River Wear

The River Wear rises in the east Pennines and is formed at Wearhead from the confluence of Killhope Burn and Burnhope Burn. Before the two meet, Burnhope Burn has been dammed to form Burnhope Reservoir.

The Wear has a catchment area of just over 1080km2 and has a number of large tributaries including the River Browney and the River Gaunless. At its source the landscape is dominated by blanket bog, heather and grass moorland and is shaped by hill faming and management for grouse. As the river heads east the land is mostly in agricultural use, sheep and upland cattle rearing in the west moving into mixed arable farming in the east. The landscape is heavily influenced by its industrial and mining past and while most of the mines are now redundant, some industry remains in the lower reaches of the catchment. The Wear flows through a number of urban areas including the city of Durham before it reaches our abstraction for Lumley water treatment works just outside Chester-le-Street.

River water quality

Historically water quality in the River Wear has been quite low due to the impacts of urban and industrial pollution but it has significantly improved over the last few decades. This is partly due to the decline in the coal industry although its legacy is still seen in the river water quality.

Parts of the Wear suffer from excessive aquatic plant growth due to nutrient enrichment from sources such as agriculture and treated sewage effluent, and as a result parts of the catchment are designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs). 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 with all relevant stakeholders in the catchment, including the Wear Rivers Trust, Peatscapes, Natural England, the Environment Agency, local farmers and landowners, with the aim of reducing the amount of pesticide, nitrate, phosphate and sediment running off the land and into the river.

Events, training and advice

We offer free training, advice and one to one farm visits on a range of topics, such as fertiliser and pesticide handling and management, sprayer and pellet spreader calibration, biobed installations and agri-environment schemes.

Your catchment advisor

Rob Cooper is Northumbrian Water’s Catchment Adviser for the River Wear. Rob has a First Class Honours degree in Countryside Management from Aberystwyth University. He has worked on a number of farms whilst at university; and upon graduation worked as a research assistant for the university on a number of Defra research projects, looking at biodiversity and ecosystem services. Following this, Rob worked in a number of roles for the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) in the East of England, including as Norfolk and Suffolk coordinator for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE).

Catchment management


Northumbrian Water′s catchment management work aims to prevent deterioration and then improve the quality of water in the rivers and lakes that we abstract from the drinking water supply. Find out more

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