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Harrington Reservoir Local Nature Reserve  

Harrington Nature Reserve

Harrington Reservoir Local Nature Reserve is one of two Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) in the Workington area, the other being Siddick Ponds. A Local Nature Reserve (LNR) is an area of land protected for its contribution towards wildlife, geology, education and public enjoyment. There are over 1400 LNRs across England for both people and wildlife to enjoy.

The history of Harrington Reservoir

The reserve has direct links with Harrington's industrial heritage as the reservoir was actually constructed in 1863 to supply water for nearby iron works. The final shipment of pig iron left the iron works in 1928 on a cargo ship Girasol on its way towards Swansea. Between the 1880s and 1930s 'The Rezzer' was used as a boating lake before being left to nature.

The area around the reserve was once mined for coal, formed millions of years ago when the area consisted of swampy, tropical woodland. One of the legacies of the mining is the presence of ochre, a rusty coloured iron-based substance that has completely changed the colour of the stream bed stones in places along the Ellerbeck.

Much of the land around the reservoir was used for grazing and old OS maps show very few houses in the area. It is likely that much of the area around the reservoir was quite open and consisted of marsh and fen vegetation, the present day willows and other trees and shrubs not being planted until relatively recently.

The Local Nature Reserve was declared in 1993.

The wildlife of Harrington Reservoir

The reservoir itself forms a relatively small part of the reserve, most of which is defined by the narrow wooded valley of Ellerbeck, running for some 700m upstream of the reservoir. The reserve encompasses a man-made reservoir fed by the Ellerbeck, extensive willow scrub, two herb-rich meadows and riverine woodland . The mosaic of habitats, some of them increasingly rare and found in few other places throughout West Cumbria, are linked together by a network of paths, steps and bridges with seating and viewpoints located at strategic resting points throughout the reserve. The site is very popular with wildlife and the local community.

The generally wet conditions enable water loving plants to flourish, including; marsh marigold, sawort and meadowsweet. There is evidence that parts of the woodland in the Ellerbeck valley are 'ancient', having developed naturally over a period of over 400 years. Woodland plants including bluebell, wood anemone, ramsons, lesser celandine and wood sorrel carpet the floor from March through to May. The two 'unimproved' meadows are now rare in the west Cumbria region. Unlike other grasslands that may have been 'improved' for farming or drained, these meadows have never been affected by agriculture and have retained many unique and now rare plants.

The diverse range of habitats attracts an equally diverse fauna. The shallow water of the reservoir attracts small numbers of duck (mainly Mallard but with occasional Teal, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and even Pintail), Mute Swan, Coot and Moorhen, although the rapid siltation of the reservoir in recent years has had a negative effect on the numbers and variety of wildfowl. The surrounding willow scrub and marginal vegetation attracts smaller birds such as Sedge and Willow Warbler and the more wooded areas upstream are home to Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tawny Owl and Treecreeper throughout the year and joined in summer by Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Garden Warbler. Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail can occasionally been seen along the Ellerbeck and Sparrowhawk and Kestrel are also regular visitors to the reserve.

A good range of common butterflies can be found, particularly in late-summer. A notable recent colonist is the Speckled Wood which is now commonly seen flitting in the dappled shade of the streamside woodland. This is a new arrival on the reserve having spread rapidly north and west in Cumbria in recent years, probably as a direct result of climate change.

Management of the reserve

A 5-year Management Plan (2011-16) sets out a range of management objectives designed to maintain the site in the best possible condition for the local wildlife. The reserve has been entered into Higher Level Stewardship with Natural England, a 10-year agreement that enables funding to be drawn down for carrying our an annual management programme.

Management of the reserve is geared to ensuring the effective management of the species rich meadows via the current hay cutting regime and to explore the potential for introduction of an appropriate grazing regime, thus conserving the existing flora and its associated fauna.

Management of the riverside woodland and willow scrub will also be undertaken through a programme of coppicing regime and selective thinning to create a diverse age structure that is sympathetic to both the open water and grassland habitats.

A further principle objective is to prevent further neglect of the open and running water habitats and to provide an environment that encourages a diversity of aquatic plants and animals. The biggest threat to the reserve is the rate of siltation of the main reservoir. Attempts to de-silt the reservoir in the past have provided only temporary relief. A sustainable strategy to manage the siltation requires a focus on preventing the siltation rather than dredging the reservoir. Once the rate of siltation has been slowed and mitigation measures put in place, further de-siltation of the reservoir may be undertaken.

Who's involved?

Harrington Reservoir is owned by Allerdale Borough Council and the council is ultimately responsible for the management of the reserve. Although the reserve is the council's responsibility, successful management is a product of strong local partnerships. The Friends of Harrington Reservoir have been integral to the successful management of the reserve in recent years and continue to provide invaluable input. The group, consisting of local residents, meets regularly, and has raised funds and promoted the reserve to a much wider audience.

The Workington Nature Partnership (a partnership between Allerdale Borough Council and Workington Town Council) has also helped tremendously in enabling weekly management visits to the reserve and volunteers have helped with conservation tasks including willow coppicing, footpath maintenance, meadow cutting, control of invasive species (such as Himalyan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed), fencing and species monitoring.

Other partners include ISS Facility Services and Groundwork North East & Cumbria.

Allerdale Borough Council and The Friends of Harrington Reservoir are always looking for new volunteers. If you are interested in helping, please email our Workington Nature Partnership or contact us on 01900 702 702 and ask to be put through to the Parks and Open Spaces Team. If you are interested in becoming  Friend of Harrington Reservoir you are welcome to join at one of the monthly meetings held at 3.30pm on the third Tuesday of every month at Harrington Marina.

Access to the reserve

Located south of Workington between Harrington and Salterbeck, the main entrance to the reserve is off Moorclose Road in Harrington, opposite St Mary's Primary School. There is also direct access from nearby Brierydale and, at the north end of the reserve, from the West Cumbria Cyclepath.   

Latest news

Between October 2014 and August 2015, Groundwork North East & Cumbria will be running  a Saturday morning "Nature Detectives" club suitable for families with children aged 5-11 years old. More information can be found by clicking on the downloadable poster at the foot of the page.

Further Reading

A leaflet about the reserve can be downloaded by clicking on the Downloadable Document below.

We hope you enjoy your visit to the reserve. Please remember to place your litter in the bins provided and, if bringing a dog, to keep it on a leash and pick up after it. By helping us in this way you are helping to preserve the reserve for future generations.

Downloadable Documents

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File nameSizeApproximate Download time
Adobe PDF format - download the viewerHarrington Reservoir Reserve Leaflet in PDF format2304 Kb5 mins 29 secs @ 56k, 9 secs @ 2mb
Adobe PDF format - download the viewernature Detectives Poster in PDF format211 Kb30 secs @ 56k, 1 sec @ 2mb

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0303 123 1702

Allerdale Borough Council
Allerdale House, Workington, Cumbria,
CA14 3YJ