Wear Rivers Trust

Pollution Incident Hotline: 0800 80 70 60


Our River Wear is a special and unique part of the regions natural environment, social history and economic future.

There are so many ways to enjoy the special place that is Our River Wear and other blue spaces across the region. 


River Wear Overview

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 97km long. 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 it's industrial history and the landscape is heavily influenced by the past, although only a relatively small amount of industry remains in the east of the catchment. The Wear valley saw lead mining, limestone quarrying and coal mining and the abandoned mines and spoil heaps now contribute heavy metals to the river system. Other pollution pressures that have arisen more recently include sewage treatment works discharges and combined sewer overflows, agricultural runoff and urban runoff.

The River Wear rises in the east Pennines and is formed at Wearhead from the confluence of Killhope Burn and Burnhope Burn. Most of the upper Wear is within the North Pennines AONB, characterised by upland heather and peat moors, and is within the Moor House SAC and North Pennine Moors SPA. The area is rural having a long history of hill farming and mining. The tributaries most affected by pollution from metal mines, are Rookhope and Sedling Burn. Reservoirs at Burnhope, Tunstall & Waskerley provide water suitable for domestic use. Fish migration is by natural waterfalls.

The Middle Wear is a rural area dominated by livestock farming. To the north of the area Houselop Beck joins the River Wear near Bradley. The Bedburn Beck originates to the west of the catchment near Hamsterley Forest before joining the River Wear east of Bedburn and is a landscape shaped by historical metal mining. Part of this area also forms the North Pennine Moors SPA and SAC.

The Lower River Wear and Estuary operational catchment flows from Crook in the south, becoming tidal shortly after passing through Chester-Le-Street, and eventually meets the North Sea. The area is a mix of urban, industrial and arable land and the largest conurbations include Durham, Washington and Sunderland.

Fun On The River

'We want people to enjoy rivers as much as we do'
It is no surprise that wild, open water or river swimming has surged in popularity during recent years as we all strive to improve our health both physically and mentally

* Cold water can decrease your heart rate and reduce blood pressure
*Recent studies have suggested that cold water can produce an anti-depressive effect
* Cold water can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol whilst boosting levels of dopamine and serotonin, two hormones linked to a positive mental state
* Wild swimming allows you to connect with nature and clear your mind
* Physical exercise in any form has fantastic health benefits
* Getting out of the house can help you make new friends which is vital to build up an important support network

Finding your first swimming spot can be daunting, we recommend you:

* Find out more about wild swimming, the Outdoor Swimming Society website has lots of information available including water safety and biodiversity
* Look for local swimming groups on social media or ask around the area, local people often know of good swimming spots and go swimming with an experienced group
* Before you go always check the river flow by looking on the Environment Agency website, check there has been no sewage spills on The Rivers Trust website and last but not least check you won't be trespassing on private land


Paddle sports are a fantastic way to get active and explore rivers. Like all activities in and around rivers, paddle sports are best enjoyed safely and responsibly. Even for experienced paddlers, buoyancy aids and life jackets are a must. Helmets are also often needed, as there could be hidden hazards underneath the surface of the water. There is also a risk in paddling near weirs so they are best avoided. If you are not in a club it is worth checking who owns the stretch of river you want to paddle on and whether they allow use.

There are a few things you can do to ensure you're not inadvertently damaging the environment as you take to the river:

* Read up the site's sensitive spots, protected areas, species and breeding seasons
* Don't leave any litter behind
* Stick to designated paths and launching points
* Steer clear of nesting or spawning wildlife, especially in Spring and early Summer
* After you leave the water, be sure to check, clean and dry your equipment to avoid the spread of invasive species
* If you see something in the water that doesn't look right, report it to the appropriate agency


As your local Rivers Trust we are on a mission to improve and protect river environments for future generations. Much of our work on the ground is to revive rivers for the benefit of people and wildlife, which includes restoring healthy fish populations. All fish need to migrate up and downstream in order to complete their lifecycle but are often stopped from doing so by dams and weirs that have been built over the centuries. Our work sees us removing these barriers or if that isn't possible installing fish passes. Fish are dependent on cool, clean water with space to feed, breed and hide! We work hard to improve natural fish habitats, tackling pollution and restoring natural flow levels to benefit the fish. We take part in various fish and wildlife monitoring programmes throughout the year to gain important indicators of ecosystem health.

Get started with fishing:

* If you want to go fishing in freshwater in England and Wales you will need a rod licence from the Environment Agency
* You will need a permit to fish in most places from the owner of the fishing rights, or you can join a club
* For more information go to https://anglingtrust. net


For all you twitchers out there the river is the place to be! Lots of birds can be found around freshwater - even those which aren't typically considered freshwater species. Rivers are hives of activity, as they provide both a source of drinking water and have a plentiful supply of insects.

Herons can often be seen wading through the shallow water, searching for fish. The little egret and larger great white egret hunt in a similar way, but are much easier to spot due to their bright white colouration. You will often see groups of birds paddling along the water's surface, occasionally diving down to forage or clean their feathers, this includes moorhens, coots, greater crested grebes, goosander and the gold old favourite's ducks!

Smaller birds can also be seen around freshwater, the most iconic of these if the Kingfisher, who perches above slow moving water to look for small fish. The dipper is another favourite, they are the only known bird who can walk underwater!


Otters live in unpolluted bodies of freshwater, ranging from lakes and ponds to rivers and streams. Due to this the otter is a good indicator of the health of the water they live in. They can live at the coast in salt water however they do require access to freshwater in order to clean their fur. The otter's diet mainly consists of fish but over the winter they can also feed on crustaceans, insects, birds and amphibians.

The beaver is our largest rodent - having recently been reintroduced to areas in England, they are known as a 'keystone species', which means that their behaviour shapes the environment around them. They build dams, transforming the watercourse and forming entirely new habitats.

Water voles are generally a uniform dark brown colour with a slightly paler underside. Their entire body is covered with fur, including their tail - which can be half as long as their whole body! Unlike rats, water voles have a blunt, rounded nose. They create burrows in the banks of streams and rivers.


Fish can be a little trickier to spot - unless you're willing to go for a dip! Our rivers are home to a huge variety of fish, all of which are incredibly important to the wider ecosystem. One fish you might see from the bank is the Atlantic salmon. Their voyage to their spawning grounds is one of nature's most iconic migrations. If you find the right spot you can watch them leaping up waterfalls and weirs!

The brown trout was voted the UK's favourite fish in 2016. They are truly beautiful fish, coming in a variety of different colours with dapples on their scales. Amazingly they have the ability to undergo a physiological transformation needed to migrate out to sea from a river.

There is also the European Eel, arguably not so popular due to their snake like appearance! This critically endangered species has an incredible life cycle; they begin life as tiny eggs in the Sargasso Sea, them float for over 6,500km of sea currents towards Europe. They then undergo multiple metamorphoses, turning into glass eels, then elvers, then yellow eels.

An excellent predator and the true behemoth of our rivers, the pike is another favourite. They can grow up to a metre in length, and are able to dart from cover with lightening speed to hunt everything from fish to ducklings. Watch your toes if you are wild swimming!!!


Frogs can often be spotted around rivers. When it comes to laying their eggs, they prefer still water so the frogspawn doesn't wash away. Ponds and wetlands are hotspots for frogs and other amphibians, so if you fanatical about frogs they are the place to be! As a Rivers Trust we construct new wetlands and ponds for Natural Flood Management, helping to provide homes for frogs and other animals.


We see lots of different insects in and around rivers. They can tell us a lot about the health of the river. Some species are very sensitive to pollution, so when we see them it gives us an indication the the river is in good condition. We often take part in Riverfly Monitoring where we track the presence or indeed absence of certain insects to assess how healthy the river is.

Caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies are often used in Riverfly Monitoring. Caddisflies look a bit like a moth with hairy wings, and their larvae are well known for creating 'cases' out of twigs, stones or whatever else they can find in the river. Mayflies are flying insects with broad, clear wings. You can spot them during summer dancing above the surface of the river. Last but not least, stoneflies are dark brown insects with two short tails who tend to live near fast flowing streams.

Although not used for monitoring there are also dragonflies and damselflies that you can see around rivers. Dragonflies are large, robust insects with forewings which are usually longer than their hindwings. They have very large eyes which usually touch on the top of the head. Damselflies on the other hand are smaller and slimmer. Their forewings and hindwings are generally the same length/shapes and their eyes do not touch at the top of the head. At rest, damselflies hold their wings against their body, whereas most dragonflies hold them upright. Both insects come in a huge range of colours but many have a metallic hue.