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Bat food: Thousands of insects dancing in the sun, River Rye near HelmsleyBat food: Thousands of insects dancing in the sun, River Rye near Helmsley

Ryevitalise is an ambitious, aspirational and achievable scheme with a vision to conserve, enhance and restore the natural and cultural heritage of the area, enabling people to reconnect with the history, wildlife and landscapes of the River Rye and its tributaries

The Ryevitalise area incorporates 413km2 of the western Rye catchment, including the Rivers Seph and Riccal. The area demonstrates a coherent landscape unified by the river corridors in terms of both character and functionality, and at a scale that will have the most meaningful and sustainable impact. The ambition for the Partnership is to establish the Rye as a basis for common action: to see the river and the flow of water as a unifying element which joins communities, heritage and wildlife together. Implementation of this ideal will be twofold, each theme derived from the River:

  • Water Quality and Environment – working with land managers to improve the aquatic habitats of the Rye, and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports;
  • Reconnecting People – improving understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and history, encouraging people to protect their heritage;

The Ryevitalise work programme has been split up to reflect the two diverse themes, where River Restoration and Wildlife Habitats comes under the Water Quality and Environment title and Rediscovering the Past comes under Reconnecting People title.

Montage image of Ryevitalise landscapes

River Restoration

Rivers are large running waters created mainly by natural processes but often greatly altered by centuries of human activity. Rivers are vital to local communities for clean water and recreation, but also to many species of wildlife which rely on rivers and the surrounding habitat for shelter and food.

Rivers may seem simple on the surface but are in fact are a delicate ecosystem, meaning any slight change in the environment can affect the life in and around it.

The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership is a catchment-wide effort to improve the River Rye and its tributaries for wildlife and people. Enthusiastic farmers and land managers are working with us and our partners to re-establish natural river processes, capture sediment, create wetlands, plant trees and manage grazing as part of our progressive conservation agreements.

Wildlife and Habitats

The Ryevitalise landscape can be split up into a number of dynamic habitats and landscapes, where wildlife and flora are best adapted to their environment. Certain keystone species, highlighted below, can be indicative of the health of the environment and of its biodiversity.


Agriculture is a defining factor in the Rye landscape. From the moorland sheep farms at the headwaters, to the arable fields of the Howardian Hills, farming is deeply linked to the river. How the land is managed can provide many benefits for both ourselves and wildlife, but can also cause problems. By working with farmers to improve the natural environment, the river and surrounding habitats can thrive.

Species to look out for:

  • Peewit or Northern Lapwing (bird)
  • Skylark (bird)
  • Brown Hare (mammal)

Species rich grassland and meadows are a rare but highly valued habitat. They burst into colour and insect activity around midsummer. The tradition of hay making is the reason why these habitats exist. In the past, farmers needed to make hay so that the animals had food ready for the winter. The grazing animals are taken to other fields in the spring and the hay is left to grow. The delicate spring flowers can then grow at the same time. Today, farms might specialise in either arable or livestock and the livestock farms feel market pressure to make silage instead of hay

Species to look out for:

  • Duke of Burgundy (butterfly)
  • Greater Knapweed (flower)
  • Grass-of-Parnassus (grass)

In the catchment’s northern reaches, high on the sandstone plateau of the Cleveland Hills, lies the great expanse of purple heather moorland. This rugged heather moorland is what gives the North York Moors National Park its name. It is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protected Area (SPA) because the area is important for breeding birds such as merlin and golden plover.

Despite the natural feel, the moorland is entirely man-made and relies on year round management to prevent the landscape returning to scrub and broadleaf woodland. The Rye and many of its tributaries have their source high within the moorland. Land management here can influence water quality a long way downstream.

Species to look out for:

  • Curlew (bird)
  • Emperor Moth (insect)
  • Red Grouse (bird)

For many of us rivers have a special charm. This could be a bubbling moorland beck in the uplands or the lazy meanderings of a lowland river. But look closely and all is not well.

Once described as the lifeblood of the area, the Rye and its tributaries have slowly faded from the forefront of our minds. The loss of this close relationship has led to declining health of our rivers and streams.

By looking at subtle signs, like the types of insects present, what chemicals are in the water, or how much silt is on the riverbed gravels, we can start to build up a picture of the health of the landscape as a whole and tackle the issues before they impact the river.

Species to look out for:

  • Water Vole (mammal)
  • Kingfisher (bird)
  • Grayling (fish)


Nestled below the moorland tops and down to the valley bottoms, trees and woodlands are an important part of the landscape, providing valuable habitats for many species.

Throughout the catchment of the river Rye, the landscape has been affected by human management. Trees along river banks, known as riparian woodland, can play a crucial role in water-level management, bank stabilisation, trapping sediment and habitat creation. They can also be essential for helping wildlife to move through an otherwise fragmented landscape.

Unfortunately riverside woodland has been lost from much of the Rye. By planting a mix of native trees we hope to restore some crucial areas so they can once again benefit us and the natural world.

Species to look out for:

  • Tawny Owl (bird)
  • Greater Spotted Woodpecker (bird)
  • Bats (mammal)

Rediscovering the Past

Threaded through the twists and turns of the River Rye are the memories and recollections of people who have lived, and continue to live, by the riverside even as it undergoes fundamental changes.

Ryevitalise aims to strengthen these modern and historic connections, to take action and conserve our cultural heritage and knowledge by involving the local communities and using the latest technology, such as LiDAR to map the landscape topography to interpret change over time.

Discover how we will do this through the two main approaches below:

Rediscovering the Rye

Rediscovering the Rye will provide opportunities for people who live along the Rye and the many visitors to the area to find out about the rich variety of cultural heritage present in the upper and mid Rye catchment areas. In this way people can have a greater appreciation and understanding of the landscape and the changes it has undergone over the centuries.

Humans have adapted and used rivers here from the earliest times, from low-impact exploitation marked by flint scatters to dramatic alterations during prehistory with woodland clearances and establishment of large field systems. Current land managers inherit these changes, which brings an opportunity to learn about the old methods.

Over time sites and stories of this landscape are being lost, Rediscovering the Rye seeks to learn, protect and showcase the rich past the Rye has to offer.

This project will have three stages:

  • Researching – utilize historic maps, the Historic Environment Records, and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) survey data to interpret the landscape and records
  • Recording – locate and identify structures and landscape changes
  • Revealing – contextualizing the results of the recording with interpretation and share findings with the local community and volunteers

The researching and recording of the data uncovered will be used to reveal the landscape anew, to fill in the current gaps in the historic and archaeological record, from prehistory to the modern-era. Importantly, the results will be used in the interpretation of the landscape and the impact of this on the modern community.

If you would like to learn more about this project contact Education Officer Amy Carrick

Farmers at work

Rye Reflections

We are capturing the very voices of the River Rye’s current long-term residents, those who have witnessed fundamental landscape changes in the course of their lives.

In the first part of the project we are working in partnership with Teesside University Business School and hard-working volunteers, we are in the process of gathering memories from local residents. We will use memories to look at species abundance, farming practice changes, local folklore and childhood games.

In the second part of the project we will use these oral histories and take them into local schools, challenging students to compare their own experiences with those of older generations and encourage debate around changing attitudes to wildlife and the landscape.

Students will be encouraged to reflect on their experiences with rivers, wildlife and landscapes through poetry, and challenged to review how human perceptions of nature have evolved and changed over time.

Finally we will work with local artists, poets and creative media professionals to interpret our anecdotal findings.  We will develop a suite of engaging installations throughout the scheme area.  The outputs will include a range of physical, written and digital solutions to increase accessibility and broaden our audience.

Historical picture of Helmsley

Logo band