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River Gaunless - For People and Wildlife



River Gaunless – for People and Wildlife is a £300,000-£350,000 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid that will focus on the conservation and restoration of the river’s natural heritage. The project will begin to return it to the best possible condition and utilise its natural and industrial heritage to tell the river’s story, maximising public interest and participation. This will re-connect local people, communities, landowners and businesses with their river and deliver real conservation and community benefits by inspiring people to become directly involved in specifying, planning and delivering improvement works.

This will be achieved by:

  • Establishing a new Community Wildlife Area and Local Management Group at South Church near to Bishop Auckland to undertake river restoration tasks, learn about the rivers natural and industrial heritage, learn river habitat conservation skills and help to manage this and other sites along the river corridor.
  • Constructing a fish easement in the form of a bypass channel around a weir in West Auckland. At the same time investigate any archaeological remains uncovered during excavations; it is historic site, thought to represent the origins of the village. Broader community engagement in researching and interpreting their local heritage using a variety of media. 
  • Delivering an education project with up to 10 local schools and youth/community groups, particularly utilising a citizen science approach to establish baseline river data sets and monitor ecological responses to interventions through a monitoring programme.
  • Engaging local people in their own local natural and industrial heritage, providing a greater understanding of the river catchment. Encouraging an appreciation of the river as a natural asset for the community to enjoy.

River Gaunless – for People and Wildlife will turn currently neglected areas into community assets for many more people to explore and enjoy for generations to come. Community river restoration will continue beyond the life of this proposed HLF project. The Community Management Group will be supported to develop and deliver successor projects across the catchment using the South Church Community Wildlife Area as a base.

Feasibility Study

In 2014-15, the Wear Rivers Trust, with the help of local community volunteers, conducted a feasibility study throughout the Gaunless Catchment to identify pressures and impacts that are causing detriment to the ecology of the river, and it is due to these findings that a Heritage Lottery Funding proposal has been made. West Auckland and South Church have been chosen as main delivery areas due to the issues identified at the sites and the support from local councillors and land owners.

The South Church Site

It currently suffers from:-

  • River channel modification
  • Loss of natural wet land
  • Over grazing of grass, bank side and woodland
  • Poaching on the river bank (areas of river bank that is heavily churned)
  • Sedimentation on the river bed (caused by bank erosion and poaching)
  • Fly tipping
  • Anti-social behaviour in terms of vandalism to fencing and trees
  • Possible pollution from rain water runoff from roads, agricultural land and drains out fall.

 Map of South Church Site

Photo of South Church site

This area would provide local community members the opportunity to learn about:-

  • Woodland management
  • Grassland management
  • Wet land restoration
  • Habitat improvement
  • River flow
  • Monitoring, vertebrate, water quality, fish and wildlife
  • Project development and management
  • The industrial heritage
  • Develop skills in researching and recording local heritage

The West Auckland Site

This is the site of an old weir and is a barrier to fish species; fish naturally migrate upstream to spawn (lay their eggs), without restoration smaller fish species will never make that journey. The weir forms part of the local industrial heritage that needs to be protected.



In order to preserve the weir but also restore fish populations up stream it is suggested that a fish pass, in the form of a bypass channel is installed.

This area would provide local community members with the opportunity to learn about:-

  • Monitoring of invertebrates  and fish
  • Species identification
  • Archaeology
  • The industrial heritage of the site
  • Develop skills in researching and recording local heritage




Survey Results

The survey ended on the 31st December to view the results please click here

The Survey was reopened to carry out further consultation with young people as the findings established that they were severally under represented.

River Gaunless for People and Wildlife Local Management Group

A local management group has been formed and met for the first time on 9th January 2016 the next meeting will be held on the 13th February at 10.30 at Bishop Auckland Fire Station. Please contact Diane Maughan if you would like further information about the project or would like join the Local Management Group.   

Face Book Page

The project now has a face book page it can be found by searching for River Gaunless for people and wildlife. Please send in your stories/photos of the River Gaunless



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