It flows through the most frequented national Park in the country – The Peak District. It also incorporates the iconic Howden, Derwent and Ladybower Reservoirs. Flowing south it runs past attractive gritstone towns, villages and the Chatsworth Estate.
The Derwent catchment covers large parts of Derbyshire and the Peak District National Park. The landscape is a real mosaic – comprised of heather-patched uplands, limestone valleys and iconic dry-stone walled pastures. Enjoyed by visitors and locals, the Derwent and its tributaries shape a treasured landscape steeped in natural and industrial history.
The Derwent has cemented itself in the history books many times over. Described by author Daniel Defoe as ‘a fury of a river’, the river is the birthplace of the industrial revolution. Many of these mills now comprise the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. During World War II, the three Derwent reservoirs saw pilots hone their swiftness and skill, practicing the dropping of dam-busting “bouncing bombs” during test flights. Today, the Derwent catchment balances agriculture, conservation and recreation, as the rivers weave through a variety of special habitats.
Blanket bogs, peat, wet woodlands and meadows-the Derwent and its tributaries shape a landscape that works at its best when it holds water. This is particularly true for the Dark Peaks, where moors stretch over exposed gritstone hills. Reflective of the dark geology, the Derwent’s water takes on a boggy dark hue. The importance of these sites is recognised in their Special Area of Conservation status. The White Peaks paint a stark contrast to its gritstone counterpart. Spa town Buxton has earned a national reputation, not only for its stately limestone façades, but for its clear limestone-filtered spring water that feeds into the River Wye.
The Derwent, perhaps like no other place in the wider Trent catchment, requires a balance between cultural and natural heritage. This balance needs rethinking as environmental pressures are set to intensify for human and wildlife communities. In the Derwent, the impact of climate change is already being felt. Communities have been flooded and the impact of droughts become visible in a changing landscape. Working in collaboration, we are part of an initiative to restore the Derwent and bringing the catchment back to life using river restoration, engagement and nature-based solutions.
The Derwent is fragmented. Its flow is dictated by weirs and damns. The impact is far-reaching. Fish species including eel, lamprey and sSalmon struggle to reach parts of river needed to complete their life-cycle-or to seek shelter from increasing temperatures.
A fragmented river is also less resilient to climate change. Better connected rivers and catchments can regulate temperature and flow conditions much more effectively than those with multiple barriers. Wildlife can also move around to find the habitats that they need.
Historic management of the upper catchment – the moorland and blanket bogs – has led to it being in a poor ecological condition. Many gullies were cut into the peat which meant it drained quickly and exposed bare peat. This releases CO2 into the atmosphere adding to climate change pressures. Blocking these gullies, holding water back, and restoring the sphagnum moss helps stop this. It also acts as Natural Flood Management and creates a landscape richer in wildlife.
Additional pressures from pollution can have a more severe effect on wildlife. Located in predominantly agricultural land, the water quality in the Derwent is affected by phosphates, pesticides, fertilisers and sedimentation – predominately a result of surface water run-off and sewage treatment works. In urban areas, pollution from sewage works, roads and industrial estates are key problems.
Flowing in the most visited national park in the country carries the risk of unwelcome species spreading. Invasive non-native species including signal crayfish, and Himalayan Balsam threaten native species and ecosystems.
Moreover, parts of the catchment have seen intense rainfall, as floods have become a growing concern for communities located in the catchment’s many valleys.
Find out more information information about Derbyshire Derwent Catchment Partnership.