Bringing Life to the River Irk

On Wednesday 3rd October 2018, the Environment Agency and its partners hosted a workshop aimed at starting a process of “Bringing Life to the River Irk”. Over 30 representatives of stakeholder organisations came together in central Manchester to work together and start the development of a long-term, 10-year, vision for the catchment of the River Irk.

The River Irk and its tributaries worked hard for the people of Greater Manchester during the industrial era; supporting the development of a wide range of trades and unprecedented population growth. The legacy of this past lives on in the unnatural form of the river which is straightened for long stretches and sometimes underground. It also suffers from contamination and in many places is cut off from local people.

Environment Agency project manager, Josie Martin, opened the workshop and explained the Agency’s aim of developing an integrated approach to tackling the challenges of the Irk catchment. She went on to say that a collaborative approach is critical to the success of this vision; partners will need to support the vision and champion it within their organisations.

Context and background for a series of interactive sessions was provided by Mark Atherton, Greater Manchester Combined Authority Assistant Director Environment, who outlined the ambition to develop a Greater Manchester-wide Natural Capital Investment Plan as announced at the GM Mayor’s Green Summit in March 2018. He emphasised the need for partners to work at a catchment scale and to adopt a collaborative approach to the wide range of challenges presented by the River Irk. Meanwhile, Mike Hodgkinson, from consultants TEP, presented the outputs from an ecosystem services opportunity mapping exercise undertaken earlier in 2018 as part of the Natural Course Phase II work programme. Mike outlined the findings for the River Irk catchment and described how the commission had enabled his team to map existing habitats, produce a Natural Capital account and identify locations where Natural Capital can be increased.

The participants in the workshop were asked to outline their ambitions for the River Irk catchment, to identify areas of shared aspirations and to prioritise actions to be taken forward. During the first interactive session participants put forward suggestions for improving the River Irk under three headings: people, ecology and resilience. Representatives from the three local authority areas in the Irk catchment, Manchester, Oldham & Rochdale, also spoke about the history of the catchment and how they are working to regenerate the catchment and to reduce the risk of flooding to properties.

In the second part of the workshop delegates were asked to condense their earlier suggestions and identify priorities for action. Each delegate had a fund of virtual cash which they could invest in up to three projects.

The top priorities to be taken forward were:

  • – Re-naturalisation and reconnection of the river.
  • – Transforming the Irk so that it becomes “The People’s River”.
  • – Supporting planning policies and decisions that promote increased investment in green infrastructure within the catchment.


The Environment Agency will now review the workshop outputs to develop a draft high-level vision for the River Irk catchment. Governance around the vision will be refreshed and organisations engaged to help develop actions plans to support the vision.