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The River Tees

It is the River which the Tees Valley is named after, and it has seen much change in both its industrial importance and the wildlife which lives in it.

Artist’s impression of the River Tees and surrounding Middlesbrough and Stockton.

The River Tees stretches for 85 miles across County Durham and the Tees Valley. Its source is on Cross Fell in the North Pennines and runs into the North Sea at the mouth of the Tees between Hartlepool and Redcar.

The River meanders greatly across its lower course in County Durham and into the Tees Valley. It is quite hard to tell nowadays, but the River around Stockton used to be more meandering. In the areas where Teesside Retail Park and Portrack Business Centre now are were two extra bends of River. They were very time consuming and costly for ships to navigate around.

In 1808 the Tees Navigation Company was founded through an Act of Parliament. Their first task was to dig a channel, known as the Mandale Cut. This separated the southern bend from the main river, therefore straightening the River and improving transportation through it. In 1831 the Portrack Cut was introduced to remove the northern bend.

The Cuts increased the depth of Stockton Quay and improved its usage as a business port. However this eventually led to flooding risks and a new port needed to be found. This was where Middlesbrough came in.

In 1801 Middlesbrough was a simple farming estate with a population of only 25. By 1829, the area had been bought by Joseph Pease to build a new coal port, named Port Darlington, and a town in which the port workers could live.

By the early 1830s Middlesbrough became a thriving business town, due to the improvements in the River, and the extension of the Stockton and Darlington Railway to the town. By 1851 its population rose to 7,600.

As for the old meanders which had been cut off, some parts of the old river can be seen winding around Teesdale Park and are a part of the Portrack Marsh Nature Reserve.

The mud of the River has its own importance in supplying the area’s ecosystem and its population of birds, which include ducks, geese, herons, swans and kingfishers. The River became polluted from the development and presence of the industry, which meant the River’s salmon population had disappeared by the 1940s. With the gradual closing down of many of Middlesbrough and Redcar’s works the River has become cleaner in recent years, and fish populations have risen.

The Tees Barrage was built in 1995 to control the flow of the river and prevent flooding, but it has also increased the opportunities to take part in water sports on the river.