River Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership

Esk & Coast | Humber

Contact Information

Catchment Host

North York Moors Trust and North York Moors National Park Authority


Alex Cripps




North York Moors National Park Trust
The Old Vicarage
YO62 5BP

Catchment Website

The Aims of Our Partnership

Our vision is to create a healthy, resilient and wildlife rich environment within the Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment, that will bring both social and economic benefits to all.

Aims and Objectives

ECSCP Partners seek to work on a collaborative basis in the pursuit of the Partnership’s shared aims;

  1. Water Quality and Environment –Working with land managers, organisations and interested bodies to improve the aquatic habitat of the ECSCP, and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports. Achieve a better than good water quality status for the Esk. Key priorities for ECSCP are:
    • Improving water quality by reducing sedimentation and diffused pollution from agriculture and rural land-use activities, and working with water companies to improve sewage treatment and combined sewer overflows.
    • Reduce the impact of man-made structures in the water environment, supporting migratory species and habitat connectivity
    • Create and improve habitat, supporting species resilience, including woodland and peat restoration.
    • Managing and controlling invasive non-native species.
    • Support and sustainably manage a healthy population of native fish species.
    • Protect and improve our Yorkshire Coastal Water Bodies through effective management of coastal streams and estuaries.
  1. Water Level Management – harnessing natural flood processes to create a more naturally functioning river, reduce flood risk and preserve water resources.
  2. Reconnecting People – improving understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage, promoting volunteering opportunities.
  3. Ensure good partnership collaboration, governance and develop a robust evidence base for project delivery.

The Partnership

The North York Moors National Park Trust and the North York Moors National Park Authority are the appointed joint hosts of the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership. Working in official partnership to improve the catchments health and ecology for the future. A steering group was established with key organisations such as the Environment Agency, Esk Valley Farmers (Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund), Forestry England, Freshwater Biological Association, Natural England, Scarborough Borough Council, Yorkshire Esk Fisheries Group, Yorkshire Water and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Our River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment management plan (see below) was first produced in November 2020, highlighting and prioritising important conservation issues in the Esk Catchment.

About Our Catchment

The River Esk is one of North Yorkshire’s principal salmon and trout rivers, rising between Baysdale and Westerdale in an area known as the Esklets. From there it flows 28 miles entirely through the North York Moors National Park, where it joins the North Sea at Whitby. On its way to its eventual destination, the river flows through a varied landscape of upland wild heather moorland, deep wooded valleys and quaint traditional stone built villages.

It is home to a variety of flora and fauna with some nationally important species such as Atlantic salmon, brown trout, grayling, brook lamprey, sand martins, dippers, kingfishers, water voles and otters. In addition to these the Esk is the only river in all of Yorkshire and one of only seven nationally to hold the extremely rare and fascinating freshwater pearl mussel.

Partnership Projects

Freshwater Pearl Mussels

The freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) in one of the longest lived invertebrates in the world, living well in excess of 100 years. Historically abundant and very widespread throughout England and Wales, the species has sadly severely declined and is now listed as critically endangered with it’s remaining populations on the brink of extinction.

Why are they on the decline?

  • Degradation of habitat caused by sedimentation of substrate gravels
  • Issues with water quality such as high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus (eutrophication)
  • Declining populations of host species (salmon and trout)
  • The historic and sadly, modern pearl fishing and poaching.

The river Esk’s mussels are the last surviving population in all Yorkshire, with only a small number left. Our mussels haven’t produced offspring in over 40 years, with the likelihood that they may die out within the next 25-30 years unless actions are made to bring them back from the brink.

What is being done?

The Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership are working together with our partners, local land managers and volunteers on a variety of different projects, including; a captive breeding programme, habitat restoration works for FWPM and supporting species, catchment-wide water quality and sediment improvements, and improvements to fish populations and their habitat.

There has been much work done at the Freshwater Biological Association over the last 12+ years, this has involved translocating several adult FWPM from the Esk to a specially designed captive breeding facility. The facility provides an “ark” to better protect our declining number of mussels and to also help rear juveniles through an extensive captive breeding program, waiting until they are ready for reintroductions in the future. Yorkshire water and partners have worked extensively at reviewing the Esk’s water quality and has been assessing habitat suitability for future FWPM release.

We also have a dedicated group of volunteers who take part in group tasking days aimed at reducing diffused pollution, sedimentation and improving riparian habitat through a variety of ways, including riparian fencing, creation of buffer strips, tree planting and bank restorations and stabilisations. These techniques are also key to conserving the mussels host species of salmon and trout, which are vital for the life cycle of the mussel.

Blue Corridors

Blue corridors is a multi-catchment project covering the River Esk as well as the River Rye. The project aims to improve fish migration up-stream through the removal or modification of multiple identified obstacles. Additionally, Blue Corridors is working to combat the spread of INNS including Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed.

What is the problem?

River obstacles, both natural and manmade, can severely impact the localised movement of fish species within rivers and, in the case of some salmonids and the European eel, the migration between rivers and the sea. These barriers to movement can have severe consequences for populations of fish by limiting their ability to move between feeding and spawning grounds. Because of this, river obstacles are considered one of the major threats to populations of some fish species in the UK.

Invasive plant species also impact upon salmonids by decreasing the suitability of fish spawning grounds. Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed growing along rivers can cause the banks to become exposed by out-competing native vegetation. Exposed banks are vulnerable to erosion and increase sediment input into rivers. Increased sediment in the River Esk can suffocate gravel beds, the main spawning habitat of Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout.

What is being done?

Blue corridors aims to restore and reconnect the River Esk by removing or modifying culverts, weirs, dams, fords and bridges that pose a threat to fish migration, opening up the River Esk to fish migration.  Plans are in place to completely remove identified structures, replace them with more passable structures or modify them using fish passes to aid movement up-stream.

INNS work is being carried out through appointment of contractors for larger areas of Himalayan Balsam and Japanese knotweed, and volunteers for smaller patches. Control includes pulling of Himalayan balsam and stem injection to combat Japanese knotweed. INNS control not only has benefits for native vegetation but also prevents further bank erosion and reduces sediment input into the River Esk. In turn, this will improve the water quality of the River Esk and prevent vital salmonid spawning habitat from becoming suffocated.

The project has recently funded over 30 volunteers in either electro-fishing or riverfly monitoring training. The Esk  has a dedicated group of individuals who help out with electro-fishing surveys. These surveys help the partnership to understand the Esk’s population of fish and to monitor the effects of obstacles and their removal. A significant group of  volunteers also carry out riverfly surveys throughout the catchment, with each individual appointed their own monitoring site. These surveys help the partnership to keep a keen eye on the water quality of the river and highlight any issues within the catchment that need addressing.


The Environment Agency, Groundwork North East and Cumbria, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and other local partners started the BEACH Esk project in November 2020 with the aim of finding ways to reduce pollution and improve ecology in the Esk estuary at Whitby.

What is the problem?

Workshops and consultations with local people about marine pollution were carried out in Whitby. Consultees felt that the estuary was polluted with items such as fuel and chemicals from boat use; fats, oils and grease from restaurants and home cooking; sewage; and contaminants from industry. As such, the Esk estuary is not meeting the required standards specified in the Water Framework Directive (this directive aims to protect and improve waters such as lakes, rivers, estuaries and coasts for the benefit of people and wildlife). The Esk estuary is important for migratory fish in the River Esk including Atlantic salmon and sea trout that support our rare and endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

Reducing Pollution in the Estuary

We are continuing to consult with local people to get their views on what the problems are and the improvements they would like to see. We are working to identify sources of pollution and waste into the estuary; once identified we will work with business owners, harbour users and the local community to find ways to reduce this pollution and improve water quality.

Reducing pollution in the tributaries

One of the aims of BEACH Esk is to reduce pollution in the estuarine tributaries. Walkover surveys have been carried out to identify sources of pollution and their pathways. Identified sources include agri-diffused pollution or farming, holiday homes and septic tanks. The project aims to explore ways of reducing the impact of these activities by working alongside landowners, farmers, and business owners and changing land management practices.


Past Successes

River Esk Restoration Project

Initiated in Spring 2019, the River Esk Restoration Project aimed to improve water quality along the upper and middle reaches of the Esk. During the project’s 3 year timescale it was successful at engaging with numerous farmers and delivering a variety of on-farm capital works that have a direct benefit on water quality along the Esk.

What has been achieved?

The Esk Restoration Project had 3 main objectives, including the following;

  1. Work with farmers and land managers to improve water quality through a farm infrastructure capital grant programme
  2. Natural Flood Management and improved farm practices to reduce sedimentation and pollution
  3. Control of invasive non-native plants in the upper and middle reaches of the Esk


Funded by the Water Environment Grant, the project delivered works including all the following;

  • Buffer strip creation and tree planting  – Buffer strips provide a physical barrier that slows the flow of overland run-off, increases infiltration and prevents soil, sediment and nutrient loss from fields. By fencing off a stretch of land adjacent to water courses, buffer strips also prevent livestock from accessing the water courses and poaching the river banks. This in turn reduces sediment input as well as bacterial loading from livestock waste. By supplementing the buffer strips with newly planted trees, the project also hopes to establish good quality riparian habitat over the years, that once fully grown, will provide structure to the river banks through a network of root systems. Well established riparian habitats also provide canopy cover to keep waters cool for aquatic life such as salmon and trout.
  • Alternate drinking sources  – Re-locating livestock drinking points further away from nearby watercourses and installing solar powered troughs with hard bases can help prevent poaching and sediment or nutrient input into the river. Hard bases made from stone surrounding the troughs help protect the land and prevent against poaching from cattle and sheep. By locating these new troughs in the middle of fields rather than adjacent to watercourses, more land and vegetation is available to intercept any sediment or livestock waste produced.
  • Farmyard renewal, drainage and rainwater goods – Renewing old farmyards that are cracked and disintegrated can help prevent farmyard waste or run-off from contaminating nearby water sources. The renewed concrete yards and newly installed drainage systems provide an impermeable layer by which waste can easily be washed into underground pipes and later treated correctly at sewage works. Guttering installed on farm building helps to collect and divert as much clean water away from the yard to prevent it mixing with waste. Collected rainwater can either be utilised or diverted back into the natural environment.
  • Hard standings and livestock tracks – Regularly used livestock tracks have been re-surfaced using old railway sleepers or stone. In this way, a hard-standing is produced that prevents against livestock poaching and reduces sediment input into nearby watercourses.
  • River bank stabilisation – The project has been successful at planting a total of 4170 native deciduous trees along the river Esk and its tributaries. Over time, these trees will establish and create high quality riparian habitat. These habitats, with their extensive root systems, will help to stabilise eroding areas of the Esk and re-vegetate the river banks. Additionally, these works will reduce sediment input into the watercourse and prevent our precious gravel beds from becoming suffocated – aiding the FWPM and fish populations. The project has also delivered innovative soft-engineering bank stabilisation works such as the improvements made on a heavily eroded stretch of the Esk (see below).
  • Hedgerow planting – The project planted a total of 956 hedgerow species including hawthorn, buckthorn and alder buckthorn. Hedgerows are great interceptors of overland flow and help to filter out sediment and nutrient loss from fields or pastures before reaching the river. Hedgerows have been planted strategically within and around pastures or arable fields to help filter out these pollutants before they are able to contaminate the Esk.

Bank Restoration Works at Maddy House Farm

Below are images depicting a heavily eroded area of the main river Esk (left) and the innovative soft engineering works that were carried out to restore it (right). Engineers worked hard to restore the banks using hessian that was packed full of native seeds that will grow over time and re-vegetate the eroded area. A large fallen tree was also utilised that was causing an obstruction to migrating fish before it was removed. Willow cuttings were also planted into the restored area that will root themselves over time and further stabilise the bank. These works will naturalise over time and create a stable riparian habitat.


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