Sunrise on the Don

This week’s blog is written by our Project Assistant, Rob

I’m suddenly woken from a deep sleep by the sound of my alarm. I look over to turn it off, the time says 3.00am. I roll back over and think “what am I doing up at this time, go back to sleep” but something inside me drags me out of bed. I get dressed, jump in my car and drive over to Doncaster Prison where I’m met by Jon the ecologist who I’ll be helping perform an otter and water vole survey at Hexthorpe Ings.

It’s still dark as we bash our way through the vegetation, which has grown at least a foot in a month since I walked this path surveying the route of our Don Valley Way walking trail, to the survey location. We pass Crimpsall Sluice, invisible in the darkness, but I know it’s out there, I can hear the roar of water falling over its lip.


We reach the survey location and I set myself up, eagerly anticipating the thought of seeing what would be my first wild otter. As recently as 20 years ago there were no otters on the Don. The growth of the coal and steel industries along the Don caused water pollution and habitat loss and unsurprisingly otters disappeared from the river. But now, following the strenuous efforts of many agencies to improve water quality and restore habitats otters are now back and are even seen in Sheffield city centre!

Around 4am the sun is beginning to rise and the light is catching the drops of dew on the grass, illuminating them so they look like small diamonds. Above the river in front of me a bat in swooping a darting catching moths and gnats. As the morning draws on the river become more alive as more animals wake up. A male blackbird begins the dawn chorus from his perch high in a hawthorn bush and a pair of reed buntings flit from bush to bush before a noisy pair of Canada geese move onto the river disrupting this peace.


At 6am, with my feet numb and the temperature a chilly 3 degrees we call it day but not before we see a kingfisher flying fast and low over the surface of the river and perch under the bridge next to us. The blue and orange of its plumage seems even brighter in the early morning sun.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any otters or water voles this time, but with 4 more surveys to do I have hope that I will see my first wild otter. At this time of day the river becomes ethereal and is well worth and explore if you can cope with the early start and you never know you might see a water vole or even better an otter!

Rob Dalziel, Project Assistant


Archaeology is rubbish…

Rachel, our Community Engagement Officer poses some thoughts and questions!

The first essay I was set at university was ‘Archaeology is Rubbish. Discuss’. A somewhat throw away comment at first glance, but it was setting us up to understand that as archaeologists we were going to be piecing together cultures and societies from the things that had been discarded and left behind.

That essay question popped back into my head recently because when we were out litter picking with volunteers on the River Don I came across this section of washed away bank.


It looks a lot like a section from an excavation, except it isn’t full of ancient finds – it is full of plastic bottles.

This got me thinking – if the internet hasn’t made archaeology redundant in thousands of years time and students are still being asked the same essay question, what will they make of us from the rubbish that we are leaving behind?

Will the natural progression from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age be the Plastic Age? Will someone seeing a bottle screw cap lying next to a sports type cap marvel at our leaps in technological advances? I can’t imagine people who collect clay pipe bowls wanting to pick up the modern equivalent, the cigarette butt. Will people see the branded packaging and try to piece together global trading routes onto the river? Will there be any evidence left of our riverside activities if our volunteers are busy picking it all up?

Just thought I’d share what I’m mulling over while litter picking!

Rachel Walker
Community Engagement Officer



Meet our Genie

We have worked quite closely with Pat Ross of Genie Creative Ltd for the last 4 years.  We asked if he would contribute to our blog and here it is!

For as long as I can remember nature and, when I understood the meaning, conservation has played a big part in my

As a young boy I had my own vegetable patch which “sowed the seeds” for a love of gardening. Indeed, these days, the majority of my free time is spent restoring our Victorian garden and allotment to their former glory.

As I work on these labours of love however, I am very conscious to provide a safe environment for nature to thrive. Making a garden wildlife friendly is incredibly easy and rewarding; tadpoles in the pond, blue tits in the bird boxes and hedgehogs in the garden still thrill me as much today as they did when a boy.

I am fortunate that my work as a brand and graphic design consultant enables me to support organizations including Don Catchment Rivers Trust in promoting ecological and environmental issues.

I first began working with Don Catchment Rivers Trust in 2012 when they commissioned two promotional banner stands produced from recycled stock. Since then we have been privileged to work with them on other projects including the public information stand for the fish and eel pass at Meadowhall and their work in promoting the Living Heritage of the River Don.

As a nature lover, I’m delighted to be involved in working with Don Catchment Rivers Trust in their mission to promote the rich natural, cultural, built and industrial heritage of the River Don.

As a Sheffielder I’m incredibly proud that our city and South Yorkshire can boast rivers clean enough to support Salmon, Trout and other species. Looking to the future – Don Catchment Rivers Trust will continue to reconnect isolated river habitats via a series of fish passes with a view to returning healthy stocks of Salmon to Sheffield for the first time in 200 years. Furthermore, I look forward in working with them to challenge perceptions of our wonderful natural heritage.

Patrick Ross, Genie Creative Ltd


What’s in a name?

Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster but also  Skellow, Loxley, Barnby Dun to name a few.

Rivers are so steeped in our history, geography and lore that many cities, towns and villages reflect that in their names.  Sometimes it’s easier to spot in some than in others: Rotherham and Doncaster fairly obviously mention the river on which they stand, but the Sheaf is not so obvious if you don’t realise that one of the five rivers that flow through Sheffield is the Sheaf and a sheaf of arrows appear on the coat of arms of Sheffield City Council (three sheaves of wheat also figure on it, in a play on words)

Sheffield (England), coat of arms

The Dearne is mentioned in a few places but as the suffix ‘upon Dearne’ e.g. Wath, Bolton or Adwick-upon-Dearne.

The River Don appears in some place and street names as Dun as in Barnby Dun and this map from 1753 shows it as the River Dunn at Forge Island in Rotherham .