Our River - The Ribble


It is also important to recognise that the Ribble is an unusual river in a number of ways:

  1. It was, before the ice age a river flowing east into the North Sea but the terminal moraine was breached and it became a major river flowing west to Preston.
  2. It has one of only two upland estuarial features in the Long Preston SSSI.
  3. It has two major tributaries the Hodder wholly rural and the Calder heavily modified and industrialised.
  4. Its upper reaches are extensively rural whilst its lower reaches are very urbanised.
  5. It supports a run of salmon and also sea trout, which is quite unusual.
  6. It is a highly regarded coarse fishery in its lower reaches.

Because of the above the Ribble is frequently used as a pilot river for Government initiatives.

Back in times gone by the Ribble supported a thriving salmon fishery in the estuary and a sport fishery for the landed gentry.   However, the industrial revolution brought about devastating pollutions which almost wiped out the salmon fishery because some of the remaining salmon were tainted by phenols and so inedible with the result that there were only six netsmen left.  Most of the large estates have long since gone and the upstream fisheries are now controlled, and in many cases owned, by fishing clubs.

Thanks to the excellent work of the Environment Agency, and it predecessors, the pollution problems have been largely overcome and the river is back to its natural state supporting life.   This has been enhanced by the formation some years ago (by anglers of RFA) of the RCCT (now Ribble Rivers Trust).  This organisation raised funds to undertake habitat projects to improve the condition of the river so as to improve its ability to support life.  Very quickly it became clear that they needed to become a charitable organisation to access the funds that were potentially available.  This move meant that they could no longer reflect the views of one interest group.  Having been set up by anglers and being strongly supported by anglers a memorandum of understanding was drawn up with RFCA, the successor of RFA, so the two organisations work extremely closely together.

Tail of Kelts

RRT’s work now includes, in addition to their habitat work, education and opening up the catchment to the general public whilst recognising the existence of riparian rights.  By way of example I point to the urban regeneration scheme (costing several million) whereby the Calder through Burnley has been transformed allowing fish to migrate naturally.  (Further details can be found on their website).  The Trust itself has an expanding, highly skilled and dedicated workforce, which is recognised locally and across the catchment for their expertise.  It is now considered to be the “doing arm” of the Environment Agency such is its reputation.

Since the 1990’s the Ribble has improved to such an extent that it has been in the top six migratory rivers in England affording fishing opportunities through club memberships to many people from across the country.  Concerns about fish stocks in the late 90’s saw the RFCA try to buy out the nets.  Whilst this was unsuccessful they did manage to get the netsmen to agree to reduce their fishing effort by 36 tides for the payment of a significant sum of money by anglers annually.  This continued for six years, after which the netsmen said they didn’t wish to continue as stocks were increasing only for the E.A. to impose as part of the 2007 a two fish kill byelaw for the rods on the river and a diminishing net limitation order, which has resulted in the nets having reduced to 4.  Even with only 4 netsmen compared to an estimated 1200 rod anglers they have killed more fish than the rods for the last few years as anglers have heeded the call for more restraint and returning 90% of the fish caught.

Thanks to the excellent transport links anglers come from many parts of the country and thereby support accommodation facilities.  Coupled with the designation of the Bowland Fells as an area of outstanding Natural Beauty and the close proximity of the Yorkshire Dales National Park have increased the level of tourism to the area to such an extent that it is a prized element of the local economy through hotels, guest houses, sports shops, tackle shops, outdoor clothing shops, cycle shops, holiday lets etc.  In addition there is employment for local guides, with local authorities supporting heritage centres and producing a range of pamphlets to publicise the area and its rivers.   All these elements working together means that there is something to do and see for all the family.

The fact that the river supports salmon, sea trout, trout and coarse angling means that the river has been able to weather the fluctuations in migratory stock levels, because the river has maximum appeal to a wider section of the community, so the economic impact runs into many millions.