Gravel extraction and planform change in a wandering gravel-bed river: The River Wear, Northern England

Duncan Wishart*, Jeff Warburton, Louise Bracken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Within-channel alluvial gravel extraction is one of the most important forms of anthropogenically induced morphological change in river channels. In British rivers commercial gravel extraction was widespread between the 1930s and 1960s, and limited gravel extraction operations to reduce flood risk or maintain navigation continue to the present day. Despite this, gravel extraction has received little attention in UK river studies. This paper examines the significance of within-channel gravel extraction, during the period 1945-1960, on the planform of the River Wear in northern England. The study focuses on two 3 km piedmont reaches at Wolsingham and Harperley Park, located at the margin of the upland zone. Examination of detailed archival accounts of the gravel extraction operations, supplemented by the analysis of aerial photographs has enabled the impact of gravel extraction on the channel of the River Wear to be determined. Sediment budget calculations suggest large sediment deficits in both study reaches, however, assessing potential impacts simply in terms of a sediment deficit may be misleading as channel adjustments depend on local factors and a detailed consideration of the reach-scale sediment budget. Differences in the nature of channel adjustments of both reaches were found to be primarily a function of the method of gravel extraction employed. Overall patterns of channel change along the extraction reaches, over the past 150 years, were similar to reaches where gravel extraction was not practiced. This highlights the difficulty of trying to establish the significance of different processes where both local (gravel extraction) and catchment-scale factors (climate and land use) are operating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-152
Number of pages22
Issue number1-2
Early online date18 May 2007
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Gravel extraction and planform change in a wandering gravel-bed river: The River Wear, Northern England'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this