The natural course of the River Irwell

It is strange to think that it was just over a century ago, the River Irwell was the main source of drinking water for Manchester and Lancashire. Now the Irwell is listed to be at a ‘poor’, or at best, ‘moderate’ ecological status, so where did it all go wrong?

Running the stretch of Manchester, the river was historically the main transport link for rich industry and the true strength behind the Industrial Revolution of North West England. It is then that the river was heavily modified, changing its natural shape to suit the industry that relied on it. This included a process of dredging, straightening and widening, as well as the construction of walls, weirs and culverts.

Mills and factories hugged its banks making good use of the water for energy and transport links. It was then that the river became severely polluted, resulting in the river becoming almost completely devoid of fish and plant life.

Though the river has come a long way since the 19th century, historical pollution is still taking its toll on the Irwell, despite industry acting more sensitively. These historical interventions with the river along with climate change have also consequently impacted on the risk of flooding and during times of severe weather, flooding adds to the river’s pollution issues.

The Natural Course team are working with local partnership groups to identify solutions to the failing water quality of the Irwell catchment. With its varied pollution sources and urban setting, the Irwell makes a perfect location for the pilot of the project.

The team will be working with local authorities, NGOs, volunteers and catchment hosts to evaluate what the problems are and where the opportunities lie, pulling together a Catchment Management Plan which will be released in April 2018.