Whitby Harbour

Whitby Harbour pilot project could benefit other UK estuaries

New artificial habitats located in Whitby Harbour could boost biodiversity and improve water quality in the River Esk
09 February 2023 , by Kerry Taylor-Smith

Pilot project hopes to have a positive impact on social, health and well-being, and results could enable interventions in other UK estuaries

A living sea wall, rock pools and hanging fish shelters are among the artificial habitats being installed at Whitby Harbour as part of a pilot project to enhance biodiversity and improve water quality in the River Esk.

The pilot, part of Better Estuaries and Coastal Habitats (BEACH) Esk, a joint venture between the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Groundwork North East & Cumbria, will identify the most successful environments for enticing marine life species and encouraging colonisation. The results will be monitored by the School of Biological and Marine Sciences at Hull University, and if successful, could pave the way for interventions in other estuaries in future.

The artificial marine environments will be located along the River Esk at New Quay, Fish Quay, Endeavour Wharf and Scotch Head, and provide feeding grounds and refuges for fish, particularly juveniles seeking shelter. The nearby Esk Estuary is valuable for migratory fish like Atlantic salmon, sea trout, and other species such as sea lamprey and eel; together these species support the endangered freshwater pearl mussel which resides in the river.

“Creating artificial habitats will provide an opportunity for nature to thrive above and below the water and, combined with other interventions such as reducing pollution upstream and creating new saltmarsh and wetland, will help communities reconnect with their local rivers, bring shelter and food for fish and wildlife, and support improvements in water quality,” said Allison Pierre, Project Lead for the Environment Agency.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is focussing on upstream interventions. Project Lead, Chris Watt said: “Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is working on the upper tributaries of the River Esk with 12 landowners to reduce sediment and pollution and bring hugely important benefits to water quality downstream and habitat across the catchment. Together we’re restoring grassland, wetlands and hedges and improving homes for Yorkshire’s glorious wildlife and wild places.”

“Trialling techniques that encourage the recreation of this unique habitat and improve water quality is fantastic and much-needed.”

Matt Machouki, Project Lead for Groundwork North East and Cumbria says much of our natural intertidal habitat - where the ocean meets the land between high and low tides - has been lost and continues to be compromised or eradicated by ‘coastal squeeze’.

“Trialling techniques that encourage the recreation of this unique habitat and improve water quality is fantastic and much-needed, and we hope will add to the growing bank of knowledge in this area and enable it to be extended in the future,” said Machouki. “These interventions also provide valuable opportunities for local communities to connect with the river, with the social, health and well-being benefits this delivers.”

Groundwork North East and Cumbria is leading biodiversity and environmental clean-up operations along the North East coastline and riverside from Blyth and Tyne and Wear, down to the Esk Valley and Whitby, as part of its Revitalising our Estuaries programme.


Image credit: Shutterstock

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