Dinner on the Don: aquatic insects and the foodweb

In this blog we hear from DCRT Director, Ed Shaw, on how emerging aquatic insects feed the wider terrestrial foodweb…

CC BY-SA 3.0, Low creek by Fir0002, 2005

The beds of most streams and rivers are jam packed with the nymphs of various kinds of insects. This includes (relatively) well-loved insect groups such as mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, as well as less appreciated groups such as midges and blackfly. Most of these insects share a similar approach to life. They spend the majority of their life as aquatic larvae, slowly growing in the cold water, before they emerge out of the water as adults to find a mate and reproduce, often en masse. Different species tend to emerge at different times in the year, so regardless of when you visit your local river, you will often notice insects ‘dancing’ above water or resting on foliage.

An adult Mayfly resting

This is why the riverbank is a favoured haunt of the insectivore (animals that mainly feed on invertebrates and insects). Not only is there often an abundance of freshly emerged potential snacks, but many of these snacks, winged and mobile as they are, are actually pretty poor flyers and easily caught. These insects are also often single-mindedly focussed on reproduction that they obligingly neglect their personal safety.

An adult stonefly

So plentiful and reliable can emergent aquatic insects be that rivers be that some terrestrial predators specialise in catching them. Sand martins make their nests in river cliffs (or in riverside walls in Sheffield) and can be seen swooping across the Don, while grey wagtails bob on rocks or at the water’s edge, snatching up morsels that catch their eye. At night, another aerial predator emerges, Daubenton’s bat, which feast on midges, and can even trawl for prey on the surface of water using their feet.

CC-BY-SA, Sand martin (Riparia riparia), Guidel-Plage, Brittany, France by Frank Vassen, 2015

Invertebrate predators are also drawn to rivers and streams. Well known are the dragonflies and damselflies that patrol back and forth before darting to seize a passing insect. Less well known are the long-jawed orb-weaver spiders that like to set up home near water, building their webs in riparian vegetation, even tilting them over rivers and streams to increase their chances of ensnaring an unlucky emerging insect.

CC BY-SA 3.0, Tetragnatha striata by James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster , 2005 

An important quality of emergent aquatic insects as prey is that some species emerge during the colder months, when there are very few other insects around. For example, the common and widespread mayfly species, the Large Dark Olive, can emerge throughout winter. This can make aquatic insects a relatively important source of food when other insect life is scarce. Researchers in a part of Japan with harsh winters observed that wrens (the same species as our own) tended to preferentially forage along streams in search of aquatic insects. Although British winters are comparatively mild, it seems quite conceivable that British insectivorous birds may do the same.

With winter setting in, do look out for those clouds of dancing insects, and if by a river or stream keep an eye out for a mayfly or stonefly. They might end up an important meal for a goldcrest or wren, or against the odds, they might find a mate and start a new generation. 

Snaps from a river survey

This photo diary documents our Autumn freshwater invertebrate survey of the river Rother. We now have three years of data from this stretch of river, creating a picture of underwater life in the recovering Rother (once considered the most polluted river in Europe!).

With all our protective and life-saving equipment on, we can start our survey. We have 7 sites to survey on this stretch of the river, collecting 21 riverbed samples in total! The samples and data reveal insights into the health of the river.

For each site we record information about the habitat and collect data on the flow, width and depth of the river. We look to see if there’s any evidence of pollution, litter or sewage by recording what we can see (and smell!).

We then start our kick-samples. This sampling method involves positioning the net on the river floor and kicking upstream of it. Kicking dislodges the tiny insects and creatures living on the riverbed, which are then pushed by the river’s current into the net. With the help of volunteers, we then analyse the invertebrates we’ve found.

The diversity and abundance of invertebrates found in the river can reveal important secrets about the river’s health

The 5 Ways to Wellbeing

At DCRT we believe that time spent in nature can be incredibly restorative. In fact there is plenty of scientific evidence that being better connected with nature makes us both healthier and happier people. Being physically active in nature relaxes our nervous system, releases mood-lifting hormones and increases our energy-levels. But, it’s not just positive for our physical health, exposure to nature can help us to manage existing mental health issues and prevent them from occurring in the future – a green prescription for our minds and bodies.

At DCRT we follow the 5 ways to wellbeing, five simple strategies that when incorporated into our lives can improve our health and wellbeing. Here’s some of our favourite wellbeing-focused activities that can bring more nature into our lives during lockdown.

Connect

Volunteering provides a space to meet like-minded people and share experiences with people from all walks of life. Our online volunteer tea-breaks and online activities are a great way to stay in touch during lockdown.

Be Active

Swap the gym for green exercise, like running, walking, swimming or cycling outdoors and feel the benefit. Explore some of the incredible landmarks in the Don Catchment.

Keep Learning

Feel the benefit of connecting with nature by finding more about the wild world around you. Join an online wildife identification training course and then practise your new skills.

Did you know that diving beetles are the scuba-divers of the animal world, trapping bubbles of air under their wings which they carry with them underwater to breathe. Or with two pairs of eyes, the surface-dwelling whirligig beetle can see both above and below the water’s surface at the same time? Join Katy Potts, Biodiversity Officer at the Natural History Museum, for an introductory online training course on ‘Beetles of the Riverbank’ and find out how beetles are adapted to life on the water’s edge. Click here to register for a free place.

Give

Take positive action in your community for nature. Try some Nature DIY and create a bug hotel, bird house or bat box from found materials. If you have a garden implement some Natural Flood Management – make a green roof on your shed or create a rain-planter.

A major contributor to increased flood risk is the amount of hard surfaces across our urban areas. Storm water rushes off our roofs, onto paved gardens, down pavements and roads and into drains that often struggle to cope with the volume and speed of water pouring into them. Slowing this water down and capturing it in our gardens is a great way to do your bit to help reduce flood risk. Here’s how to try it: Take a good look at any outside space you have – front and back gardens or yards, driveways, balconies or even that little space by your front/back door. Look for where the hard surfaces are and start to think about how you might make these areas better able to capture rainwater. Turning grey to green is a great way to do this. Remove concrete/slabs where you can and fill them with plants, or add pots and planters.

Take Notice

Be mindful of nature and our place in it. Try an activity to help you better observe nature, such as nature art or forest-bathing.

Shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, has been practised in Japan since the 1980s, prescribed to city-dwellers with hectic lives as a form of eco-therapy. Studies show forest bathing de-stresses and improves sleep, mood and focus. Here’s how to try it: When you go for your next walk, head to the local woods and tune into the nature around you. Hear the bird song, become mindful of the sun’s warmth on your face and feel the cool breeze. Breathe in the clean air and tune into your senses. Practise being still and calm amongst the trees. These top tips from Forestry England show you how it can form part of your daily exercise, just keep in mind social-distancing rules and limits.

Nature Art online events

Want more ideas how to incorporate both the 5 ways to wellbeing and more nature into your life? Sign up to our monthly newsletter here or go to our News and Activities webpage to read our previous issues.

Matt’s Mushroom Meanderings

Let me take you on a walk through some of the mushrooms I have seen over the last few months. Some of them have been on volunteer days and others whilst I’ve just been out and about.

I already knew a few from previous fungi foray’s I’ve been on but I used the FREE app ‘Shroomify’ (https://shroomify-mushroom-id.en.aptoide.com/app) to ID a few of these – it has a really useful key you can use to determine what you’re looking at.

iSpot is also very good for getting an ID on alll things naturey – https://www.ispotnature.org/

This is the first one I found of the year in Ecclesall Woods – a Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum). These next few were also found there.

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)
Amethyst deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)

The classic Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), these were found near Grindleford.

A common conecap (Conocybe tenera) found at the Rother Rec in Chesterfield on a volunteer day. These next ones were also found on the same day.

Shaggy Scaly Cap (Pholiota squarrosa)
Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)
Fairies Bonnets (Coprinellus disseminatus)
We think this might be Butter Cap (Rhodocollybia butyraceae)

Tawny Funnel Cap (Lepista flaccida)

Collared Earth Stars (Geastrum triplex) in the woodland next to where the Rivers Hipper and Rother confluence
Small staghorn (Calocera cornea) at Blackamoor
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) found at Crookes Valley Park
From oyster mushrooms to osyterlings (Crepidotus variabilis)
Shaggy Inkcaps (Coprinus comatus)
Shaggy Inkcap Linguine

Inspired by a squid ink pasta dish i had in Madrid a few years ago, I decided to make these Shaggy Inkcaps into a linguine. I would only reccomend eating mushrooms if you’re certain you know what they are. These grow on the grass out the back of where I live every year.

I also left one of the inkcaps in a bowl over night and they dissolve into ink – hense their name. Here’s a few paintings I did with them…

Elfin Saddles (Helvella crispa). There were lots of these found along Sheffield canal

These are witch’s hat (Hygrocybe conica), found on Anthony’s lawn!

Golden Spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) found near High Bradfield

Weir’s the Weir gone?

Here at Don Catchment Rivers Trust we have a mission of protecting and restoring rivers in the Don Catchment – this not only includes the Don, but the Dearne and Rother too.

Over the last ten years, we have had a focus on restoring the rivers as a habitat for fish, particularly migrating fish such as salmon. Historically, dozens of weirs were built across rivers to divert water to mills and factories, but this created an ‘obstacle course’ for fish that were unable to swim up and across the weirs. The weirs also fragmented habitats, prevented fish from reaching their spawning grounds, and altered the natural processes a river should have.

Image shows Kelham Island Weir, Sheffield (centre of image, left of the bridge) diverting water from the River Don into an artificial channel called a ‘goit’ above it. This water would have originally powered a water wheel.

Since the trust formed, we have built seven fish pass solutions on weirs along the Don. But we have never had an opportunity to actually remove a weir until recently.

Fish passes can be built on weirs that cannot be removed, such as here at Masbrough Weir in Rotherham. © DCRT

That opportunity arose as part of our Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project at Slitting Mill Weir on the river Rother. The river around Staveley has been altered a lot over the decades to meet the needs of industry – it has been straightened and de-meandered. The original Slitting Mill Weir was several hundred years old, and as the name suggests fed water to the nearby slitting mill, which slit metal bars into rods, to be passed on to other local mills making nails. We know that the Weir was heavily altered, possibly rebuilt using original stones, around the 1950s for the nearby chemical works. Since the works closed the weir has had no use, but remained in the river as a barrier to fish and other wildlife.

Slitting Mill Weir – this weir was once used to divert water to power the nearby mill, but now does not have a function. Weirs such as this are too steep for migrating fish to jump and swim across, so they prevent access to spawning grounds making it impossible for populations to sustain themselves in the river. © DCRT

So, in October, after about two years preparation to get the appropriate permits and planning permission the weir was removed. We understand that this can be quite a sad sight for people who appreciate built heritage, as do we, but the weir was not listed and ultimately we need to right some historical wrongs – all the weirs in the catchment were man-made structures that led to the decimation of the natural environment.

To remove the weir, a small section is first removed to allow the water on either side to level up. At Slitting Mill Weir the impoundment was so large this took 3 hours! After this excavators can remove the rest of the material and even out the bed levels. © DCRT

The weir was removed by using an excavator and the beautiful local cut stone from the crest was salvaged for use by the estate. We opted to leave the stones acting as bank protection in place to serve as a reminder of where the weir used to be. Now, the water level upstream of the weir has returned to a more natural level, and given time the river should start to heal from it’s impoundment.

The river after Slitting Mill Weir was removed, looking upstream. You can see from the banks how far the water levels have dropped – nature will soon repair the bare banks. © DCRT

So, what’s next? Well the team and our citizen science volunteers have been carrying out base line monitoring of the invertebrates in this stretch of the river, so that we can see what impact removing the weir has. We’ll carry on with the post-removal sampling, and will produce our first comparison report in about a years time.

Out team of citizen scientists at work checking on a sample for invertebrates. Currently our samples are consistent with still water or ponds, but now that the weir is gone and the river can flow more naturally we hope to see a change for the better in future samples. © DCRT

Also, now that the water level has dropped, quite a lot of abandoned tyres have revealed themselves! We’ll organise some clean up days once the spring arrives with some dryer weather, and the Covid-19 restrictions allow larger groups to gather.

There’s always a job to do! We’ll make a plan for getting these unsightly tyres removed. Where do they all come from?! © DCRT

There are still more barriers to tackle and habitats to improve on the Rother to allow fish to move up and down the river. Other organisations are working on improvements through the ‘River Rother Restoration’ project, so we hope to see more action soon!

This plan of the River Rother shows the major barriers (red dots) that need a fish passage solution. [to be updated shortly with a green dot for Slitting Mill and Masbrough in Rotherham.] © DCRT

Sinister stories and tragic tales of the Don Catchment

Read our collection of forgotten folklore, tragic tales and sinister stories from the riverside. Dare you visit?

The Ghost of the Ship Inn

Sheffield’s Ship Inn, found in Shalesmoor near the river Don, was very nearly destroyed by the terrible flood of 1864, caused when Dale Dyke dam burst it’s banks. The disaster tragically killed hundreds of people and devestated the city and beyond.

A plaque outside the Ship Inn states “During the Sheffield Flood of 1864 two seamen drowned without a trace in the secret tunnels beneath the inn. These tunnels led to the river and sightings of a ghost is believed to be one of these men”.

Where are the tunnels from the story? Many of Sheffield’s rivers flow under tunnel-like culverts which allowed the city to be built atop it’s rivers, the most well-known being the Megatron that flows under the railway station. Another idea is the men may have been smugglers, using tunnels specifically built to carry goods to and from the pub.

The Sheffield 1864 Flood Memorial by the River Don

A Ghost Story from the Moss Valley,
written by Celia Jackson

It seems that Never Fear Dam was so named since at least 1795 due to a local tale that a group of sicklemakers from the nearby village of Ridgeway were walking home through some woods beside the dam one night (this could have been Twelve Acre Wood off the woods on Bower Cinder Hill) when they saw a ghost coming towards them. They were horrified but the ghost, which on passing them, spoke to the men, saying “Never Fear” as it disappeared into the darkness.

In my imagination I often think of the ghost as a lady draped in grey, uttering with a sing-song voice the words “ Never Fear, Never Fear” to the rowdy sicklemakers, in a reassuring manner!

The source of my information immediately to hand is a paragraph in a small booklet entitled “The Waterwheels of Ridgeway & Hackenthorpe” written by the, I believe, deceased local historian T. L. Platts, known locally as Leslie Platts. Also I am certain that I read the original story in a book written by Sir George Sitwell of Renishaw Hall – this book entitled “Tales of my Native Village”. I remember this book, written I believe in the 19th Century, beautifully bound and illustrated. This was about thirty or forty years ago!

Regional explanation
It is very damp around Never Fear Dam and perhaps the sicklemakers of ridgeway on their way home may have encountered and wraith of mist or low cloud traveling through the woodland. Could it be that it being night time they may have imbibed over generously at the hostelries within Eckington, who knows, they could also have been exhausted after a long hard day of labour. Still it makes a good story, and in the middle of the Moss Valley, it would have been an eerie and spine-chilling experience.

The Tragedy of Bell Pond

Taken from the 1850 book ‘Sprotbrough’, author John George Fardell describes a sinister-feeling pond near the river Don and how it got it’s name…

“Its character now is distinctly marked. It is without form, if not void; amid a confusion of shapes; mysterious, amid a brood of mysteries. Its waters know no current – they are mute, motionless, death-like, fearful; they are deep and appalling, but contain the soul of hidden mysteries; they are surrounded by a host of goodly trees, which have undergone no change from generation to generation; they are peculiar in their character; they are strangers among strangers, yet faithful to their purpose; they are aged among the aged, yet bid defiance to storm or hurricane; they are safely anchored to the banks by countless cables, gnarled and twisted and tough. Indeed the pond possesses the same reputation as a haunted house; and therefore the inference may be drawn that some historic deed, some adventure, some misfortune, is associated with Bell Pond”.

The author continues explaining the misfortune of Bell pond. In 1685 an orphan, Isabella Dumas, came to Sprotbrough, described as adorned with surpassing beauty and loveliness. She fell in love with the youngest son of a Catholic family and married him, renouncing her protestant beliefs and embracing a new faith. In so doing she lost all her old friends and shortly after her lover, in the Navy, lost his life. Having lost everything, she found refuge with a local family, but her days were written to be full of sadness and anguish, as she wandered Conisbrough forest alone…

“At length she was missing; instant search was made for her in every conceivable direction, and by every available means. ‘Twas all in vain. In the course of short time, however, the secret was laid open. She had drowned herself in Bell Pond. Her corpse was taken from it’s hiding place and immediately interred, without inscription or headstone in the churchyard at Sprotbrough. From that mournful period these dark waters bore the name of Isabelle Pond…”

Sacrifices to the Don

Sheffield folklore expert, Dr David Clarke, suggests that in the medieval era the river Don had it’s own nursery rhyme:

The shelving, slimy river Dun
Each year a daughter or a son.

Perhaps this sinister sounding couplet refers to young children accidentally falling into the dangerous river’s currents. Alternatively, 19th-century historian Joseph Hunter suggested that the rhyme may have referred to human sacrifice. In fact, there is a theory that human sacrifice is referenced to in another, more well-known, children’s rhyme (this time the setting is the river Thames):

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

There are many theories for the meaning of this old song, but according to Alice Bertha Gomme, a leading British folklorist, the song and accompanying game (where two children trap another in between them) could refer to human sacrifice. There are theories that the practise of entombing children alive in bridge’s foundations may have occurred throughout the UK, where people may have once believed bridges would collapse without this horrifying ritual.

A draining experience!

In this guest blog we hear from DCRT volunteer Antony Meadows, who talks about drain covers and what they can reveal about our catchment’s industrial history

Since I began volunteering with DCRT, I’ve found many interesting objects along the river banks and woodland areas where we have been litter picking. I’ve written before about the bricks I’ve found from many different manufacturers and the pottery finds that have been unearthed. This time, though, my attention has been drawn to something else we can
see every day but ordinarily we would take little notice of – the humble drain cover.

I’m rather later to this particular party; there has already been a book called ‘Drainspotting’ published devoted to Sheffield drain covers, but it inspired me to pay more attention to these useful objects that are all around us. When we are picking up litter from the riverside we are naturally looking down, and I found myself noticing the names written on the drain covers we all see on pavements and in the gutters. Many of these features appear rather old bearing names that have long since disappeared; equally there are many modern fixtures too (often these have no manufacturers name, or have an Internet address which dates it quite easily as a modern product).

Once I got interested I began to photograph as many as I could in my local area and beyond. Most prominent are covers from Guest and Chrimes of Rotherham, Stanton and Staveley (later Stanton plc), and Thomas Dudley. These three manufacturers I would say are nationally known and are probably found all over the country. The first two are – or were – local firms of course so I’d expect to find a lot of their covers around here. I’ve also found manufacturers from Stockport, Kilmarnock, York, Model Foundry Ferrybridge, Sheffield (Charlton Ironworks), and Elsecar. Only a couple of streets from my house I’ve found 4 or 5 different foundry names in one street alone, and that’s in a 1970s estate!

As well as the larger manufacturers I’ve also been lucky enough to find some much more local makers, and these will date back many years, possible a hundred in some cases. I’ve found one inscribed DR Hall, Iron Founder, Worksop, and one S Hall, Maker, Worksop. Presumably this is the same company with different family members in charge, or local rivals!

Apparently in the past local builders would have their names cast into drain covers next to the houses they’d built and I’ve found a couple of examples of those too (easily photographed from the pavement I hasten to add)! Other local manufacturers I’ve found are T Burnett and Co Doncaster (I believe they made railway wagons too), Markham and Co Chesterfield, Park Foundry Co Chesterfield, and slightly further afield, Naylor Bros Denby Dale. I was surprised to discover that some firms I had thought might have disappeared are still in existence albeit with slightly different names now.

Markham & Co of Chesterfield held a huge ironworks alongside the River Rother and manufactured tunneling equipment, mining equipement and even trains. In the early 1900s the works would have used waterwheels on the river Rother to power the ironworks machinery.

I’ve found this to be quite a fascinating subject though it might not appear so to most people! At one level it’s opening up another aspect of local and national history, not only how we began to improve sanitation for the benefit of all of us and helping eradicate disease, but highlighting local industries that I hadn’t been aware of. I hadn’t thought there had been an
iron foundry in Worksop for example. I hope it inspires you to look for some examples yourselves: I’m sure there are loads more out there!

Here are just a few of the names I’ve found over the past few months as they appear on the drain covers : Guest and Chrimes Rotherham; Glynwed Brickhouse; Thomas Dudley Ltd; SCWW (Sheffield Corporation Water Works); Dudley & Dowell Ltd, Crawley Heath, Staffs; Model Foundry Co, Ferrybridge; Charlton, Sheffield; Rock Mill Supplies, Sheffield; John Needham & Sons Ltd, Stockport; Glenfield & Kennedy Limited, Kilmarnock; The Beeley Fndy Ltd, Carbrook St, Sheffield; Adams Ltd, York; Naylor Bros Derby Dale; J Davy & Co, Elsecar Foundry; Stanton & Staveley; Ham Baker & Co Engineers,Westminster SW.

Water & Wildlife – A farm NFM Scheme

September has been a busy month for our natural flood management (NFM) work with an exciting new farm scheme now well and truly underway. We have been working together with the landowner to create nine scrapes (shallow, temporary ponds), two field corner ponds, and a floodplain meadow. Arable fields are also being transformed to more diverse mixes.

An early morning view across what will become the floodplain meadow with one of the nine newly created scrapes on show

It’s not been an easy ride with having to navigate the weather and a very busy time for the farmer with harvesting but we’ve achieved a lot with the help of our wonderful volunteers and been treated to close encounters with a family of buzzards, glimpses of kingfishers, regular heron sightings and flashes of bullfinch and yellowhammer. All of the newly created features should help to capture and slow down the rate of rainwater and runoff entering the River Rother which runs through the farm at the same time as boosting wildlife habitat (more details on this below). Though this project alone is unlikely to have a noticeable impact on reducing flood risk, it’s part of a wider scheme of projects throughout the catchment that cumulatively will help to capture more water and slow flows, allowing more time to prepare for flood events and reducing their severity. There’s more work to be done on the farm but we’re already very much looking forward to seeing how it all develops and will keep you posted!

DCRT Volunteers hand sowing the floodplain meadow

Scrapes & field corner ponds

We’ve created nine scrapes of varying shapes and sizes in the floodplain of the farm. These are shallow depressions that hold rain or floodwater acting as temporary stores. They are often wet through winter months and can dry up completely during dry spells. Scrapes create great habitat for invertebrates which can in turn attract various bird species including waders such as lapwing and snipe.

A scrape in the making

Two ponds have been formed in the corners of an arable field that was too waterlogged to be cultivated. These will create more wetland habitat on the farm as well as further storage for rainfall and runoff. Sediment carried into the ponds with runoff will settle out in to the bottom, preventing it from polluting the river.

Floodplain meadow

This project aims to establish a roughly 2 ha floodplain meadow, a habitat which has largely been lost from our countryside. Seed collected from floodplain meadows in the Lower Derwent Valley Special Area of Conservation just outside York was hand sown by a team of volunteers. The seed mix included a wide variety of grasses, wildflowers, sedges and rushes and will create another important habitat for insects and birds. The longer vegetation also causes more resistance to rainfall and runoff as it travels through the landscape further helping to slow flows.

DCRT volunteer Mr Meadows creating his namesake

Diverse herbal Ley

Two fields on the farm have been sown with a mix of grasses, herbs and legumes. These herbal leys can help deliver a whole range of benefits. They provide more resources for pollinators compared with a traditional crop such as barley, for example. They can also help to improve the condition of the soil so that it can absorb more rainwater, preventing it from running straight off, and require fewer fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides reducing the amount of water and pollutants being washed into the river.

Next up….Hedgerows!

Over autumn and winter we’ll be working to improve some of the existing hedgerows on the farm as well as planting a new one. Further details on this to come!

This project is funded by the Severn Trent Water Boost for Biodiversity fund.

River Rother Well Dressing

What is well dressing?

Well dressing is an ancient calendar custom in Derbyshire, first documented in Chesterfield in 1864 when the town decorated the market place water pump during a very dry summer. However, it’s thought the custom of dressing wells began long before this with, some historians suggesting Roman and Pagan origins before it’s use in Christian churches. Like many of the UK’s calendar customs, the tradition over time died out, but was revived in Chesterfield in 1991 and has continued ever since.

The dressings are created on wooden boards which are soaked for several days in water. Traditionally local village ponds and even rivers were used to soak the boards, which once soaked were pulled out to be coated in clay. Once the clay is smoothed the design can be applied and is outlined onto the clay. We used peppercorns for our outline, but traditionally locals would have foraged alder cones from riverside trees. The shapes are then carefully filled with layers of natural materials such as petals, eggs shells, seeds and leaves. Decorating the well dressing feels wonderfully eco-friendly, with materials sustainably foraged from gardens and wild spaces.

The beautiful creations are ephemeral in nature, often only lasting a week or two before the clay dries and cracks & the petals wilt and discolour.

The River Rother Well Dressing

A result of restrictions in events and social distancing, the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams team sent out mini-well dressing kits to twelve families, or bubbles, in Chesterfield & Sheffield.

With just a week to design and create their masterpieces we were so impressed with the beautiful dressings returned! Why not flick through our gallery to admire the detail of each one.

Together the individual well dressings show a colourful picture of a leaping Atlantic Salmon, to celebrate the salmon found in the River Rother earlier this year and the ecological recovery of the river, once considered the most polluted in Europe.

A huge thank you to all the people and families who got involved, Geoff Bell from Men in Sheds for creating the wooden boards and frame, and to Tapton Lock Activity Centre for hosting the display. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project.

Our new Project Assistant!

In this blog we hear from our Environmental Conservation Apprentice Anthony, on finishing his training and starting his new role, Project Assistant, at the Trust. Congratulations Anthony!

Hi, I’m Anthony and I have worked for DCRT for almost 3 years now. During my time with the Trust, I’ve worked on the Living Heritage of the River Don project and I’m currently working on the Hidden Heritage, Secret Streams project, both funded by the National Lottery. Over this time I’ve completed my Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeship in Environmental Conservation. This month I move onto my new role as Project Assistant, so thought it would be a good time to reflect on my time as an apprentice with the Trust.

Me on my first ever volunteer day with the Don Catchment Rivers Trust – I soon passed my driving test and was able to drive the van!

My first day was in October 2017 when I started working on the Living Heritage of the River Don Project. I helped to run volunteer days along the Don Valley Way, a walking route along the River Don, that I would later be managing my own volunteer activities on. I also worked at several community events to promote our project and recruit new volunteers. Completing my level 2 apprenticeship provided me with lots of transferable skills to help me with my future career in the environmental sector. It gave me both useful qualifications and extremely valuable experience in the sector.

While completing my Level 2 I learnt how to treat invasive plant species such as Himalayan Balsam, gained a ticket to use a brush cutter and acquired a first aid certificate. These qualifications and skills are just a few of the many I acquired at the Trust to help me gain employment in the environmental sector.

Removing the invasive species, Himalayan Balsam

At the end of the project there was an opportunity for me to apply to do a higher level apprenticeship with the DCRT. This was working on the new lottery project based on the River Rother, Hidden Heritage, Secret Streams. I was succesful and started my next apprenticeship, where I worked on and ran volunteer days, conducted plant surveys, gained a chainsaw qualification and created interpretive media to promote the Trust. It gave me the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and improve my leadership and volunteer management skills.

Anthony working at an event in Chesterfield

The past three years have allowed me to gain both the practical and theoretical skills I need to be able to take up the Project Assistant role. Without my apprenticeship it would have been incredibly difficult to get a job in the environmental sector, so I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and for the help of everyone at the Don Catchment Rivers Trust. I’m looking forward to my new role and continuing to work with our fantastic volunteers and my colleagues.

DCRT volunteer Dan and Anthony, on his final day as an apprentice

Want to work in Conservation?
In 2021 DCRT will offer two work experience placements to students in Chesterfield (aged 16-18 years). Students will have the opportunity to gain valuable and diverse experience in the conservation sector, including:
* Working outdoors and in rivers
* Protecting nature and inspiring others to help
* Experience working with a team
* Representing the Trust at community events
* Training opportunties and office skills
Want to know more? Email info@dcrt.org.uk