Community Uses Landscape Rejuvenation to Save Historic Abbey From Climate-Caused Flooding

Flooding is being worsened by climate change, and this puts not only nature, but also important structures at risk. A new initiative in England is working to make the land around a river more resilient to protect cities, preserve a historical abbey, and expand rare bird populations.

The River Skell in North Yorkshire has seen significant flooding in recent years. This has led many to fear for the safety of the Skell Valley’s Fountains Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to The National Trust, the abbey was founded by Benedictine monks in the 12th century. They wanted to escape the extravagance of the monks in York, so they left to lead a more simple life.

The abbey remained operational until King Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1983. Today, the site has the largest monastic ruins in the country.


However, they’re at risk of being irreparably damaged, with water levels impacting the ruins and their gardens several times over the past few years.

Now, a £2.5 million project, funded largely by a lottery grant, is being conducted by the National Trust to boost the land’s resiliency to changing climate. The hope is that these measures will help safeguard the abbey and the landscape, as well as improve the economy.

Sarah France, world heritage coordinator at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, says the initiative is important to history and nature.

She explains, “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.”


The plan is to rejuvenate 12 miles of the River Skell, beginning at Dallowgill Moor and ending at the city of Ripon. In order to reduce soil runoff and slow the flow of water, 15 acres of trees will be planted, eight ponds will be created, and a nature reserve will be revived. As part of the plan, farmers and landowners in the area will also be compensated for doing their part to implement measures aimed at reducing flooding and improving biodiversity.

The Nidderdale area of outstanding natural beauty is also helping in the effort. Nigel Simms, the chair of the area’s joint advisory committee, says they’re looking forward to trying new approaches to safeguard the land.

He explains, “Through the Skell Valley Project, we’ll be able to trial innovative approaches to pressing issues such as flooding, land management and climate change.”

The hope is that this process will also increase the populations of rare birds, including curlews and golden plover, and lead to higher numbers of white-clawed crayfish in the river.


Visitors will also be drawn with some new changes. Those include more walking trails and better signage and information, as well as the chance to learn conservation skills like drystone walling, wildlife and river monitoring, and hedge laying.

Harry Bowell of the National Trust says the pandemic has helped everyone realize the importance of getting outside.

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He adds, “Climate change is eroding away nature and heritage. Only by working across our boundaries, with local people and partners, and with nature, will we be able to make a real difference.”

To read more about Fountains Abbey, visit the National Trust’s website.

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