The River Coquet is around 40 miles in length and flows through the county of Northumberland. It rises in the Cheviot Hills and follows a winding course, generally eastwards to where it meets the North Sea at Amble.
The Coquet has a catchment area of just over 600km2. At its source the landscape is remote and sparsely populated. Extensive areas of blanket bog and heather moorland cover the area which is managed for grouse and grazed by sheep. The steep, lower slopes also support some beef cattle and there are extensive areas of coniferous forestry plantations. Heading east, mixed farming dominates the landscape with pasture for livestock and silage, and some arable cultivation. Heather cover dominates, providing rough grazing for sheep and habitat for grouse management. Down the slopes, there is semi-improved and rough grassland supporting extensive stock rearing, including beef cattle.
Downstream the farming becomes more intensive with large areas of improved pasture for sheep and cattle grazing, which eventually gives way to the coastal plain of North Northumberland where mixed arable, particularly cereals dominate. The river water is abstracted for drinking water supply on the outskirts of Warkworth, at the river’s tidal limit.
River water quality
The water quality of the River Coquet is generally very good and of high ecological and conservation value, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). However, some reaches are suffering from lower quality attributed to diffuse water pollution from agriculture (DWPA). Several stretches on the main river between the Wreigh and Swarland Burns are at risk of sedimentation due to overgrazing, bank erosion and poaching. The Wreigh, Tyelaw and Thirston Burns contain elevated levels of phosphates and nitrates which is attributable to agricultural activity. The pesticide metaldehyde, the active ingredient in slug pellets, is also found in the river water. Removing these substances requires additional chemicals and energy, and can therefore increase the cost of treating drinking water.
We work collaboratively with Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) project, as well as other stakeholders within the Coquet catchment, including farmers and landowners, with the aim of reducing the amount of pesticide, nitrate, phosphate and sediment, running off the land into the river.
Events, training and advice
Alongside CSF, we host events, training and advice days on a range of topics and can provide free one-to-one farm visits to give advice on fertiliser and pesticide handling and management, sprayer and pellet spreader calibration, biobed installations and agri-environment schemes.
Your catchment advisor
Hazel Thompson is Northumbrian Water’s Catchment Advisor. Hazel comes from a farming family and grew up on a dairy farm near Guisborough, Cleveland. She has an MSc in Environmental Science and Management from The University of York, is FACTS qualified, and has experience working at Natural England in the Humber Land Management Team.