Water and wine in Chesterfield

In this blog we hear from Catchment & Archive volunteer Antony Meadows, read on to find out about his most recent discoveries!

I’ve been volunteering now with DCRT for more than 18 months, but for most of this year I’ve been spending more time in Chesterfield with the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project. I don’t live in the town but I’m only half an hour away, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to discover somewhere new. I’ve really enjoyed it; I had no idea there were so many rivers and streams in the town. I’ve been prompted to look at old maps of Chesterfield to put where we’ve been into some historical context, as it’s quite difficult to imagine what was there in the past especially when you are not local.

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Antony has been exploring Chesterfield Library’s archives for old maps!

Discovering Chesterfield’s industrial past has been fascinating. I knew about the glass industry as my father had a chance to transfer to Dema Glass from where he worked at Glass Bulbs in Harworth. He didn’t go in the end, or else I might have been brought up in Chesterfield. One thing I wasn’t aware of though, was the local pottery industry. This neatly brings me to the reason for this blog.

Wine

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One of the things I enjoy about litter picking – as well as the sense of achievement when we clean up an area and have left it in a better state than when we arrived – is the possibility of finding something interesting or unusual. Basically I’m nosey I guess! Recently I found a few items of pottery that I thought were interesting. First up was a piece of a brown saltglaze jar, the type of thing you can often see in antique shops which you can use for storing utensils in for example. Luckily I found the best bit of it as it had an inscription, “W Cooper Wine Merchant Chesterfield”. I contacted Chesterfield Museum who found an entry in Kellys Directory for 1895 showing a William Henry Cooper, provisions dealer and wine merchant, listed at 11 Holywell Street, Chesterfield.

Water

I’ve also found two other pottery items that turn out to be from ceramic water filters. The first one had enough information written on it to discover, via google, a company called Brownlow of Tonbridge who manufactured water filters in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I found more pieces of this as you will see in the photo, but few of them fitted together, unfortunately. Finally I also found a fragment of pottery with “Fract” and more enigmatic wording. Not hard to guess this might be Pontefract, but I couldn’t work out what the rest of it might mean. I contacted Wakefield Museums and they told me my piece was also part of a water filter. They kindly sent me this photograph of a rather nice example in Pontefract Museum, and my bit is part of the elaborate decoration. Apparently Chesterfield potteries made water filters for many companies so it’s possible they could have been made there.

After this I’m hoping to find more interesting things along Chesterfield’s rivers!

Capturing the Washlands: A camera trapping project

In this blog we hear from Hidden Heritage Secret Streams volunteer, Suzie Saunders, who has helped the trust design and set up a camera trapping project in Chesterfield. Read on to find out how you can take part in capturing the washlands…

Riparian mammals have faced some of the steepest declines of mammal species in the UK. Throughout history some have faced persecution, whilst others have fallen victim to non-native, invasive predators. All rely heavily on the water bodies they reside in to make a living. The increasing pollution of rivers has not helped with their plight. However, all is not lost. There a lot of work going into the restoration of rivers and their catchments.

There is one pair of river mammals in particular whose story has come to the forefront, that causes a great deal of worry to conservationists. That is the tale of the American mink (Neovison vison), and the water vole (Arvicola amphibius).

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The American mink arrived in the UK in 1929 for use in commercial fur farms. Whether through accidental or purposeful releases the mink integrated into the UK countryside. It should be noted that this process is not unique to the UK and has happened in may other countries the American mink was exported to. By 1956 they were said to have been breeding in the wild, and by 1967 reports suggested that the mink was fully established in over 50% of U.K. counties. Its speed of establishment, was most likely due to the minks generalised diet. Feeding on fish, amphibians, and mammals, with such indiscriminate diets and ferocious appetites, they have dented many populations of sea birds and mammals alike, including water voles.

The water vole has been in decline since the beginning of the 20th century. With the rapid expansion of industry and agriculture water vole habitats were degraded, separated and shrunk, leading to the fragmentation of populations, and the beginning of their decline. This was exacerbated by the American minks predation. Now in present day we are met with a sad looking state of affairs for the voles. The time to act is now if we are to preserve our native river mammals, and protect their strongholds.

One such stronghold is the Avenue Washlands, a Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Reserve. The reserve was the site of a coking works deemed to be one of the most polluted sites in Europe. Through amazing effort, the site is now home to a vast array of birds, great crested newts, and water voles. How well these water voles are doing is unknown, as there is believed to be a great deal of mink in the area.

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The Don Catchment Rivers Trust has been setting up a camera trapping project in the Avenue Washlands. Multiple cameras have been set up across the reserve with the hope of capturing the lives of the mammals that live there. It will hopefully help us understand what’s happening within the area and what management approaches would help in the establishment of water voles, and maybe even otters in the park and along the Rother. The project is hosted by Mammal Web (click here), and we would love for as many people as possible to sign up and help identify all of the animals we photograph.

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Catchment Volunteering on the Hidden Heritage and Secret Streams Project

Since April we have been running volunteer days across the Rother catchment, including the river Rother and Holme Brook. Most of these days are focused on river clean ups around Chesterfield, to improve the area for wildlife and the local community. We have also been working on tackling Himalayan Balsam throughout the summer focusing in the Moss Valley (read more about it by clicking here).

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Our volunteers working to remove large items from the Hipper behind Ravenside Retail park.

So far this year we have ran 31 clean up days across Chesterfield involving 75 volunteers from varying walks of life whom would never have met if it wasn’t for volunteering. We have collected roughly 519 bin bags of litter so far and 20 shopping trolleys which will have made a huge difference to the wildlife across Chesterfield and improved how our rivers flow. We really enjoy our volunteer days as we like to get out and see the nature along the rivers we help. Throughout the year we have seen trout, damselflies and lots of different wildflowers. Also we enjoy all of the interesting items that we find in the River such as a tankard, a wheel that looks like part of an old mill and an old fire extinguisher.

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An old fire extinguisher found in the River Hipper in Queens Park

If you are interested in volunteering with us then email volunteer@dcrt.org.uk or download the volunteering for off the volunteering page of our website, fill it in and bring it to one of our volunteer days.

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Volunteers in the Holme Brook where it meets the Rother.

By Apprentice Anthony CoxHHSS_Master logo_RGB

Work experience? What an experience!

Hello! My name is Sam, I’m a countryside management student that’s been given an opportunity to work with the Don Catchment Rivers Trust, in fact I’m the first ever work experience student that they’ve ever taken on.

Working with the trust has given me a lot of experience with the different aspects of river management and interacting with the public and volunteers. Litter picking, Himalayan Balsalm pulling, trolley removal, wading, brush-cutting, bushcraft with brook explorers, making pipe-cleaner dragonflies, wildlife ID and the slips and wobbles that come along with wading in rivers, are all activities I have had the pleasure (mostly) of doing while with the trust. I say mostly because rivers are quite cold when you fall in.

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My time at the trust started with them, very kindly, putting me through my brushcutter/ strimmer course, which I passed along with another volunteer called Andy, nice chap. Anyway, the first proper session I did was a river clean-up in Holme Brook behind ravenside retail park in chesterfield. This gave me a chance to meet the many dedicated volunters that keep the rivers free of trolleys, traffic cones and tyres. I had a wonderful time working with them and by the end of the day we had two trolleys, each full with bags of rubbish and about half a dozen full bags strewn around them.

The week after, exciting times, bushcraft with brook explorers and my first signal crayfish find ever. Another trolley out the river and one almost coaxed out but alas it would be a job for another week.

Third week in and its time to do some Himalayn Balsalm pulling, just need to cut a path through and.. oh, brushcutters aren’t meant to wobble that much, turns out the blade was just a little off balance, causing the entire machine to vibrate like a washing machine, so I resorted to a stick. Fortunately, we didn’t use it and the day after I noticed what was wrong. Although I wasn’t able to fix the blade issue, I and two others were able to remove the leftover trolley from the week before.

20190822_102813.jpgThe troublesome trolley was filled with silt and litter making it difficult to remove but we eventually got it out. 

Later on, I got a dunking after my foot slipped down a hidden clay bank, however I was lucky becuase a little after I slipped, Matt properly fell in and got quite wet…

On the Saturday after, we had our International Year of the Salmon event next to the Oasis dining area at Meadowhall. I was tasked with helping children make pipe-cleaner dragonflies and river wildlife badges, it was great fun! However, the highlight of the day would have to be the Kingfisher that kept flying up and down the river next to us, an incredible sight to see.

More Balsalm pulling in week four and a few more signal crayfish finds while litter picking in the Holme Brook/River Rother confluence, sadly the trolleys we found were surrounded by deep water which we couldn’t access even with our waders. Other finds include the back panel of a Hilux, a wheelchair, a brake disc and about a quater-ton of rebar and scrap metal. A top-notch Victoria Sponge made by Anthony provided the energy needed for removing the mix and match of metal, plastic and rubber from the river.

The Moss Valley needs you!

Hello! Matt Duffy here, Catchment Officer at the Don Catchment Rivers Trust for the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project.

Nestled on the boarder of Sheffield and Derbyshire the Moss Valley lays. The Moss is actually used as the boundary line between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire which makes using an OS map pretty difficult here. Parts of this beautiful valley are even designated as Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) as it contains nationally threatened habitats and holds many valuable species of wildlife.

The Moss Valley Wildlife Group (MVWG) have been active in the area since they formed in 1982 in order to ‘resist the threat of urban development in the valley, when the City of Sheffield was expanding and to bring together people who have an interest in conserving the flora, fauna and habitats found in the valley.’ As well as organising walks and surveys the group did their bit of practical environmental conservation – working tirelessly for ten years to clear most of the valley of non-native invasive weed Himalayan Balsam (HB), which is why it holds much of the biodiversity it does today.

Here’s an infographic of what effects HB has on wildlife.

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Aspects of our current ‘Hidden Heritage Secret Streams’ project were inspired by our activities during the pilot ‘Moss Valley Project’ delivered in 2017/18. Following the completion of this project (read more about this here); we decided we would like to continue to support activities here. We are trying to build on the hard work of the MVWG by implementing a number of management techniques including the management of HB, placement of large woody debris within the channel and tree/scrub control in wetland areas.

Unfortunately, the MVWG has struggled to recruit new members to the organisation meaning they’ve had to reduce much of their activities. We’re currently trying to build up a new volunteer group here so that important environmental conservation can continue to take place. If you think you might be interested in joining us on these days we meet every Wednesday, 10am-3pm. Please see our website for details (https://dcrt.org.uk/events-calendar).

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One of our volunteers working to remove Himalayan Balsam

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What we’re up against!

 

Here’s just some of the species we’ve managed to capture on camera whilst working here.

 

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Jay feather

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Oyster Mushroom

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Comma Butterfly

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Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar

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Peackock Butterfly

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Snail Hunter Beetle

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Sexton Burying Beetle

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Dead Nettle Leaf Beetle

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Jelly Ear Mushroom

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Toad Tadpoles

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Marsh Marigolds

Results from the River Rother Bioblitz

Nature experts and enthusiasts alike gathered at the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams Bioblitz this May, with the aim to count all the birds, bugs and beasties they could find on the riverside in just one day. The Bioblitz took place on an important wildlife site in Chesterfield, rarely opened to the general public.

After a day of exploring, the watermeadows were found to be home to 104 different species. 23 different species of bird were heard or spotted, with finds including green woodpecker, buzzard and a very tuneful skylark. Footprints, skulls and burrows also revealed signs of mammals, including roe deer, fox and hare. 62 different invertebrates were discovered, including fascinating insect eggs and Scentless Plant Bugs, pictured below.

The blanket of wildflowers across the site included yellow water-lily, colts-foot and bird’s foot trefoil. Invasive, non-native species were also recorded, such as Giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam.

During the event, DCRT’s director Ed Shaw, led a guided walk across the site to explain plans for the restoration and regeneration of the river Rother.

Sara Pexioto, from the University of Sheffield, demonstrated how new technology in DNA studies can help us identify water-dwelling wildlife. Sara said “All living organisms leave traces of DNA in their surrounding environments, reflecting their current or past presence. Using environmental samples (eg. water or soil) and genetic tools we can now detect any living organism more efficiently”

Thank you to all the volunteers and recorders that came down to survey the site. If you would like to see the full species list please click here: River rother Bioblitz results.

 

 

 

Volunteers Week

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Today marks the final day of Volunteer’s week and we want to say a huge thank you to all our volunteers across the Don Catchment!

So far this year the Friends of the Don Valley Way have organised 14 of their own litter-picks and conservation days. Volunteer Susan organised a fantastic balsam bash this Tuesday, clearing an entire river Don bank-side of the invasive species, Himalayan Balsam.

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Our Volunteers in Chesterfield on Thursday ‘donned’ their waders and cleared out 5 trolleys from the Holme Brook.

06.06.19 Steve pulling out a trolley

 

Everyone was rewarded with lots of cake during tea-break!

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This year so far, a total of 64 volunteers in Chesterfield have dedicated over 46 days to cleaning up our rivers and removed 213 bin bags of litter! Our education volunteers, citizen scientists and community archaeologists have also been hard at work inspiring the general public, investigating the river Rother’s wildlife and exploring its industrial history.

Thank you everyone!