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Fantastic flowing rivers and reservoirs


Northumberland National Park might not have a coastline, but our sparking rivers and burns, loughs and reservoirs still give plenty of places to stop and stare.


‘Lough’ is a Northern English term for a small lake. It is linked to the Scottish word ‘loch’. They were carved out of the landscape by ice flows from the last Ice Age. These freshwater areas of water are brilliant pit stops for migrating birds. Some have become nature reserves.


These man-made lakes were created to provide drinking water. Kielder Water is the only one where there is access to indulge in watersports.

An angler casts his line out on the River Coquet. Photo by Simon Fraser.

An angler casts his line out on the River Coquet. Photo by Simon Fraser.

Rivers and Burns

Our rivers and streams, known as burns, are vital for wildlife. They are home to migrating salmon and sea trout, which swim upstream from the sea to lay their eggs. Otters live here as do birds such as the dipper and rare plant life.

According to the Environment Agency, four of the five cleanest rivers in Britain are sourced in Northumberland National Park:

  • Barrow Burn catchment in the Upper Coquet Valley
  • the Ridlees Burn south of the Coquet in the Otterburn Military Ranges
  • the Linhope Burn, a tributary of the River Breamish
  • the upper Breamish itself, which is part of the Till catchment.

All these rivers tumble down from the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland National Park.

The pure nature of their water is probably related to the type of farming that has conserved the moorland character of the area and its low population.

We work closely with farmers and land managers to ensure they continue to manage this special landscape to protect this national resource. Good animal husbandry and moorland management prevents harmful chemicals and silt going into rivers.

Plants to look out for

Water Crow-foot

Water crowfoot is just one of the interesting types of flora on our waterways.

Water crowfoot is just one of the interesting types of flora on our waterways.

This aquatic plant needs clean-flowing water to thrive. It forms large mats with pretty white flowers. Its leaves and stems provide shelter and food for fish and insects. During winter most of the plant dies away. However a root-like food store survives underneath the mud at the bottom of the water, and forms a new plant in the spring.

Water rock bristle

In Britain, this very rare moss is found only in Northumberland. The minute dark green moss has tapering leaves with very broad bases and long, narrow tips. It grows in areas which probably stayed free of ice during the last ice age.

Animals to look out for

  • Otters
  • Pipistrelle bats
  • Water voles

Take a look at Animals for more details.

Birds to look out for

  • Dippers
  • Ring ouzels

There are more details in Birds.

Creatures to look out for

Freshwater Pearl Mussel

This river mollusc is extremely rare. As part of its larval stage is to live inside the salmon, the demise of this fish affected the mussel too. Mussels can live to be more than 100 years old.


When newly hatched, salmon swim from upland burns (streams) right out to sea, then return to exactly the same burn as adults to spawn before they die.

Heavy industry and pollution on Tyneside greatly affected the life cycle of the salmon. In recent years, tighter pollution and farm chemical controls and the decline of heavy industry and mining have improved water quality. The Tyne is now considered by many to be the best salmon river in England. The Breamish and the Harthope, part of the River Tweed catchment in Northumberland National Park, have healthy salmon populations.

White-clawed crayfish

The white-clawed crayfish is the only crayfish native to the British Isles. It is unlikely that crayfish have ever been widespread in Northumberland National Park. They prefer streams, rivers and lakes in chalk or limestone areas.

Positive Actions for Rivers and Burns

Trees and tall plants along riversides provide cover and shelter for lots of creatures, such as otters, as well as attracting insects eaten by fish like salmon and trout. Fencing riversides off from sheep, deer, goats and cattle helps to ensure they are not grazed away. We are working with landowners to identify important stretches of rivers and burns.

Fencing large grazing animals away from river banks not only lets plants grow. It also prevents the banks from being trampled. Too much trampling churns up mud and silt, which damages some fragile wildlife. For example, salmon eggs need to be laid on gravel if they are to hatch successfully. If the gravel is covered with silt, it ruins the traditional spawning ground. Local people with an interest in fishing have been working with landowners to make sure important fishing areas are protected.

Otter populations crashed last century, mainly as a result of polluted water. To encourage these beautiful creatures to stay in the area, our staff and volunteers have built otter holts. Pipes lead from the river into the bank, and into a den made of concrete blocks. Otters need lots of these holts to rest and breed and raise their young in. River banks and these new homes are surveyed regularly to check where the otters are living.

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Planning in the National Park

Northumberland National Park Authority is the statutory Planning Authority for the area of the Northumberland National Park. View our planning pages here.