River Irk Project

The River Irk was once described in 1768 as one of the top 5 trout streams in the UK , and was famed throughout the United Kingdom for the fatness of its eels – how times have changed!!

Now colloquially known as “The Dirty Irk”, it flows from its source in Royton, Lancashire into the River Irwell in the centre of Manchester. The river was transformed during the Industrial Revolution from a fast flowing rural stream into a modified water course whose water was the most heavily used per mile by industry in the UK.

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In recent times, whilst industry has in most part stopped polluting our rivers, the conurbation in and around the Irk catchment still has an outdated sewage network, resulting in high levels of phosphates and ammonia contaminating the river, and local chemical industries have been the source of frequent pollution incidents wiping out any aquatic life which was attempting to make a comeback.

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The most recent of these pollution events took place in 2009 when thousands of litres of bleach entered the river, killing everything in its path, and creating huge icebergs of foam which floated down the river towards Manchester.

However, local environmentalists have never given up hope for the Irk – and encouraging samples of invertebrates taken by our kick sampling volunteers, and the occasional capture of fish by anglers has led us to take a keen interest in the re-generation of this once renowned river.

During January 2015, we undertook a river walkover survey with Dr Paul Gaskell of the Wild Trout Trust, together with representatives of Manchester City Council in the Blackley and Middleton area, and the following report was produced – with a view to taking steps towards gaining funding to initiate “a peoples project” to regenerate the River Irk. The final plans for this project are currently being formalised, with a view to an autumn 2015 launch.

At the same time as this report was written the Environment Agency happened to publish this water quality data for the River Irk, which shows that the water quality is no better or worse than the neighbouring River Irwell, which has undergone an amazing transformation from polluted urban river to wildlife superhighway. Lets bring the Irk back in to the 21st Century!