such as guttering on their farm buildings – that that can be diverted to the river.

Peat Restoration:
Peatland restoration is required where damaged blanket bogs have resulted in bare peat becoming exposed to the elements, making it susceptible to weather erosion and trampling.

Restoration work can be needed to re-create the right conditions for sphagnum and moorland plants to grow, which are required for new peat-building.

Natural flood management:
Natural flood management – such as natural materials slowing the flow of water – such as trees – while also creating habitats for various species. The project will also look at creating natural flood management such as ponds, ditches and wetlands to slow the flow of water downstream, improve biodiversity and trap sediment. This will be achieved by working with farmers and landowners in a mutually beneficial way.

Endangered species:
Within the River Holme catchment, there are a number of endangered species including water voles – which are vulnerable to extinction in Great Britain – and white clawed crayfish.

Water voles were once abundant in the UK’s rivers, but populations have declined by 97% since the 1970s. They are the fastest declining mammal in the country, partly because their habitat is disappearing, and partly because of predation by invasive American mink.

Another endangered species is the white-clawed crayfish – which is in decline due to the introduction of the non-native North American signal crayfish. The project will look at improving habitats and reintroduction of water voles and improving habitats for crayfish.

Non-native invasive plants:
Another element will be expanding the project to eradicate non-native invasive plants – such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam.

Sustainable financing:
Palladium – who have set up the Revere partnership with the UK National Parks to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis – will be assisting with the delivery phase, helping to generate at least 25% of the money needed from private investment.

This will be leveraged through a business model that enables partnerships with businesses that benefit from the ecosystem services delivered by nature restoration, such as flood risk reduction or carbon sequestration.

Adrian Barraclough, the bid architect, was responsible for pulling together the bid with involvement from others. He said: “This innovative and exciting nature-based solutions project, at catchment scale, will work with multiple landowners to help address the climate and biodiversity emergencies in Kirklees.

“As part of the project we will develop a business model that leverages private finance, builds green skills and jobs as well as provide opportunities for local businesses to meet their net zero targets through nature.

“This isn’t environment instead of food production – it’s about working with landowners to optimise poor quality agricultural land for food and nature. Investing in nature can complement food production by putting some fields to use for other purposes.”

Helen Noble, Chief Executive of South Pennines Park, added: “The landscape recovery scheme is being hailed by land managers and conservationists as the most exciting and important step in a generation to restore lost biodiversity.

“To halt the loss of habitats and species we need to act at a landscape scale, and pilots like Nature’s Holme are a crucial opportunity to get this right and prove a scalable business model.

“These projects will deliver hectares of nature rich habitats, as well as a significant range of public goods including carbon sequestration, reduced flood risk, and biodiversity.”

“It is our aim that by 2038 the river Holme catchment will be resilient to climate change, a place where nature and wildlife is connected and thriving and communities, visitors, and business value, enjoy and care.”

Holmfirth town centre photo: Andy Leader