The Wear Rivers Trust was launched in November 2008 in an amalgamation of The Weardale Environmental Trust and River Wear Environment Trust. Both previous trusts had a proven track record with different aspects of the River Wear. The amalgamation of the trusts and the adoption of The Rivers Trust's principles has allowed the Wear Rivers Trust to work at a catchment scale; making the link between the land, the river, and the pressures placed upon it by communities and industry within the catchment. We believe that the River Wear is a precious freshwater resource that everyone should be proud of. We want to encourage people to look after and enjoy their River Wear.
The Trust develops projects, raises funds and works in partnerships to research the state of the river environment and undertake informed actions towards the improvement of the Wear catchment. We also believe that it is vital to raise awareness of the value of the River Wear to people both locally and further afield. To this end we take every opportunity to inform people about the work we do, increase people's understanding of the environmental factors that influence the river system and educate people about what they can do to make a positive difference.
The Wear Rivers Trust has no statutory powers but aims to work with the appropriate authorities to best improve and manage the catchment. We rely entirely on the goodwill and help of others to make positive changes.
The Wear Rivers Trust is the only charity dedicated to conserving and protecting the River Wear, its tributaries and surrounding countryside for all.
The Wear catchment stretches from the eastern North Pennines to the North Sea coast, encompassing the majority of County Durham. The river is formed at Wearhead, from the confluence of Burnhope and Killhope Burns, and flows east through Weardale to Bishop Auckland before turning north and flowing through Durham and Chester-le-Street before reaching the sea at Sunderland. The total catchment area is approximately 1080km2 and the main river is approximately 128km long: 16km of this length is estuary. There are many tributaries, the largest being the Rivers Browney and Gaunless. The source area of the catchment is characterized by grass moorland with heather and blanket bog and the dominant landuse in the river valley is agricultural, changing from pastoral agriculture in the west to more mixed arable farming in the east, with various-sized urban settlements along the river's course.
County Durham is well-known for its industrial history and the landscape is heavily influenced by the past, although only a relatively small amount of industry remains in the catchment. The Wear valley saw lead mining from Roman times until the 1930s; limestone quarrying, including of the famous Frosterley Marble; and extensive coal mining in the east of the catchment. The main river and many of the tributaries have had the power of their waters utilised by water wheels and mills in order to support industrial activity. The river estuary has been the site of world-famous ship building activity as well as glass-making dating back 1300 years. Sunderland was producing one third of the UK's ships in its heyday in the mid 1800s!
Now the majority of the river has returned to a more natural-looking state but abandoned mines and spoil heaps contribute heavy metals to the river system. Pollution pressures that have arisen more recently include sewage treatment works discharges and combined sewer overflows, agricultural runoff and urban runoff.
In addition to pollution, a significant problem the catchment faces is barriers to fish migration. Many of the barriers are weirs that formerly helped power the industries. The European Water Framework Directive legislation demands free passage for all migratory fish and eels upstream to their breeding habitat and failure to provide this results in a less than 'good' status for a river or stream. Eventually this will lead to fines imposed on the UK by the European Council and, at a more local level, obstructions to fish passage lead to declining populations of fish and eels with knock-on effects on the rest of the ecosystem and the local economy. Whilst it may be a popular pastime on the Wear to watch fish jumping up weirs, bridge aprons and other structures, these obstructions need to be overcome by easements or fish passes.
The River Wear provides an excellent opportunity for many leisure pursuits such as angling and rowing or simply strolling beside the water and enjoying its wildlife. The river and its catchment are potentially fragile ecosystems which need to be respected and treated with care. The Wear Rivers Trust wishes to work with all users to improve understanding of the river system, improve access for enjoyment of the river and engender better understanding of each group's needs along with the long-term needs of the catchment both ecologically and as an important resource.
The Wear catchment is home to a wide variety of wildlife which depends on the river to feed, breed and live; including birds, mammals, invertebrates, fish and plant species. Ospreys have been sighted fishing in the catchment and the mining heritage in the upper catchment has influenced the distribution of metal-tolerant river invertebrates and led to the establishment of unique plant species which can survive on the mobile river gravels composed of mine spoil. Some of these species are protected due to their declining numbers and diminishing habitats; these include bullhead, salmon, water voles, otters and heavy-metal-tolerant plants.
The Wear Rivers Trust is keen to protect wildlife within the catchment and to encourage and manage a healthy balance within the ecosystem. Sometimes this includes managing non-native and invasive species which threaten the river banks and our natural biodiversity.