It's a wrap - Planting at new woodland area is completed

A riverside woodland which will boost water quality in the River Darwen has been planted by volunteers in less than two months.

Since the start of the year, volunteers have spent more than 400 hours planting 4,200 native UK trees including alder, hazel, hawthorn, holly, sessile oak, common oak, downy birch, wild cherry, and goat willow at a site in Samlesbury.

The project is the result of an innovative partnership between United Utilities and the Ribble Rivers Trusts which aims to reduce the run-off of soil and nutrients into waterways by planting more than 11,000 new trees in Lancashire. 

Funded by United Utilities, the Ribble Rivers Trust is creating new woodlands at Sabden, Samlesbury, and the Forest of Bowland – the site at Blue Slate, Samlesbury is the first.

The woodlands have been created to help tackle the run off of phosphates – a nutrient which is harmful to river health. The new trees will also provide shade and shelter for watercourses, homes for wildlife and help to mitigate flood risk.

Both the Ribble Rivers Trust and United Utilities are closely observing the sites to assess the effect the tree planting has on water quality. Before and after data is being gathered to enable the health of the rivers to be monitored and the benefits created by the woodlands to be better understood.

This will help both organisations develop future strategies for tree planting and whether it can be scaled up to deliver large scale, catchment-wide benefits to water quality and the wider environment.

James Airton, Natural Capital Strategy and Planning Manager for United Utilities said: “It’s great to see the first new woodland already planted, for the volunteers to plant more than 4,000 so quickly is incredible.

“While United Utilities continues to invest in its infrastructure, we are also keen to explore nature-based solutions as an alternative to concrete and pipes. Teaming up with partners such as the Ribble Rivers Trust means we can work together to develop effective solutions for the future.

“These woodlands will play an important part in helping the eco-system in waterways and I’m looking forward to seeing them flourishing in the years to come.”

Jack Spees of Ribble Rivers Trust added: “Most people are aware of the many amazing benefits of trees, from creating habitats for our much-loved native wildlife, to combating climate change and future proofing our planet. However, many people don’t know about the vital role of trees in improving water quality and naturally controlling flood risk. 

“Our early findings from the project already show that trees can play an important and measurable part in reducing phosphate in soils; phosphate that may otherwise find its way into our watercourses and contribute to water quality issues.

“Evidence shows that there are also additional secondary benefits, with our surveys showing rapid increases in the diversity and number of freshwater insects, a clear indicator of improving river health.

“All of this highlights the importance of increased tree cover for rivers.”

This partnership-led scheme is part of United Utilities’ holistic approach to improving river catchment land. This looks at how multiple benefits such as managing pollution and flood risk management can be achieved by taking care of the land that drains into watercourses.

For further information about the project visit

Further information about United Utilities’ innovative approach is available here.