WILDLIFE has been returning to the Ribble just weeks after the removal of one of the river’s weirs.

The £1.45 million project to remove the redundant Samlesbury Weir began in May with the hope that, with the river once again able to take its natural course, migratory fish and birds would return.

Now, just a few weeks on from the completion of the project, environmental officers have found signs of exactly that, with hopes that yet more wildlife will join be joining them.

Ribble Rivers Trust CEO Jack Spees said: “This whole project has been underpinned by science, with our colleagues at the Environment Agency providing essential baseline data on oxygen levels, geomorphology and invertebrate populations.

“Over the next 12 months, natural processes will enable the river to further naturalise, creating more diverse and varied habitats, improving the habitat for fish and invertebrates," Mr Spees added.

“We will be carrying out extensive follow-up monitoring of invertebrates to monitor the changes as they unfold.”

Samlesbury Weir had originally been constructed in the 1970s in order to monitor low rivers flows, but proved to be harmful to wildlife, particularly fish that needed to swim up and down stream, and has also seen several people seriously injured on the site.

As a result the numbers of fish, particularly salmon and eels, dropped dramatically.

The recent work to remove it was part of the new Ribble Life for Water Scheme supported by the Water Environment Grant, administered by the Environment Agency and funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Now, salmon, smelt, lamprey and eels have all now been spotted on the former site of the weir, with another shoal of young salmon seen further downstream.

The weir’s removal should also help to increase the insect, bird and bat populations.

Environment Agency area director Keith Ashcroft said: “I am really pleased that the hard work of Environment Agency and Ribble Rivers Trust staff has come to fruition in the removal of Samlesbury Weir.”

He added: “The benefits to a range of river species will be considerable and it is wonderful to see a more natural and healthy River Ribble developing already.”