A Salmon’s Tale: The Beginning

In this blogging series by Chris Firth, follow the life of a salmon smolt as it travels from the River Don’s headwaters to the low, meandering reaches of the river. Learn which fish species inhabit the three different reaches of the Don and pick up some of Chris’s expert identification tips along the way…

Crystal clear water tumbles, sparkling over a rocky riverbed under the warmth of the sinking sun. The upper reaches of rivers are generally unaffected by pollution, litter and development, offering us the opportunity to enjoy and experience a natural river environment. What could be more pleasant and relaxing than sitting on the banks of the river on a balmy summers evening watching fish rising, taking flies from the surface. This area of river could justifiably be described as its jewel in the crown.

Many centuries ago this headwaters, in the months of November and December, would have been a hive of activity. Hundreds of salmon, fresh from the sea, would have battled each other for a prime section of gravel in which to deposit their eggs.

Today this part of the Don is the preserve of the brown trout, a smaller but no less interesting cousin of the salmon. Apart from those occasions when we see the trout rise to the surface to take a fly, the life of these fish is largely hidden to us. What a shock we would get if we were able to submerge and witness the underwater commotion that is constantly taking place. This really is a hierarchical environment with fish constantly battling to protect their piece of feeding space. It may appear to us that there are only one or two fish when in reality there could be twenty or thirty in just five or six metres of river bed.

Brown trout lay their eggs at the same time of year as salmon and, for the first year and a half, the juveniles of both are difficult to identify from one another. At between 18 months and 2 years the young salmon begin to change significantly. The fish begin to assume a much more streamlined physique, their colour begins to change and they assume the same silver colouration of their parents. At this stage they are known as Smolts and are preparing themselves to journey down the river and out to sea.

salmon trout parr

The demise of the Don’s salmon population more than 200 years ago was brought about by the development of industry, in particular the construction of weirs, which obstructed the upstream passage of the fish. Over the last ten years amazing progress has been made in providing facilities to allow salmon to once again fulfil their desire to reproduce in the Don. Fish can now reach Sheffield and plans are in place to open up the river right up to those crystal clear sparking waters at the head of the river.

Between there and the sea the Don goes through many  habitat changes from tumbling rocky fast flowing conditions to deep sluggish sections where the river resembles a long slowly moving pond rather than a river. Within these varied conditions a fascinating range of fish species exist. Over the next few weeks we will follow the experiences of a smolt on his downstream journey to the sea. Lets call him Salmo. Salmo will face many threats as he descends the river, from giant predatory fish to conditions where he struggles to breathe. Will our smolt make it to the sea and become a magnificent silver fish, capable of swimming against the fastest of flows? Will he return to those sparkling upstream reaches to mate, ensuring that new generations of salmon are there for people to wonder at?

Make sure to follow the smolt’s journey next week in part 2 of the Salmon’s Tale series, written by DCRT Trustee, Chris Firth.

Barry’s Permeable Paving

We’ve been exploring things we can do in our gardens to help reduce flood risk in our weekly newsletter feature “NFM in the Garden”. Our volunteer, Barry Caldwell, has been in touch with a fantastic example from his garden using permeable, rather than standard paving, that allows rainwater to soak into the ground instead of rushing over the surface into struggling drains or directly into the river:

With both of our children living at home and now driving, we have had to face the inevitable decision to enlarge the parking area in our garden but we wanted a green solution that would allow us to slow the flow and do our bit for Sustainable Urban Drainage (SuDS) and wildlife! Inspired by a visit to the RSPB visitor centre at Spurn Head on the East Coast last summer, where the parking area was a permeable paving system and gabion boxes were used as a retaining wall, my wife and I decided to recreate a smaller version at home.

The recycled plastic EcoGrid is placed on aggregate & soil

We used a good quality product recycled from plastic and a quality grass and small leafed clover mix, that if left to grow a little in the summer, would attract bees.

The EcoGrid is filled with the soil & seed mix

Using a permeable paving system also meets planning regulations as permission is required when the area to be paved is more than five square metres! Dealing with runoff at source rather than allowing it to runoff quickly into the River Rother is a little contribution to reducing peak flows and therefore, flood risk. The gabion boxes were filled with some old concrete we had stored and we have ivy growing along them to hopefully attract lots of bugs.

Gabion boxes filled with concrete

We are pleased with our hard work and it’s good to know that we are not increasing flood risk in places further north, such as Fishlake, so badly hit last Autumn.

The finished product!

Further guidance on a range of ways to make your paving permeable is available from the RHS here.

Dan’s letter during lockdown

We were delighted this week to receive a letter from Dan – one of our regular volunteers on the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project in Chesterfield. He was more than happy to share this with everyone via our blog so here it is, enjoy!

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If you’d like to respond to Dan’s letter address it to Dan via our postal address and we’ll forward it on. Alternatively, if you’re feeling inspired to write about your experiences during lockdown please send them us using the address below –

Don Catchment Rivers Trust
Churchill Business Centre
Churchill Road (off Wheatley Hall Road)

7-steps to a river-friendly home

Hello, Matt here! Whilst we’re spending more time around our homes, I’ve come up with a few ways you can make your house that bit more river-friendly. Even if your house is not near a watercourse, you might be more connected than you think…

If you haven’t read our blog on 7 ways to a river friendly bathroom click here.

Check your water connections

If you’re going to do anything, do this one first!

If your house was built after the 1920s or if you’ve had a bathroom or kitchen extension the plumbing could be installed incorrectly and your waste water or ‘grey water’ could be going directly into a local watercourse instead of the treatment works.

Here’s a really useful guide to checking this – connectright.org.uk/misconnections

I actually spotted some of this on a walk along the Meersbrook in Sheffield last week which I reported to the Environment Agency. Can you see how the water is a milky, grey-blue colour? This is most likely coming from household waste water.

Showing grey-water in the the Meersbrook, Sheffield

If you see any pollution incidents it’s important to report them. I wrote a blog about this a little while back – doncatchment.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/what-to-do-if-you-see-an-environmental-incident-along-a-waterway/


Be responsible for what goes down the sink

It’s important to remember that what you put down the sink or toilet could potentially end up in the river during storm events.  Dispose of cooking fats or oils in the bin by mopping up a frying pan with kitchen paper or bottling up larger quantities of oil and binning them. They may be composted in small quantities. Even if you emulsify fats with washing liquids they can still solidify in sewers, combine with other things that shouldn’t be there like wet wipes, and cause blockages – yorkshirewater.com/help-and-advice/blockages/

Scrape any leftover food in the bin or compost before you wash up and put any unused milk there too. Cow’s milk, if it gets into our waterways can have a more detrimental effect than sewage! This is because milk has a high biological oxygen demand – meaning it takes lots of oxygen out of water in order to break it down. This can often lead to water becoming depleted in oxygen and there isn’t enough for aquatic wildlife such as fish or invertebrates to breath.

You might have left house hold chemicals such as paints, white-spirit washing or motor oils, pesticides or fertilisers. These shouldn’t go down the sink, always refer to the product information before disposing these in the bin.


Use water smartly

WWF have found that up to a quarter of all rivers are at risk of running dry, and what’s a river without water?

Using less water allows more to be released into our rivers, especially during drought conditions. Whilst using less water during flooding conditions, using less when water is abundant can also help to not overload the sewer systems and then ultimately overflowing into our rivers.

And if you’re on a water meter you’ll save money as well!

I really like these tips the Eden Project have suggested for saving water

Sign up to receive water saving kits and tips from Yorkshire Water and Severn Trent Water


Responsible car washing and keep it free of leaks

If soaps get in to a watercourse they reduce the ability of oxygen to dissolve into water for aquatic wildlife to breathe. Washing your car on the road will means the soapy suds will be going directly into your local water course via the surface water drains. Try washing it on a surface that will soak up the washings such as gravel or grass. If you don’t have access to these take it to a car wash where the washings will be disposed of correctly (many of them are on old petrol stations which have a sump under them).

Keeping your car free of leaks will stop any unwanted chemicals washing off into the surface water drains too. Here’s some more tips for make your car more eco-friendly.

Here’s one I spotted last year, the surface water drain will be going directly into a watercourse.

Use eco-friendly cleaning products around the house

There are many eco-friendly cleaning products out on the market that if they do get in to the environment are less harsh. Also using these means less chemicals and energy are used at sewage treatment works to strip them out compared to conventional cleaners.

Here’s a few recommendations for cleaners:




Dispose of litter in a bin or try to reduce single use

Here at DCRT we pick a lot of litter out of the river. Even if you responsibly dispose or recycle waste materials they still unwittingly can get into the environment. Here are some of the best things you can do to reduce, reuse and refuselessplastic.org.uk/9-tips-living-less-plastic/


Follow our ‘NFM in the garden’ feature in our newsletter

Debbie Coldwell, our Natural Flood Management Officer, will be giving us a few ideas of what we all can do in our gardens to help reduce flood risk.

Sign up to our newsletter here

Beginner’s guide to bird watching from home

Here’s Matt Duffy’s (our Catchment Officer’s) guide to how to start bird watching whilst you may find yourself around the home more than you usually would.

Matt out bird watching along the Rivelin Valley, Sheffield

I started bird watching about 10 years ago when I was at university. I didn’t really have an interest in birds at all before this time but then I just started to take notice of those I was seeing as I walked through the park to university and wanted to know more about them.  I wouldn’t describe myself as an expert and I’m still learning but here’s my guide to how to start or develop your bird watching skills.

Before we go out bird watching there’s a few things to consider before you do so…

Laws and etiquette

Do your best not to disturb a bird whilst you’re birdwatching. They may appear agitated by your presence particularly if you’re near their nest (nesting season is March – end of July). They’ll often make short, sharp ‘alarm’ calls and make small jumping movements as well as flitting their wing – if they do, move away and this will hopefully allow them to relax them and continue with their natural behaviour.

Also, whilst it is amazing to see a nest, damaging or disturbing one whilst it is in use or being built is against the law as is taking any eggs. If you’re interested in looking at nests you may find an old one in a hedge or tree outside of nesting season which you can have a look at.



You don’t need anything to start bird watching, just your eyes and ears and attention – I only bought my first pair of binoculars a few years ago. If you would like to make it an easier and more enjoyable experience, the RSPB have a guide how to choose binoculars here – https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/birdwatching/choosing-bird-watching-equipment/how-to-choose-binoculars/

Learning to identifying birds by sight

My first tip would be to go outside and see what you find – be it during a walk, sitting in your garden or even just opening up the window. Try to identify what you’re seeing and keep practicing. If you haven’t got any birds in your garden, think about attracting them by using feeders or by making your garden wildlife-friendly (https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/)

Bird books

When I first started taking notice – apart from their more obvious size and colour differences – all birds looked the same to me and I found it difficult to distinguish between them. I remember noticing a bird in the park for the first time and wondering what it was. I kept it in my mind’s eye until I got home and looked it up in a bird book. To my despair I found that there were several birds that looked very similar such as a Song

Mistle Thrush Copyright: gailhampshire

Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing! The books guided me through the specific plumage or markings, a range of habitats you might find a particular bird, the time of year and its characteristics which helped me narrow it down to that it was most likely a Mistle Thrush.

Any bird book will give you an overview birds but I can recommend this book for helping you step-by-step to identify what you’re looking at – https://www.bto.org/our-science/publications/bto-books-and-guides/collins-bto-guide-british-birds

 The internet

Now that you can carry the internet where ever you go it’s easier than ever to identify bird whilst out and about. Most people have high quality camera phones too, try to get a good photo of the bird you were looking at you can stick it on one of the many wildlife identification websites available (I use- ispotnature.org/) where there will be lots of knowledgeable people willing to help you identify what you were looking at. Facebook groups can be very helpful too, here’s one I’m – www.facebook.com/groups/yorkshirebirders

The RSPB has a great interactive bird identifier that you can click through to help identify what you’ve seen which is handy if you don’t have a book- https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/identify-a-bird/

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has lots of great videos on their YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/BTOvideo) for helping you identify different birds within a

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A Jackdaw – a part of the corvid family. Photo Credit: Edward Koczy

family. For example here’s one about the Corvid (Crow) familywww.youtube.com/watch?v=qi1p0yh4X3I

Other people

Is there a secret birder in your house? Is there someone that would like to learn with you? It’s great if you’ve got someone to ask or if someone else in interested in learning along with you, it can be a really bonding experience.

Learning to identify birds by sound

Like us, birds make a whole range of sounds depending what they are trying to convey. This could be a contact call which is basically the bird saying ‘hello’, an alarm call if something is disturbing it such as a person or predator, or it could be its song, used to attract a mate as well as defend a territory. Technically, songbirds are those that are part of the thrush, warbler and finch families. Their song is something they practice and get better at over time. Whereas a call is something they are innately hard-wired with from birth and doesn’t change over time.

bird watching matt
Watch the video here

Learning bird sounds is something I found very difficult to begin with. I was amazed that you could even identify a bird merely by its song! I’ve very slowly learned a few bird songs but as with most wildlife identification I’m still learning and finding out what I thought was one bird turns out to be another similar sounding one.

If you’re interested in learning how to identify a bird by sound, you can start with the birds you see in your garden or whilst you’re out walking. If you hear a call, stop and try and spot where it’s coming from. Watch and listen for a while and let the sound sink in while you hold the picture of the bird in your mind.

I’ve found that if I listened to them online, think about how they sounded and then got someone to test me, I slowly learned how each song should sound. There is often tell-tale or key-identifying features within the song that makes it characteristic to that bird and learning those can make it much easier to begin with.

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A chaffinch. Photo Credit: Edward Koczy

For example, click this link to listen to a clip of the chaffinch’s song. A chaffinch is said to have an ‘a-tishoo!’ sound at the end of its call as if it’s sneezing. Can you hear it?

Take a walk with me, listening to the bird via this video I created

Here’s some links bird sound clips:



https://www.xeno-canto.org/ – A comprehensive list of bird sounds from around the world

Just keep practicing and you’ll get there!

Happy birding!

Here’s a two little quizzes of common birds you might see in and around towns and cities to see which birds you know already