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