River Dee

LIFE Dee River is a £6.8m project to transform the River Dee and its catchment by restoring the river and its surroundings back to their natural state. This will bring many benefits to the environment, most notably improving the numbers of salmon, lamprey and freshwater pearl mussels to help them become more sustainable in future.

The Dee is the largest river in North Wales with a catchment area of more than 1,800 km². It is one of the most highly regulated rivers in Europe, and along with Llyn Tegid it has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

From its headwaters in the uplands of Eryri (Snowdonia), the Dee descends via Llyn Tegid, the largest natural lake in Wales. After flowing through a broad valley to Corwen, it tumbles eastwards through the spectacular Vale of Llangollen, under the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct World Heritage Site, before breaching the Welsh foothills near Bangor-on-Dee, and meandering northwards through the Cheshire plain to its tidal limit just below Chester.

The main uses of the River Dee are farming, predominantly cattle and sheep grazing; water abstraction for water supply for 2.5m people; tourism including recreational angling, canoeing and navigation; and nature conservation.

Action we’re taking

  • removing the constraints to fish migration and wider ecological connectivity

  • restoring or improving natural riverine physical processes, features and habitats in at least 55 km of river

  • improving agricultural and forestry land management practices to reduce the input of nutrients and sediment entering the SAC

  • initiating conservation management for the critically-endangered freshwater pearl mussel

  • establishing and building long-term positive relationships with key stakeholders during and beyond the life of the project

Conservation work

Our progress to date:

  • 15,000 trees planted alongside the river
  • 730 metres of natural bank stabilisation
  • 4,250 tonnes of gravel introduced into the river
  • 36 kilometres of fencing erected to create riverside corridors
  • 1,000 tonnes of boulders reintroduced into the river
  • 7 barriers removed or adapted to help fish migration

Fish Migration

We will fully or partially remove five weirs in the Dee and tributaries and install fish passage solutions in a further six weirs. So far, we have fully removed three barriers on the Afon Tryweryn, Morlas and Meloch, and altered three other weirs including two in Llangollen and one at Nant Gwryd in the Ceiriog Valley. Some of these structures are additional works to the project’s original targets. 

This will increase access for fish and improve hydromorphology in 33km of river, benefiting all habitats and species.

River Restoration

We will carry out over 6km of habitat improvement in the river including the addition of thousands of tonnes of gravel, boulders and woody material. We have already introduced over 5,500 tonnes of material into the river during the first half of the project, with more to be added in the next two years.

At least 35km of land along the river bank will be restored through managed grazing, fencing and planting, and 2km of bank protection and historic artificial embankments will be removed or breached. So far, we have completed over 36km of fencing and planted 15,000 trees.

Land Management

We have improved forestry infrastructure by installing a river crossing and upgrading 11 forest drain culverts which will reduce pollution risk in 600ha of forestry in the SAC catchment.

By working closely with farmers, we will help improve agricultural practices to reduce the input of nutrients, chemicals and sediment entering the SAC.

Conservation management for the critically endangered freshwater Pearl Mussel

Using Dee pearl mussel stock, we will captive rear and release juvenile mussels in suitable habitat. We will continue this programme after the project is complete until the population is re-established.

Engaging with our local community

The communities living along the River Dee and Llyn Tegid will be at the heart of the project. We will work closely with local people to ensure they understand the biological, social and economic value of the habitats and species, the river and the SAC in terms of their historic and present-day importance.

Our hope is that people will feel a greater sense of community ownership and responsibility for the Dee and ensure the project’s legacy continues for years to come. We will be encouraging people to get involved as much as possible by holding over 50 events during the project’s lifetime including river walks and talks, workshops, open days and a schools hatchery programme.

Outcomes of the project

  • restoration of natural riverine processes and morphology

  • habitats and species moved towards favourable conservation status

  • reduction in pollution of the river with biodiversity and drinking water benefits

  • improved Salmon and other fish populations

Learn more about our project

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Read our news and blogs

Young fish survival rates boosted by River Dee improvement works
LIFE Dee River project captures rare footage of ‘pre-historic’ lamprey as spawning season starts on the River Dee

NRW launches £6.8 million LIFE Dee River project
First major weir removal for LIFE Dee River project
LIFE Dee River Virtual Fish Hatchery
Wildlife photographer captures incredible images of salmon during their spawning season
Case Study: Acoustic Fish Tracking in Action
Case Study: Llangollen weirs, Dam Removal Europe
Making a Weir Good for Conservation and Safer for Recreation

Celebrating World Fish Migration Day on the Dee
River Dee barrier removal encourages salmon migration
Pupils at Ysgol Bro Tryweryn Host a Trout Hatchery in their classroom

Pupils from Ysgol O M Edwards, Llanuwchllyn to oversee a trout hatchery in the school

Watch our videos

Chester Weir: Juvenile fish passing through notch after improvement works
Brook lamprey spawning on the upper Dee

What is the LIFE Dee River Project?
LIFE Dee River project launch
Afon Tryweryn weir removal
Project showreel
Salmon in the Dee
River lamprey spawning
World Rivers Day
Timelapse of Penaran bridge build
Fish trying to pass Erbistock weir
Sea lamprey spawning on the Dee

Listen to our stories

Poem: Taith Afon Dyfrdwy
Eryri Podcast: Afon Dyfrdwy

Contact us

For more information, or to contact a member of the team, please email lifedeeriver@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk


The LIFE Dee River project (LIFE18 NAT/UK/000743) is funded by the EU LIFE programme, Welsh Government, Environment Agency, Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water and Snowdonia National Park Authority. The project, which started in September 2019, will run until December 2024.

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