How Carsington Water became one of the most loved visitor spots in the East Midlands 

Friday 19 April 2024

To mark 50 years since Severn Trent became the region’s water company, some of its biggest engineering projects are being revisited – including the multimillion-pound project to build Carsington Water reservoir which was opened back in the 90s. It is now the ninth largest in England and features 6.5 miles of long tunnels and aqueducts. 

Today, Carsington Water is a stunning, and much-loved attraction in the East Midlands, with something for all of the family to enjoy – from a delightful 8.5 mile walk around the reservoir itself, to an immersive experience for children at its recently updated exhibition in the visitor centre.

However, the inception of Carsington Water dates back to the 1950’s, when the East Midlands area was identified as being susceptible to water scarcity in the future if nothing was done about it. 

Paul Bingham, Senior Reservoir Technician at Severn Trent, said: “Various options were assessed in the region, from raising dams to building new reservoirs, with Carsington Water being one of them. The decades of planning have made an incredible difference.

“It took a staggering two years for it to fully fill with water due to the size of the structure - it holds 36 million cubic meters of water and is now Severn Trent’s largest reservoir in England.

“It wasn’t all straight forward though – back in 1984, just as it was initially about to be filled, cracks started to open in the structure, and it meant a lengthy delay in completing the project.”

And according to study in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, this led to major advances in several areas of geotechnical engineering.

Carsington Water was officially opened in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth II and would go on to be one of the most loved visitor spots in the East Midlands. 

Paul added: “With population growth it has served the area very well – the team did a fantastic job to deliver the project. It’s what you can’t see that’s most fascinating – from the large diameter pipework that feeds water to and from the reservoir, to the large valves and tunnels through the dam. It’s a huge operation.

“The public absolutely love Carsington Water – it’s a lovely place to go…and it has the best ice cream shop.”

The site now welcomes around one million visitors every year, meaning over 30 million people have stopped by to spend a day at the site which has been described on Trip Advisor as ‘a lovely walk’, ‘perfect for runners’ and a ‘fantastic location’. 

John Matkin, Visitor Site Manager at Carsington Water, said: “When the reservoir was built, they really thought about it from a visitor site perspective as well. There was a real understanding that this could be more than a reservoir as they put in some lovely paths around it, a big car park and built the visitor centre. 

“It has turned into one of the most loved visitor spots in the East Midlands – we see a lot of people who say they came to Carsington Water as a child and they’re now bring their own children with them. 

“Over 30 years the site has really changed – trees that were planted at the time have now turned into woodlands, and we always look to continually invest in the site whether that be upgrading the exhibition space a couple of years ago, to the new changing places toilet we have to ensure the site is as accessible for all as it can be. We’re always looking to improve the visitor experience.”

John also said that the reservoir has provided a ‘real mosaic’ of habitats to the area, that wouldn’t have been there before, when talking about the positive impact to biodiversity and wildlife the site has had. 

He added: “The land we’ve retained around Carsington is looked after by our teams - we have grasslands, hedges and woodlands. We also have eight islands on the site, reed beds, ponds and scrapes. They are quite unusual for this area and attract species that wouldn’t have been here before. 

“The site is now a haven for a number of species that would be struggling elsewhere such as ospreys, otters and willow tits.”

Severn Trent Water Authority was formed in April 1974, when dozens of local water authorities and corporations came together, each with their own history; and becoming custodians of some of the most vital bits of infrastructure in the country; and looking ahead to serving millions over the years to come.