“Does this mean I shouldn’t eat any more salmon sandwiches?” exclaimed one of our young ‘River Guardians’ during one of our school visits for the Living Heritage of the River Don project. Explaining to people about the return of migrating salmon is by far the best part of my role as Project Assistant for DCRT.
Sally watching the Salmon run in the Cairngorms, Scotland… coming soon to Sheffield!
Fish would have been a large part of the diet of early settlers of the River Don who soon learnt to harness and control the power of the river. Weirs were constructed to power mills, wetlands drained to control floods, waterways altered to ease navigation and reservoirs created to supply an ever-growing population with drinking water. These dramatic changes to the flow of the River Don and it’s tributaries exhausted salmon as they tried to migrate up the river to their spawning grounds.
In 1689, large basket-like traps, called ‘hecks’, were installed on the weirs to catch salmon attempting to jump the weirs. At this point salmon sold at local markets at around 2p per kg and were considered a staple of most people’s diets. Back then, our young River Guardian may have eaten salmon sandwiches up to three times a day.
The trapping of salmon for food, combined with the exploitation of the river to fuel industry, meant salmon were unable to migrate up the river and disappeared from the Don by 1750. Over the next few hundred years, sewage and pollution continued to fill the spoiled river, drowning out natural life and helping the Don win the title of “Europe’s most polluted river” by the 1980’s.
Specimens from Doncaster Museum: An Atlantic salmon Salmo Salar and a tracking tag found on a rare, stray salmon that made its way to the polluted River Don in the 1970s.
Since then, law and legislation has been passed to protect the rivers and changes to industry have seen the rivers of the Don Catchment recover. Dedicated charities, organisations and volunteer groups protect, restore and re-connect the river and its surrounding habitats. The return of rare and stunning wildlife – otters, kingfishers and migratory fish are proof of this outstanding deep clean!
Project Assistant – Living Heritage of the River Don