A collaborative approach to ensuring effective fish passes on the Don

We have been seeing concrete evidence of Salmon successfully returning to the Don catchment after 150-years since they disappeared from our waterways. Considering approximately £14 million has been spent over the last 20-years to improve fish passage within the Don, this is a great success story for all those that have been involved and everyone living within the catchment.

Part of the success has been down to the 17-fish passes that have allowed a variety of species to ascend otherwise impassable weirs – relics of our industrial past. Fish passes within the Don catchment are in a somewhat unique situation where by there are multiple stakeholders (nine in total) that own weirs – including the fish passes that occupy them. It is also the responsibility of the fish pass owner to maintain these structures to ensure they are operating at maximal capacity all year round, particularly during our busy spring and autumn migration seasons.

Due to the nature of man-made structures being within a tempestuous river system, high flood waters can often cause organic (trees, branches, sediment and rocky debris) and non-organic (litter and large derbis) material to partially or fully block the fish pass channels.

If properly maintained, in theory, anadromous (sea to river) and potadromous (within river) migrating fish species should be able to reach appropriate spawning habitats Beeley Woods in Sheffield. A study showed that even if there was a 10% reduction in the effectiveness of our fish passes, the cumulative effect would be that species would have a 50% chance of reaching habitats upstream of Blackburn Meadows. Given the improvements in water quality and spawning habitat availability upstream of the city centre, this is quite significant if we are looking to see a successful breeding population of Atlantic salmon in our waters once again.

Given the variation between organisations that own fish passes, a pilot project has been set up to ensure involved parties have or are able to access the skills and knowledge needed to properly inspect and maintain their assets, with some beneficial results…

Having engaged the majority of stakeholders, quarterly meeting have been arranged to discuss maintenance best practise, updates from recent inspections/clearances and future ideas of how fish passes can be adequately maintained going forward. Also, a collaborative approach to monthly inspections has been organised, whereby the River Stewardship Company, Yorkshire Water and Don Catchment Rivers Trust share the responsibility, meaning individuals are making less trips per year and blockages are being effectively recorded.

Steelbank Fish Pass – Blocked in 2020 after high flood waters

It is hoped that this approach can be replicated elsewhere in the catchment as well as other catchments in the Yorkshire region.

For more information on this project please contact Matt Duffy (fishery habitat officer) via matt.duffy@dcrt.org.uk

2021’s River Round-up

After starting the new year in the midst of another lockdown, we weren’t sure what to imagine for 2021 at DCRT, but we have found ourselves ending the year on a real high after a jam-packed programme of riverside events.

Wading, splashing, paddling – we’ve loved being back outside with you all on volunteer days and at our community events. A huge thank you to those volunteers who joined and fed back on our initial volunteer trial-days as lockdown ended – and a very warm welcome to those that have recently joined the team again after many hard months of shielding.

So what did DCRT get up to in 2021?

Even with the lockdown halting volunteer days until the spring, and limited group sizes thereafter, DCRT volunteers contributed a whopping 1605 hours to cleaning up our rivers, removal of invasive species, surveying freshwater invertebrates and restoring riverside habitat this year.

88 volunteers have been trained in beginner’s botany, fungi identification, meadow-surveying, bird-surveying, hedge-laying and underwater film-work. Several volunteers also helped to research, write and record audio guides for our new walking trails in Chesterfield. Bird nest boxes were built by our volunteer team and installed in the Rother Washlands, which were monitored over the breeding season, and we’ve begun monthly bird surveys at Wardsend Cemetery in Sheffield.

We’ve worked hard to ‘slow the flow’ and improve flood resilience through NFM (natural flood management) in the catchment.

  • Volunteers have built more than 30 leaky barriers of different shapes and sizes along tributaries of the Moss Brook in Newfield Spring Wood, and the Holme Brook in Holmebrook Valley Park.
  • Farmland along the Rother has seen further measures introduced to hold back runoff and boost wildlife habitat with the planting of 160m of new hedgerow and removal of large areas of the invasive Himalayan Balsam thanks to our wonderful volunteers.
  • 250 trees have been planted by volunteers in Rotherham in partnership with Rotherham Council, with more on the way in January.
  • The public have sent in 15 photos as part of our fixed point photography project to help us monitor the landscape at Grassmoor Country Park, where we plan to start a very exciting Natural Flood Management scheme soon!
  • We’ve been working in partnership with National Highways to support the delivery of a natural flood management pilot project in the Little Don catchment. The project aims to explore whether natural flood management can be part of the solution to highway flooding and will involve improved soil aeration, tree planting, leaky barriers and storage ponds!

And what about river restoration? Woody debris has been installed on the river Hipper in Somersall park to create new micro-habitats in the river for fish and help restore a more natural flow to our post-industrial rivers. DCRT now have a Fisheries Officer in post, Matt Duffy, who will be working to improve the fishery across the catchment and keep an eye on the returning Atlantic salmon.

As restrictions lifted we were able to deliver our River Guardian’s educational sessions to schools and uniformed groups and have taught a total of 404 children this year, with activities including well-dressing, earthworm surveys, bat-walks, river-dipping and bug-hunting!

We worked with 3 groups of young people this year by partnering up with Chesterfield College, Catch-22 and the National Citizen Service programme. We supported 16 young people with special educational needs and disabilities on a week-long volunteer programme with us.  Our community engagement partner Kakou also delivered a computer-tech project working with young people with special educational needs, who created a new riverside walking trail and an amazing online game for us! We’ve also really enjoyed working with students from Sheffield Hallam University, FLOD, on their incredible enterprise placement creating eco plant-pots out of river litter.

It was a joy to bring back our community events this year and over the summer holidays, we welcomed 79 children and parents to our Brook Explorer events. Families joined us to sew memory squares, go boat-racing, river-dip and hunt for mini-beasts! A real treat was the volunteer summer celebration picnic in Queen’s Park, where at last we got together as a big group to celebrate our volunteer team’s achievements.

From foraging to bat-detecting to industrial nature, we’ve led 7 exciting walks by the riverside this year, and during the lockdown, we hosted a fantastic series of 5 online talks about river heritage and conservation – thanks to those who joined the discussion!


And finally, we were delighted to welcome 3 new staff members to DCRT this year: Jenny Palmer our Agricultural Officer, Erika Phoenix our new Catchment Host Officer and Beckie Fulton our new Project Assistant. We are so proud of our growing team!

A huge thank you to all our funders and supporters for making this year possible.

Treasure-hunting in the River Hipper

The research from this blog was found out by young people from Chesterfield College taking part in the Autumn National Citizen Service with the DCRT team. The young people volunteered for a full week of social action with the DCRT team, helping to make bird boxes, clean out the river, manage wetland vegetation, taking a boat trip on the John Varley II and kick-sampling for invertebrates.

They also spent some time mudlarking for river treasure and researching the history of their finds. Read on to find out what they discovered.

What is Mudlarking? Treasure-hunting for old artefacts on the riverbank. The everyday items lost to the river can reveal what life was like in the past – a form of industrial archaeology.

What we found:
Below are some of the pieces the group found in the river Hipper during their mudlarking session. The abundance of pottery fragments may be due to the many Brampton potteries that used to surround the river here in the Victorian Era.

Artefact one: Pottery fragment

After investigating this fragment it was discovered it was an old piece of a water filter, used to filter drinking water, made in England era 1880. Water filters became commonplace in victorian Britain after cholera epidemics were linked to dirty water.

Artefact two: Old pewter tankard

This pewter tankard with a lion handle was found in Chesterfield a few years ago, but we’ve never before known its history. An inscription reads the date 1957 (Feb 26th) and the words ‘professor and ‘marriage’. Perhaps a wedding gift?

Artefact three: A piece of ceramic pottery

This piece of ceramic pottery was found by the young people in the river Hipper during their week with us. Their research into the logo on the piece dated it between 1909-1912, made in Stoke-on-Trent. The volunteers think it is a piece of plate or the bottom of a teapot. Stoke-on-Trent was famous for its ceramics and bone china during this period of time.

Artefact four: A clay pipe

This clay pipe was found by our volunteer Chris Davies many years ago in Rotherham’s River Don and kindly donated to DCRT. The students investigating it found the inscription ‘Dublin’ on the pipe, suggesting it was imported from Ireland. They dated it to the 19th century based on the shape and length of the stem. Production of clay pipes dwindled in the 20th century as cigarettes became available.

Climate Change and Our Rivers

In this latest blog we hear from DCRT Project Assistant, Beckie Fulton, on Climate Change and the impact on our rivers.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is a hot topic in the news this week as more than 190 world leaders gather in Glasgow, Scotland for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). The summit aims to bring together world leaders, negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens to discuss what actions can be taken to accelerate towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change⁽¹⁾.

Climate change is the long-term shift in weather patterns and global temperatures. Geological records show that these shifts can occur naturally. However, since the 1800s, human activities such as burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, has exponentially increased greenhouse gas emissions and is the main driver of modern-day climate change⁽²⁾. Greenhouse gases include Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Water Vapour and Fluorinated Gases (which are synthetic). These greenhouse gases act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth and trap in all the heat which normally escapes back into space. Over time this leads to an increase in global temperatures, since the late 1800’s greenhouse gases have already resulted in the Earth warming by around 1.1°C⁽²⁾.

The latest figures show that on average we are emitting around 51 billion tons of greenhouses gases in a year⁽³⁾. In order to reduce the impacts of climate change (which we are already beginning to see) we need to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and half our emissions by 2030. This was agreed by international science committees as it would limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C, which will help us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and maintain a liveable climate⁽²⁾. Reaching these targets will be incredibly hard. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, when the world and economy came to a halt and millions lost their lives, greenhouse gas emissions only reduced by around 5%, which means we emitted 48-49 billion tons instead of 51 billion tons⁽³⁾. Thinking about this makes it hard to imagine how we will ever manage to reach our net-zero emissions goal by 2050. But we must achieve this, or we will see devastating changes to our natural world before the end of the century.

How will climate change impact our rivers?

Now we have discussed what climate change is and the seriousness of the situation, let’s talk about how climate change will impact our rivers. The main ways climate change will impact our rivers are: flooding, drought, water quality and ecosystems.

Flooding and Drought

Flooding and drought are often what people first think about when asked how climate change will impact our rivers. As mentioned earlier climate change is the long-term shift in weather patterns and global temperatures. Firstly, rising temperatures increases both evaporation from land and water surfaces. As a result of shifting weather patterns, there can be prolonged periods of time with no/ minimal rainfall. The combination of these two factors results in severe and long droughts.

Rotherham during the 2007 Floods (credit – Chris Bilton)

Also, warmer air can hold more water vapour and in addition to increasing rates of evaporation more extreme rainfall events are triggered – this means greater volumes of water falling at higher intensities.⁽⁴̛ ⁵⁾. Rainfall intensity depends on how much water vapour the air can hold; research suggests that the air can hold 7% more water vapour for every 1°C rise in temperature⁽⁶⁾. Rain that falls during these intense events does not have the chance to soak into soils but rushes straight off increasing surface runoff, particularly in compacted soils or soils damaged by drought. This means that the rainwater will reach the rivers faster, and as the rivers do not have the capacity to store all this sudden extra water, it causes a flood. As climate change continues to worsen, we will start to feel the impacts as flooding and drought events increase in both frequency and severity.

Water Quality

Another impact of climate change that we will see in our rivers is a change in water quality. This aspect links into the flooding and droughts that we will experience. When extreme rainfall occurs after a drought it will lead to an increase in soil erosion and will also transport any harmful chemicals, from pesticides or herbicides, that have accumulated on the top soil into our rivers⁽⁴⁾. It will also wash into the river toxic chemicals that build up on warm roads during dry weather ⁽⁵⁾. Washing toxic chemicals into our rivers can have a devastating impact on the plants and animals that live there. These chemicals could make the river uninhabitable for species of fish and plants, which in turn will decrease the biodiversity in our rivers. Not only will this harm our biodiversity, but these toxic chemicals can also be washed into our fresh water supplies that we use for drinking water.

Another way in which the water quality of our rivers will decrease is through sewage pollution. During intense rainfall excessive storm waters become a big problem for sewage disposal. The sudden increase in water levels cause overflows at the sewage treatment plants and the raw sewage enters our rivers through combined sewer overflows (CSOs)⁽⁵⁾. As with the toxic chemicals from run off, this sewage pollution will decrease water quality and have harmful effects on our wildlife. CSOs are already discharging outside of extreme weather conditions and changes are starting to happen to address this but with climate change increasing the frequency of high-intensity rainfalls and storms and CSO discharge as a result, much more needs to be done to prevent this form of pollution. More on this is available here.

Ecosystems

Our rivers are freshwater ecosystems and climate change is impacting these systems not just by altering the temperatures but also by changing water flows regimes. Flow regimes are patterns in flow variability such as long-term monthly and annual means and high and low flows⁽⁷⁾. Research has shown that changes in these flow regimes (as a result of climate change) will have a large impact on our freshwater ecosystems⁽⁸̛ ⁹⁾. Such impacts include the lower water column depth on the spawning of salmon and impacts of reduced runoff on breeding grounds for water birds ⁽¹⁰⁾. Another impact to our rivers ecosystem in the UK is invasive species. Recent research indicated that climate change will raise river water temperatures and may promote higher Signal Crayfish performance in the future, which will further enhance the ecological impacts this invasive species is already having⁽¹¹⁾.

What can we do?

Although the climate change situation may seem bleak, it is not too late to make changes and limit the impacts we will start to see in the coming decades. There are two main ways we can do this: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves actively tackling the issue of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whereas adaptation involves developing measures to help limit the impacts of climate change.

Mitigation

The Rivers Trust is currently doing amazing work to help lower greenhouse gas emissions for everyone. There are 4 main ways Rivers Trust’s are doing this across the UK:

  1. Planting trees – As I’m sure many of you know trees take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps reduce the amount on greenhouse gases, thus helping to reduce warming. Local Rivers Trusts planted 300,391 trees in 2020⁽¹²⁾.
  2. Saving Soil – Soil has the ability to store carbon. This ability is maximised when the soil is healthy. The Rivers Trust is working with landowners and famers to make their soil healthy to maximise their soils ability to hold carbon⁽¹²⁾.
  3. Water Quality – By cleaning up our rivers and removing pollution from the water we are reducing the amount of energy that is required to clean it before it enters our homes and businesses. 630 water quality improvements and pollution events were dealt with by The Rivers Trust in 2020⁽¹²⁾.
  4. Creating and Restoring Wetlands – 90% of wetland habitats have been lost in the UK in the last 100 years. Wetlands are important for biodiversity but also important for tackling climate change, as they can store huge amounts of carbon. As well as this they act as a natural filter to remove specific nutrients that can cause problems downstream such as algal blooms. Local Rivers Trusts created and restored a total of 62 wetlands in 2020⁽¹²⁾.

Adaptation

As mentioned previously the frequency and severity of events such as flooding will increase as a result of climate change. However, there are ways in which we can try to minimise the impact these events have on our local communities. There are 3 main ways The Rivers Trust is aiming to adapt to climate change

  1. Natural Flood Management (NFM) – As climate change worsens our floods, we cannot keep just building bigger and bigger flood defences. NFM is using natural processes to help reduce the impact of flooding by capturing and slowing the flow of water through the landscape before it reaches the main river network. This includes a whole range of measures including soil management, tree planting and wetland creation. Many of you have helped us install leaky dams too, another technique that is used in the upper catchment to slow the flow of flood waters into the main rivers. Holding this water back for a period of time will allow the main river to deal with the extra input of water better. Additionally, leaky dams can push water onto the surrounding flood plains and allow it the time it needs to infiltrate the soil, work through the ground and recharge underground aquifers that we use for drinking water, that run low during droughts. Scour pools created downstream of leaky dams can also become vital refuges for wildlife during the drier summer months.  In 2020, 248 NFM schemes were put in place by local Rivers Trusts⁽¹²⁾.

  2. Improving Connectivity – Connectivity is important at it links habitats together and provides pathways for species to adapt to climate change by altering their distribution. This is why the Rivers Trusts mission to restore our rivers and their connectivity to different habitats is so important⁽¹²⁾.

  3. Cooling Cities – The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect is becoming an increasing problem in the UK due to rising temperatures and more frequent heatwaves⁽¹³⁾. Evaporation from surface water in cities has the ability to create a cooling effect. Research conducted on the River Don, Sheffield showed a mean level of daytime cooling of over 1.5°C above the river in spring, the amount of cooling varied throughout the year, particularly in the summer when water temperatures were higher⁽¹³⁾. The type of urban development that was on the river banks impacted the amount of cooling felt away from the river. The Rivers Trust aims to make sure urban rivers, such as the River Don, are protected to continue this urban cooling effect⁽¹²⁾.
DCRT Volunteers and team creating a Leaky Dam

Rivers Trusts across the UK are working with nature to protect our river ecosystems from the impacts of climate change and environmental damage, but this serious worldwide problem requires a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the switch to clean, reliable energy sources before ecosystems are irreversibly damaged by global warming.

References

⁽¹⁾ United Nations. UN Climate Change Conference (https://www.un.org/en/un-climate-change-conference-cop-26). [Accessed 02/11/2021].

⁽²⁾ United Nations. What is Climate Change? (https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change). [Accessed 02/11/2021].

⁽³⁾ Gates, Bill. (2021) How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.

⁽⁴⁾ Qui, J., Shen, Z., Leng, G. & Wei, G. (2021) Synergistic effect of drought and rainfall events of different patterns on watershed systems. Nature: Scientific Reports. 11:18957.

⁽⁵⁾ UK Rivers Network. Climate change and rivers: a brief introduction. (https://www.ukrivers.net/climate.html) [Accessed 03/11/2021].

⁽⁶⁾ Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. UK rain is going to get heavier. (https://tyndall.ac.uk/news/uk-rain-going-get-heavier/#:~:text=At%201.4%C2%B0C%2D4.6,resulting%20in%20more%20intensified%20rainfall.&text=Further%20intensified%20rainfall%20also%20increases%20risk%20of%20flooding) [Accessed 03/11/2021].

⁽⁷⁾ DÖll, P. & Zhang, J. (2010). Impact of climate change on freshwater ecosystems: a global-scale analysis of ecologically relevant river flow alterations. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 14, 783-799.

⁽⁸⁾ Poff, N. L. & Zimmerman, J. K. H. (2010) Ecological responses to altered flow regimes: a literature review to inform the science and management of environmental flows, Freshwater Biology, 55, 194– 205.

⁽⁹⁾ Matthews, W. J. & Marsh-Matthews, E. (2003) Effects of drought on fish across axes of space, time and ecological complexity, Freshwater Biology, 48, 1232–1253.

⁽¹⁰⁾ Kundzewicz, Z. W., Mata, L. J., Arnell, N. W., Doll, P., Kabat, P., Jimenez, B., Miller, K. A., Oki, T., Sen, Z., & Shiklomanov, I. ´ A. (2007). Freshwater resources and their management. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by: Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden, P. J., and Hanson, C. E., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 173–210.

⁽¹¹⁾ Rodriguez Valido, C. A., Johnson, M. F., Dugdale, S. J., Cutts, V., Fell, H. G., Higgins, E. A., Tarr, S., Templey, C. M. & Algar, A. C. (2020). Thermal sensitivity of feeding and burrowing activity of an invasive crayfish in UK waters. Ecohydrology, 14(1), doi: 10.1002/eco.2258.

⁽¹²⁾ The Rivers Trust. Rivers can help us cope with the climate crisis. (https://www.theriverstrust.org/key-issues/climate-change). [Accessed 03/22/2021]

⁽¹³⁾ Hathway, E. A. & Sharples, S. (2012). The interaction of rivers and urban form in mitigating the Urban Heat Island effect: A UK case study. Building and Environment, 58, 14-22.

Kickstarting my new Role at DCRT

In this blog, we hear from DCRT’s Kickstart trainee Beckie Fulton, who is now moving on to a role as Project Assistant on the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project.

In April 2021, I jumped at the opportunity to become DCRT’s Young Persons Conservation Assistant. Although I had no previous experience in conservation and only some knowledge of hydrology that was years old, I knew that I couldn’t pass up on this job. DCRT’s mission “To conserve, protect, rehabilitate and improve the Rivers Don, Dearne and Rother and the associated non-tidal and tidal systems that might influence their fauna, flora, water quality and hydrology.” Whilst also engaging and educating the local communities on how to protect and love their rivers again really sparked by interest. As I grew up loving nature and the natural world, I knew that this position would allow me to follow this passion and also continue to learn more than I could during my time at university.

The position was only a six-month temporary position, funded by the Government’s Kickstart scheme. I knew that these six months would pass really fast and I would need to take every opportunity possible to learn as much as I could in the short time period. I had the chance to do so many things that I honestly won’t have time to mention them all, but the main highlights for me were being able to work with:

Schools and Youth Groups

One of the main parts of my role involved going into schools to help in the delivery of lessons and activities that taught young people about rivers, the return of the salmon and NFM. Working with young people in schools across the catchment and delivering river guardian sessions to sea cadets and beavers was one of the main highlights for me. I have always wanted to teach as part of my career goals, as I believe it is important to inspire the next generation and teach them how they can help save their planet. So, getting to do this as part of my role with DCRT was incredible. I was so surprised to find how much they already knew at such a young age – far more than I did when I was that young. I think this is a great thing because it shows that our message is getting across and the environmental sector is getting more widespread recognition than it has ever done before.

My first time leading a River Guardian session with the Sea Cadets in August

Volunteers                                                                                                                 

Working alongside and supporting DCRT’s amazing team of volunteers has also been one of the highlights of my kickstart position. Volunteering days gave me the opportunity to learn many new skills including kick sampling, meadow and bird surveying, post-installation and waymarking, litter picking and building bird boxes. But the most important thing I learnt came from interacting and talking to the volunteers. All of whom are passionate about our local environment, come from many different backgrounds and were knowledgeable about so many different things.

Unfortunately, I injured my wrist early on in my placement which made getting out to volunteering events difficult. I have not been able to attend as many as I would have liked, but the ones I did attend were great. I had so much fun working with our volunteers and this is why it is one of the highlights of my kickstart placement.

Working alongside volunteers on a Hedgelaying training day

DCRT Staff

The final highlight of this experience was working with the other members of DCRT staff. Entering this role from a background in Volcanology and Geological Hazards, I had little conservation knowledge or experience, which meant I was nervous starting this role as I didn’t know if I had the expertise to excel in this line of work. However, I was greeted with a warm welcome by the DCRT team. I quickly learnt the ropes at DCRT and realised that teamwork was a major part of keeping such a big project going with a small team. Everyone was really supportive, willing to lend a hand and teach me when I was unsure. Getting to work in this role I learnt from everyone on the team including community engagement from Sally, NFM from Debbie and volunteer management and more technical skills from Matt and Anthony on volunteer days. Without such a supportive team I know this Kickstart would have been very different and I can’t thank everyone enough for their encouragement and help during these past six months.

Overall, this Kickstart position has opened my eyes to a career path that I would never have considered. I am also extremely lucky that I am able to continue working with DCRT, now my Kickstart placement has finished, as their new Project Assistant! This means I will be able to attend a lot more volunteer days and will continue to work on community engagement. Everything that I have loved doing over the past few months. I’m looking forward to this new opportunity and everything else I have still to learn. Thank you to everyone who made this such an amazing experience and I cant wait to see what the next year will bring.

Team photo from our staff day out to The Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Not forgetting, Sally and Jenny who were missing from the photo.

Beckie’s six-month work placement was funded by the Government Kickstart Scheme which aimed to create new jobs for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit. It was supported by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which supports former mining towns and villages throughout the UK.

It’s salmon spotting season!

It’s that time of year when here at DCRT we start to get excited about the possibility of seeing salmon make their annual migration up our river systems to reach their spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the Don catchment. After an absence of 200 years, it’s the best time to see your very own king (and queens) of the river Don in generations. We’re asking people to submit sightings of salmon via our salmon recorder here.

Here’s a few tips for seeing salmon in your local river.

Where to look

Currently, migratory fish like salmon will struggle to get beyond Oughtibridge on the River Don, Staveley on the River Rother and Little Houghton on the River Dearne due to impassable weirs, though if you’re lucky, you may see them attempting to jump these weirs after a heavy rain fall! Look downstream of here for your best chance of seeing one in the water.

Bridges and raised riverside footpaths are your best look out point for a bit of fish twitching. To conserve energy, they like to spend most of their time in slower flowing, deeper areas often at the edge of the river.  

(Hint – I saw a number near Forgemasters, the Riverside pub and on Club Mill Road on the Five Weirs Walk/Upper Don Walk, Sheffield in late November last year)

What to look out for

Their large appearance – they can be on average around 70cm long but anywhere up to 1.5m in length! Although you can get large brown/sea trout, this sign can at least help you get it down to a salmonid fish.

Fungal spots – salmon that have been in the river for longer may have a number of pale fungal patches on them. Read more about this here.

Salmon carcasses – 95% of salmon die after spawning so don’t be worried if you see a dead salmon on the river bank. This is the best thing to find as we can collect a sample for the University of Sheffield to conduct eDNA research on to confirm identification. If you think you’ve seen one of these please contact us immediately.

If you’ve been fishing and caught what you think might be a salmon parr, click here to see how they compare to a brown trout.

Carcass of ‘Sumo’ the salmon
Salmon spotted near Forgemasters. Notice the fungal spots

When to look

Migration is triggered by Autumn’s heavy rainfall causing rivers to rise with spawning usually occurring November – December (though can occur any time October – late-February).

You can make salmon easier to spot by looking when there hasn’t been much rain fall in the days before as the water will be clearer. Also going on a sunny day will light up the river

What to take

You need very little to spot a salmon but consider taking the following:

  • Binoculars – these will give you a closer look
  • Camera – a photo will help us identify what you’ve seen
  • Polarised sunglasses – helps to take the glare off the top of the water

Salmon of steel trail

Find out more about this festival of the mind project here which includes rivery podcasts, fish art and University of Sheffield research also download our ‘Salmon of Steel’ trail – a walking loop in central Sheffield.

Heritage Walks: Don Gorge – A Landscape Reclaimed by Nature

The Don Valley Way has several heritage walks. In this series of blogs we are going to explore the walks and the fantastic features that can be seen along them.

This walk around one of the Don Gorge takes one of the most historic and naturally diverse areas of the Don Catchment. The walk is 4.5 miles/ 7 Km long and will take roughly an hour and a half to complete. This walk dose have a very steep section and can be quite muddy in the winter.

Conisbrough Viaduct

The walk starts at the Boat Inn in Sprotbrough where you walk towards Sprotbrough Bridge and use it to cross both the cannel and River. The bridge was originally constructed in the mid 19th century with the central span being replaced in 1897 by Newton Chambers, an industrial company based in Sheffield.  The company was founded in 1789 by George Newton and Thomas Chambers. They mainly constructed solid mental frames for infrastructure such as bridges. Their most notable work was creating the metal work on the internationally famous Tower Bridge in London.

You will start to walk upstream along the river where you will come to Sprotbrough Weir which was originally built to provide water power for a fulling mill where cloth was made and situated next to the Fishpass. It later became a flint mill which would have supplied material for the pottery industry upstream in Swinton. Weirs like this across the Don Catchment led to the disappearance of Atlantic Salmon and other migratory fish in the catchment. After the removal of Conisbrough lock upstream the height of the weir was raised to allow boats to travel up this navigable section of the Don. This would have made it impossible for fish to ascend the weir unless there was a flood. After an absence of about 150 years organisations are now aiding the recovery of fish in the Don by creating fishpasses on the weirs across the catchment. At Sprotbrough Weir there is both a fish and eel pass. This allows both fish and eels to bypass the weir and continue their journey to their spawning grounds upstream in Sheffield. Recently there have been several reports of Salmon in the River Don near their spawning grounds in Sheffield. To read more about the return of the Salmon click here.

Sprotbrough Fish Pass

As you continue traveling upstream you can see the faces of the magnesium limestone cliffs on the left hand side. The limestone in the Don Gorge forms part of a seam that runs from Teeside to Nottinghamshire. Limestone from the gorge was used in many local buildings, including Conisbrough Castle and Brodsworth Hall. In the Don Gorge, evidence has been found of prehistoric dwellings. In the 19th century labourers digging footings for the railway found what they thought were Woolley Mammoth and Rhinoceros bones, with evidence of them being gnawed by Hyena, which dated them between 60,000-25,000 years old. Flint tools from the mid to late Mesolithic period have also been found in the area. This suggests there were temporary camps ahead of more formal domestic settlements throughout the Iron Age and Roman periods. The magnesium Limestone formed in a shallow sea, 260 Million years ago, at a time when the British Isles were in the Tropics, and were a part of a giant super continent that stretched from North Pole to the South Pole known today as Pangaea.

One of the magnesium limestone faces that can be seen on this walk

The Don Gorge is designated as a site of Special Scientific Interest for its areas of ancient woodland, wetlands and areas of open water, which are all important areas for insects and birds. As you approach Conisbrough Viaduct you will pass through Nearcliffe Woods. The woods has several species of tree such as Whitch Elm, Ash, Sycamore, Field Maple, Silver Birch, Yew, Pedunculated Oak, Crab Apple, Wild Cherry and small leaved Lime trees.

Once you have crossed the viaduct you will return to the start by walking upstream along the North bank of the River Don. On your left you will see Sprotbrough Flash Nature reserve. In 1924 mining subsidence caused this area of land to collapse. This caused the area to flood which allowed wildlife to reclaim this land. The reserve opened in 1984 as a joint venture between Doncaster Council and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Short paths on the left lead to several hides where you can watch the wildlife on the reserve. In recent years a bitten has been regularly seen on the flash (however none of our staff members are yet to see it).

To learn more about the history of the area including the long abandoned village Levitt Hagg you’ll have to get out and do the walk.

Click here for the Don Valley Way website.

Click here for the Don Gorge Walk page.

Click here for the Don Valley Way app on Android devices.

Click here for the Don Valley Way app on IOS and devices.

RIVERS ARE WINNERS AS GREEN RECOVERY FUND OFFERS SIGNIFICANT BOOST TO THE RIVERS TRUST MOVEMENT

The Rivers Trust Movement, comprised of more than 60 local Rivers Trusts, has had eight successful applications to the Green Recovery Fund. This unprecedented financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England, Forestry Commission, and the Environment Agency will help to improve river environments for people and wildlife across England.

The second round of awards in the fund, announced yesterday, represents a total of £40 million to be distributed to 90 projects across the country. It will support a range of nature conservation and recovery and nature-based solutions projects, which will contribute towards the Government’s wider 25 Year Environment Plan commitments.

Eight projects delivered by Trusts across England and the Welsh border region will use the funding to deliver a range of vital benefits, including restoring river biodiversity, bettering canoe access on a precious chalk steam, and a host of community health and wellbeing initiatives.

The successful Trusts from the Rivers Trust movement were:

  • Bristol Avon Rivers Trust
  • Don Catchment Rivers Trust
  • Mersey Rivers Trust
  • Norfolk Rivers Trust
  • Ribble Rivers Trust
  • River Waveney Trust
  • Welsh Dee Trust
  • Tees Rivers Trust

Further details about these initiatives is provided below.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “As The Rivers Trust movement, our great strength is an ability to deliver real river improvements at scale. This funding is invaluable in helping our incredible local Trusts to do exactly that, and I can’t wait to see the results.”

Bristol Avon Rivers Trust Simon Hunter, Chief Executive Officer said: “The Green Recovery Challenge Fund will enable us to deliver suite of nature-based solutions in the Chew Valley, including planting of riverside trees and raising awareness of the actions local communities can take to improve the health of our local rivers. This project will deliver towards the wider River Chew Reconnected plan that aspires to create a healthy and resilient river and catchment; where nature thrives and which communities can access and enjoy, both now and in the future.”

David Diggens, CEO of Norfolk Rivers Trust, said: “Together with our partners, we’re more than delighted to receive this magnificent grant which will enable us to deliver an ambitious and significant landscape-scale restoration project to enhance these two river catchment areas in North Norfolk as part of the Green Recovery. This funding comes at a crucial time when our water environments have been overwhelmed by a number of threats including pollution, development, climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Martha Meek, River Waveney Trust Development Manager, said: “This is fantastic news for the River Waveney Trust. We are a small organisation and this will make a huge difference to what we can achieve. We are delighted to have received funding for a project that has multiple benefits to many river users, as well as our local environment. Our thanks go to the Green Recovery Challenge Fund for choosing our project and we very much look forward to recruiting our third member of staff.”

Rachel Walker, Operations Director at Don Catchment Rivers Trust, added: “We are so pleased the fund chose to invest in our Trust. We focused on community wellbeing throughout the pandemic, and now we are thrilled to be able to offer new jobs and opportunities in the Rivers Trust and expand our work for the benefit of the people living in the Don Catchment.” 

Don Catchment Rivers Trust’s Green Recovery Fund scheme will see the Trust working at the top and bottom of the catchment. On the river Rother the fund will pay for phase II of the Trust’s ‘Slow the Flow to the Calow’ Natural Flood Management project at Grassmoor Country Park near Chesterfield. This will include community engagement in citizen science, and provide a Kick Start post for a young conservationist. In the lower Don the Trust will expand its popular volunteering scheme and engage with landowners to implement a programme of community based NFM along streams leading to the Don. The project will provide an opportunity for a new project officer to lead on community engagement and volunteering.

Other Rivers Trust projects:

Bristol Avon Rivers Trust (BART) will receive £97,700 for its ‘River Chew Re-connected’ project, which will deliver two river habitat enhancement schemes. 500m of riparian enhancements will improve aquatic, marginal and terrestrial habitat. This includes the planting of approximately 2,000 riparian trees and shrubs, and the creation of several seasonal ponds across two sites to reduce surface water runoff from agricultural fields and increase floodplain habitat diversity. Alongside physical works on the ground, BART will deliver a community Sustainable Water Usage project that will engage local communities and schools to also take action to protect our rivers, delivered with a new part-time Community Engagement Officer.

Mersey Rivers Trust is delighted to announce that its ‘Bollin Biodiversity’ project is to receive £109,000. Working in partnership with the River Bollin Environmental Action and Conservation (BEACON) group, Cheshire East Council, Tatton Estates, National Trust and Natural England, the funding will help bring the biodiversity of the River Bollin back to health. It will also engage more people with their local river for health, wellbeing and recreation. Local volunteers will help reverse the decline of native plant species along the River Bollin, planting native trees and wildflowers to improve river valley habitats. We will also restore river reaches prone to erosion or siltation. The funding will create new reedbeds to tackle diffuse pollution and improve the condition of the internationally important Tatton Mere wetland site.

Norfolk Rivers Trust and the Norfolk Coast (AONB) Partnership will receive £885,400 for the ‘Norfolk’s Two Chalk Rivers – Restored, Revitalised, Resilient’ project to deliver 20km of river restoration on the Hun and Stiffkey – two chalk rivers of international importance. The project will implement a range of nature-based solutions to improve water quality, biodiversity and habitat connectivity with the added benefit of capturing carbon and mitigating the impacts of climate change. A comprehensive community plan has been created which includes a variety of training workshops including filmmaking, species identification surveys and riverfly monitoring. Along with many opportunities for volunteers, the project will provide 6 jobs and 4 kickstart placements for 16–24-year-olds.

Ribble Rivers Trust will use their funding as part of the Health & Environmental Action Lancashire partnership to build on their developing evidence base on health and wellbeing to to inspire communities, safeguard jobs, & connect people with nature through education, training, recreation & volunteering.

The River Waveney Trust’s ‘Canoe Access and Biodiversity’ project will improve 22.5 miles of public canoe and paddle access on the River Waveney, one of only 12 rivers in the UK with a public access arrangement. This will involve a long-term ‘River Wardens’ volunteer citizen science programme, which will survey the river for obstacles and restoration opportunities. Biodiversity will be enhanced along the river by restoring the channel and planting trees to create river corridors and buffers. Not only will this project fund one new full-time role at the River Waveney Trust, bringing the team of staff to three members, it will bring paddlers and conservation into partnership, empowering volunteers to take action for nature.

Welsh Dee Trust will use the funding for their ‘Dee Blue Recovery’ project.

Tees Rivers Trust will receive £1,088,100 for the ‘Fish for Tees’ project, a source to sea conservation project which will deliver better green connectivity between uplands and estuarine projects. It will create intertidal habitat and improve fish passage along the river.  It will increase at-risk habitat and species, complementing similar innovative projects in the region to build a resilient mosaic of sea grass meadows and native oyster reefs. It will also directly deliver new methods of carbon capture, reduced flood risk and functioning river estuarine and marine ecosystems.

Matt & Ava’s Birdbox Project

At the beginning of April, we put up 7 bird boxes in an area along the River Rother where we had been doing litter picks. It is known as the ‘Rother Rec’, AKA ‘Rother Washlands’, on Storforth Lane in Chesterfield. Some of the bird boxes our volunteers had built using kits and others we found scattered around on the site where we were working but after a bit of a spruce-up they were good to go!

Putting up a robin box on the banks of the River Rother

Ava, one of our volunteers mentioned we would be able to monitor them as she has a bird ringing licence. So, after a week we popped back to have a look inside and to our surprise 4 out of 7 of the boxes had evidence of nests already being built. Each week we visited the boxes noting how far along the nest building is and of what material it is made out of.

Great Tit eggs
Blue Tit eggs

Once the nests were completed, we had found a number of eggs had been laid.

Brooding Blue Tit

And after a bit of brooding from the prospective parents, their eggs hatched!

But unfortunately it was not all plain sailing for our project….

We visited the site one day to find that two of our occupied nest boxes had been vandalised and nests destroyed. It’s a sad part of nature conservation, particularly in urban areas. It’s hard to understand why this happens but I think as we connect more with local communities with the nature that’s on their doorstep we can hopefully change people’s behaviour and relationship with the natural world.

We also had a blue tit nest fail after finding an abandoned nest with multiple dead chicks. It was a common theme amongst many blue tit nests across the country this year due to a cold, wet May as mentioned on Springwatch. Read more about this here.

But it was not all bad news!

Our pair of great tits successfully raised three chicks that managed to fledge but not before we were able to ring them.

All the information collected will go to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to help contribute to giving a better understanding of bird nesting behaviour and general bird ecology.

We will continue to monitor these boxes in future years and will make bird box building a regular part of our volunteer days from now on. Ava and I have also discussed future plans to build a number of dipper/wagtail boxes along the Hipper/Rother.

If you have any suggestions or are interested in getting involved with our bird box project, please email me at matt.duffy@dcrt.org.uk.

HedgeBlog

In this blog we hear from Anthony Cox, DCRT’s Project Assistant, on how you can help hedgehogs.

Earlier this month I was travelling home from a volunteer day in Chesterfield. That week a road was closed near my home so I took a different route home. As I was passing the former entrance to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park I saw a hedgehog in the road. It was unusual as Hedgehogs are nocturnal so shouldn’t be out in the daytime. I stopped down the street and ran back to look at the poor guy.

Anthony holding the rescued Hedgehog when he found her.

By the time I got back to the hedgehog it had gotten across the road and was sitting still. I immediately called Sally Hyslop (Community Engagement Officer) as I thought she would know what to do. I picked up the Hedgehog and carried it back to the car while Sally did some research on where we could take her. Sally called me back after a little while with an address for a rescue centre I could take the Hedgehog to.

River once she had arrived at the rescue centre. (Credit Annali Crawford Hog Hostel)

When I arrived at the Hog Hostel I was met by a lady called Annie who told me the Hedgehog was a female. She also asked me if I had a name in mind for the Hedgehog but I had none. We had talked a little about my job so Annie came up with the idea of calling her River. River was found to have Round Worm and Flukes and was given a treatment for them. She was nursed back to health and monitored to make sure she was putting on weight. River was released back into the wild on the 22nd June in Auckley. Most hedgehogs are released where they are found but as I found River on a busy road she was released elsewhere.

River just before she was released. (Credit Annali Crawford Hog Hostel)

Recently I discovered I have a hedgehog living in my front garden. It was extremely exciting to see it foraging in the grass. To help my hedgehog I bought a little shallow dish to put water in. Over the weekend my sister captured a picture of it drinking from the dish which was amazing to see but also made me really happy that I had helped it out.

The hedgehog that lives in Anthony’s front garden drinking from the dish he put out. Credit Emily Cox

What should you do to help Hedgehogs?

The best thing you can do if there is a hedgehog in your garden is put out a shallow bowl of water out in the garden for them to drink. Dehydration is one of the second biggest killer of Hedgehogs. You can also put out food for the hedgehogs. This can be cat or dog food that does not contain fish. Don’t dig around for worms to feed to them as they only feed on insects that live on the surface. It is a common misconception that we should give milk to hedgehogs. This is a fiction as Hedgehogs are extremely lactose intolerant so milk can make them very ill and cause them to die. The idea that hedgehogs like milk came from Tudor era where people believed they drank the milk from cow’s udders during the night. If you have pets they cannot catch fleas from the hedgehog as the two animals have different parasites that live on them. However it is still best to keep them away from any pets and keep them in a cold place (a shed or garage).

Why is it important to protect and rescue Hedgehogs? Hedgehogs are the declining at an extraordinary rate. Since the millennium hedgehogs have decreased by 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas. This is due to the increase in cars which has increased the amount of hedgehogs that are killed on the road. Also there has been a significant reduction in their habitat in rural areas due to the mechanisation and increase in the production of crops. We have to protect them as they have been classified as vulnerable to extinction in the UK. To try to prevent us loosing another of our native species it is best to nurse them back to health and release them.

How do I encourage hedgehogs to visit my garden?

The best way to encourage hedgehogs is by making a hole in your fence for them to pass through. You have to discuss it with your neighbours first but a small hole would allow a hedgehog to have the amount of territory it needs to forage for food. You can also plant bushes and hedges to allow them to have cover to nest in during the winter and when they sleep in the day time. You can also encourage hedgehogs by encouraging their prey into your garden. You can do this by creating areas of wildflower meadow and leaving sections of grass to go wild. This encourages insects to your garden which Hedgehogs love to snack on. Hedgehog houses are good if you want a resident to live in your garden. They provide a hedgehog with a solid structure to nest in which will protect them during the winter months. Please note that houses must be cleaned out once a year to reduce the risk of your hedgehog getting any diseases. It is best to do this between the breeding season and hibernation season – early September.

Anthony Cox has not been the only DCRT-er to rescue a hog this month. This next section is by our volunteer Antony Meadows, who built a hedgehog feeder out of bricks found on our volunteer days!

“About a month ago I noticed a hedgehog in full sunshine on my lawn. A hedgehog “sunbathing” like this is likely to be unwell. He was not reacting at all to my presence and was somewhat inert. 
I knew I had to do something, so I discovered online a local hedgehog rescue in Retford. I arranged with the lady there to take my hedgehog along. We discovered it was a male and I left him in her capable hands. She thought he probably had not been able to get enough food.
After about 3 weeks she rang to say I could bring him “home”. He had put on about 200 grams and was ready to leave! I hadn’t fed a hedgehog before, but as he had been struggling to get natural food, I decided to build him a feeding station. The bricks I’ve found while volunteering with DCRT finally came in handy! I’ve made it as cat proof as possible.
Since he’s returned I’ve seen him a couple of times at dusk inside his feeding station, and the food has been eaten. I have plenty of cover in my garden, so hopefully he will do ok now.”

Arthur the Hedgehog (credit Antony Meadows).

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