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National Trust aims to save Yorkshire abbey from climate-linked flooding

Posted on Jan 13, 2021

Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, was originally set up by 13 Benedictine monks seeking refuge from the more extravagant, rowdy monks in York. Eight hundred years later, the abbey ruins and its gardens face another threat: the climate crisis.

The Skell Valley, where the ruins stand, has been flooded several times in recent years, raising fears that the UK’s largest monastic ruins are at risk of irreparable damage. Now a £2.5m National Trust project – aided by a £1.4m lottery grant – has been greenlit to improve the landscape’s resilience to changing weather.

The Skell Valley scheme aims to rejuvenate 12 miles of the River Skell, beginning at Dallowgill Moor and ending in the city of Ripon. The National Trust, alongside the Nidderdale area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), plans to plant six hectares (15 acres) of trees, create eight ponds and revive a nature reserve to reduce soil runoff and slow the flow of water.

Planners hope to boost populations of rare birds such as curlews and golden plover, and increase white-clawed crayfish in the river.

Flooding in the north of England has worsened in the past 50 years, which studies show is linked to the changing climate, and the risk is high in the Skell area.

When the River Skell, which is said to take its name from the Old Norse word for “resounding”, burst its banks in 2007, the flooding caused severe damage to Fountains Abbey and nearby properties in Ripon.

Nigel Simms, the chair of the Nidderdale AONB joint advisory committee, said the scheme would use innovative approaches to tackle the effects of the climate crisis. It will partner with 16 local farmers and landowners across the Skell Valley, who will be rewarded for implementing what Simms described as “nature-based solutions” to reduce flooding and improve biodiversity in and around the river.

The scheme also hopes to attract new visitors by tackling some of the barriers people face in accessing the countryside, creating new walking trails and improving signs and information. Sarah France, the world heritage coordinator at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, said the funding allowed them to “continue the adventure of rediscovering history and nature”.

She added: “Without this vital funding and the commitment of the people who live, work in and visit this area, the project couldn’t happen. It has been inspiring to work alongside these communities to prepare this project, and I’m so looking forward to continuing to work with them to improve access to heritage and to engage new audiences in this landscape.”

Visitors and local people will have a chance to learn conservation skills such as drystone walling, wildlife and river monitoring, and hedge laying.

Harry Bowell of the National Trust said the pandemic meant access to green space was more important than ever. “Climate change is eroding away nature and heritage,” he said. “Only by working across our boundaries, with local people and partners, and with nature, will we be able to make a real difference.”

The four-year project will begin work in March.