Water & Wildlife – A farm NFM Scheme

September has been a busy month for our natural flood management (NFM) work with an exciting new farm scheme now well and truly underway. We have been working together with the landowner to create nine scrapes (shallow, temporary ponds), two field corner ponds, and a floodplain meadow. Arable fields are also being transformed to more diverse mixes.

An early morning view across what will become the floodplain meadow with one of the nine newly created scrapes on show

It’s not been an easy ride with having to navigate the weather and a very busy time for the farmer with harvesting but we’ve achieved a lot with the help of our wonderful volunteers and been treated to close encounters with a family of buzzards, glimpses of kingfishers, regular heron sightings and flashes of bullfinch and yellowhammer. All of the newly created features should help to capture and slow down the rate of rainwater and runoff entering the River Rother which runs through the farm at the same time as boosting wildlife habitat (more details on this below). Though this project alone is unlikely to have a noticeable impact on reducing flood risk, it’s part of a wider scheme of projects throughout the catchment that cumulatively will help to capture more water and slow flows, allowing more time to prepare for flood events and reducing their severity. There’s more work to be done on the farm but we’re already very much looking forward to seeing how it all develops and will keep you posted!

DCRT Volunteers hand sowing the floodplain meadow

Scrapes & field corner ponds

We’ve created nine scrapes of varying shapes and sizes in the floodplain of the farm. These are shallow depressions that hold rain or floodwater acting as temporary stores. They are often wet through winter months and can dry up completely during dry spells. Scrapes create great habitat for invertebrates which can in turn attract various bird species including waders such as lapwing and snipe.

A scrape in the making

Two ponds have been formed in the corners of an arable field that was too waterlogged to be cultivated. These will create more wetland habitat on the farm as well as further storage for rainfall and runoff. Sediment carried into the ponds with runoff will settle out in to the bottom, preventing it from polluting the river.

Floodplain meadow

This project aims to establish a roughly 2 ha floodplain meadow, a habitat which has largely been lost from our countryside. Seed collected from floodplain meadows in the Lower Derwent Valley Special Area of Conservation just outside York was hand sown by a team of volunteers. The seed mix included a wide variety of grasses, wildflowers, sedges and rushes and will create another important habitat for insects and birds. The longer vegetation also causes more resistance to rainfall and runoff as it travels through the landscape further helping to slow flows.

DCRT volunteer Mr Meadows creating his namesake

Diverse herbal Ley

Two fields on the farm have been sown with a mix of grasses, herbs and legumes. These herbal leys can help deliver a whole range of benefits. They provide more resources for pollinators compared with a traditional crop such as barley, for example. They can also help to improve the condition of the soil so that it can absorb more rainwater, preventing it from running straight off, and require fewer fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides reducing the amount of water and pollutants being washed into the river.

Next up….Hedgerows!

Over autumn and winter we’ll be working to improve some of the existing hedgerows on the farm as well as planting a new one. Further details on this to come!

This project is funded by the Severn Trent Water Boost for Biodiversity fund.

River Rother Well Dressing

What is well dressing?

Well dressing is an ancient calendar custom in Derbyshire, first documented in Chesterfield in 1864 when the town decorated the market place water pump during a very dry summer. However, it’s thought the custom of dressing wells began long before this with, some historians suggesting Roman and Pagan origins before it’s use in Christian churches. Like many of the UK’s calendar customs, the tradition over time died out, but was revived in Chesterfield in 1991 and has continued ever since.

The dressings are created on wooden boards which are soaked for several days in water. Traditionally local village ponds and even rivers were used to soak the boards, which once soaked were pulled out to be coated in clay. Once the clay is smoothed the design can be applied and is outlined onto the clay. We used peppercorns for our outline, but traditionally locals would have foraged alder cones from riverside trees. The shapes are then carefully filled with layers of natural materials such as petals, eggs shells, seeds and leaves. Decorating the well dressing feels wonderfully eco-friendly, with materials sustainably foraged from gardens and wild spaces.

The beautiful creations are ephemeral in nature, often only lasting a week or two before the clay dries and cracks & the petals wilt and discolour.

The River Rother Well Dressing

A result of restrictions in events and social distancing, the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams team sent out mini-well dressing kits to twelve families, or bubbles, in Chesterfield & Sheffield.

With just a week to design and create their masterpieces we were so impressed with the beautiful dressings returned! Why not flick through our gallery to admire the detail of each one.

Together the individual well dressings show a colourful picture of a leaping Atlantic Salmon, to celebrate the salmon found in the River Rother earlier this year and the ecological recovery of the river, once considered the most polluted in Europe.

A huge thank you to all the people and families who got involved, Geoff Bell from Men in Sheds for creating the wooden boards and frame, and to Tapton Lock Activity Centre for hosting the display. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project.

Our new Project Assistant!

In this blog we hear from our Environmental Conservation Apprentice Anthony, on finishing his training and starting his new role, Project Assistant, at the Trust. Congratulations Anthony!

Hi, I’m Anthony and I have worked for DCRT for almost 3 years now. During my time with the Trust, I’ve worked on the Living Heritage of the River Don project and I’m currently working on the Hidden Heritage, Secret Streams project, both funded by the National Lottery. Over this time I’ve completed my Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeship in Environmental Conservation. This month I move onto my new role as Project Assistant, so thought it would be a good time to reflect on my time as an apprentice with the Trust.

Me on my first ever volunteer day with the Don Catchment Rivers Trust – I soon passed my driving test and was able to drive the van!

My first day was in October 2017 when I started working on the Living Heritage of the River Don Project. I helped to run volunteer days along the Don Valley Way, a walking route along the River Don, that I would later be managing my own volunteer activities on. I also worked at several community events to promote our project and recruit new volunteers. Completing my level 2 apprenticeship provided me with lots of transferable skills to help me with my future career in the environmental sector. It gave me both useful qualifications and extremely valuable experience in the sector.

While completing my Level 2 I learnt how to treat invasive plant species such as Himalayan Balsam, gained a ticket to use a brush cutter and acquired a first aid certificate. These qualifications and skills are just a few of the many I acquired at the Trust to help me gain employment in the environmental sector.

Removing the invasive species, Himalayan Balsam

At the end of the project there was an opportunity for me to apply to do a higher level apprenticeship with the DCRT. This was working on the new lottery project based on the River Rother, Hidden Heritage, Secret Streams. I was succesful and started my next apprenticeship, where I worked on and ran volunteer days, conducted plant surveys, gained a chainsaw qualification and created interpretive media to promote the Trust. It gave me the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and improve my leadership and volunteer management skills.

Anthony working at an event in Chesterfield

The past three years have allowed me to gain both the practical and theoretical skills I need to be able to take up the Project Assistant role. Without my apprenticeship it would have been incredibly difficult to get a job in the environmental sector, so I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and for the help of everyone at the Don Catchment Rivers Trust. I’m looking forward to my new role and continuing to work with our fantastic volunteers and my colleagues.

DCRT volunteer Dan and Anthony, on his final day as an apprentice

Want to work in Conservation?
In 2021 DCRT will offer two work experience placements to students in Chesterfield (aged 16-18 years). Students will have the opportunity to gain valuable and diverse experience in the conservation sector, including:
* Working outdoors and in rivers
* Protecting nature and inspiring others to help
* Experience working with a team
* Representing the Trust at community events
* Training opportunties and office skills
Want to know more? Email info@dcrt.org.uk

Lockdown reads: DCRT’s Wildlife Book Club

“I’d never read a nature book like this before”
“It really opened up a whole new world of literature for me”

The 2020 Lockdown put much of our work at DCRT on hold. To keep us all safe, volunteer days and community events were struck off the calendar, to be replaced with a range of online activities. For those unable to leave their homes, the team wanted to help people stay connected to nature and we started the Wildlife Lockdown Bookclub. Our club of twelve readers got together each month to read and discuss four different wildlife-themed books: Here’s a summary of what we thought of them.

The firm favourite:
The first book we read and the favourite for most of our book club readers. Wilding follows the author, Isabella Tree’s journey as an estate landowner who is inspired to experiment with the landscape. Wild, free-roaming pigs, cattle and deer are slowly introduced to the Knepp estate, which together trigger the return of lost ecosystem processes and revive pesticide-ridden farm fields into organic, wild pastures. We learn that allowing herbivores to roam and browse the estate freely, physically changes the landscape at the Knepp estate, rebuilding lost habitats and attracting rare, threatened species. The estate now boasts some of the UK’s rarest animals such as the nightingale and purple emperor butterfly. Shortly after finishing the book, the first wild storks in centuries hatched at the estate, hitting the news and once again showing us readers the power of ‘Wildling’.

“I have really enjoyed all the books, although like the majority ‘Wilding’ was my favourite, it was quite inspirational and the estate’s on my “must visit” list for the future!”

River restoration also features in the book, a subject close to home for the DCRT team. The estate’s river is reconnected to the floodplain and its original meanders restored through the introduction of woody debris and removal of weirs that reinstate a natural flow. We learn how restoration not only improves water quality and habitat diversity, but reduces localised flooding.

Read this book if you: Want a new understanding of ecology and the loss of British wildlife, want to feel inspired, are a landowner or nature-enthusiast.

The relaxing read:
Still water: the deep life of the pond by John Lewis-Stempel
Split into the four seasons, the book follows the life of the pond and a year of our writer’s life, written as short diary entries. We hop between the UK and French countryside, learning the ecology and history of the pond through poems, quotes and vivid descriptions. The writer’s detailed and lyrical prose make this book feel like a love-letter to the pond, and it’s plight.

In the UK, the loss of countryside ponds is estimated by as much as 50% in the last 50 years. The ponds that remain are at risk from urban development, pollution and a lack of management, slowly filling in and becoming dry. The ponds that have lasted are also changing; 2019’s State of Nature Report noted that since the 1990s, ponds in protected landscapes have lost 25% of their wetland plants and are much less diverse. We find out in the book that ponds are not only incredibly abundant, diverse habitats, but have a wilder environmental value, acting as magnets for wildlife living nearby. The writer implores to us for their protection and it works!

“Feel like I ought to get out there and dig one”

Read this book if you:
Want a relaxing bed-time read, you enjoy poetry, want tips to build a wildlife-pond

Facts & HisTory:

The long, long life of trees by Fiona Stafford
This book is a journey through time, exploring the folklore, culture and human fascination with trees that has lasted throughout the centuries. An exploration of paintings, poems and stories, the writer dedicates each of the seventeen chapters to a British tree. We discover humankinds use of different species for meeting points, for fuel and building and as symbols of devotion.

Read this book if you: Want never-ending knowledge of trees, enjoy flipping between chapters.

The wildlife thriller:
Another firm favourite and a special book for most of our team who have been working hard to create our own salmon stronghold on the river Don. The book follows life of the author’s cousin, Guido and his quest to save wild salmon. Although some of us felt that it had a slow start, most of us warmed to Guido as he grows up in the USA, taking his passion for the natural world into an incredible career in conservation. A few of us couldn’t put the book down by the end, devouring it in a few days! Guido’s desire to save the wild salmon brings him to Russia where he makes salmon-worthy leaps in protecting whole river systems, or ‘strongholds’. The writer’s comparison of America’s controlled and broken river systems with the untouched, stunning (and dangerous!) rivers of rural Russia, helpsthe writer weave complex ecological ideas, science and conservation theories, in an easily-digested way. The book also reveals fascinating insights into the world of angling and international conservation.

“Having made the effort to read them all I was amazed at how engrossed I became and how much I got out of each book – not just new knowledge but understanding of different aspects of ecology and our environment.”

Read this book if you: want to learn more about worldwide human-threats to salmon, want to be inspired to make change, are interested in angling.

All books were funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Hidden Heritage Secret Stream project.

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