Here at Don Catchment Rivers Trust we have a mission of protecting and restoring rivers in the Don Catchment – this not only includes the Don, but the Dearne and Rother too.
Over the last ten years, we have had a focus on restoring the rivers as a habitat for fish, particularly migrating fish such as salmon. Historically, dozens of weirs were built across rivers to divert water to mills and factories, but this created an ‘obstacle course’ for fish that were unable to swim up and across the weirs. The weirs also fragmented habitats, prevented fish from reaching their spawning grounds, and altered the natural processes a river should have.
Since the trust formed, we have built seven fish pass solutions on weirs along the Don. But we have never had an opportunity to actually remove a weir until recently.
That opportunity arose as part of our Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project at Slitting Mill Weir on the river Rother. The river around Staveley has been altered a lot over the decades to meet the needs of industry – it has been straightened and de-meandered. The original Slitting Mill Weir was several hundred years old, and as the name suggests fed water to the nearby slitting mill, which slit metal bars into rods, to be passed on to other local mills making nails. We know that the Weir was heavily altered, possibly rebuilt using original stones, around the 1950s for the nearby chemical works. Since the works closed the weir has had no use, but remained in the river as a barrier to fish and other wildlife.
So, in October, after about two years preparation to get the appropriate permits and planning permission the weir was removed. We understand that this can be quite a sad sight for people who appreciate built heritage, as do we, but the weir was not listed and ultimately we need to right some historical wrongs – all the weirs in the catchment were man-made structures that led to the decimation of the natural environment.
The weir was removed by using an excavator and the beautiful local cut stone from the crest was salvaged for use by the estate. We opted to leave the stones acting as bank protection in place to serve as a reminder of where the weir used to be. Now, the water level upstream of the weir has returned to a more natural level, and given time the river should start to heal from it’s impoundment.
So, what’s next? Well the team and our citizen science volunteers have been carrying out base line monitoring of the invertebrates in this stretch of the river, so that we can see what impact removing the weir has. We’ll carry on with the post-removal sampling, and will produce our first comparison report in about a years time.
Also, now that the water level has dropped, quite a lot of abandoned tyres have revealed themselves! We’ll organise some clean up days once the spring arrives with some dryer weather, and the Covid-19 restrictions allow larger groups to gather.
There are still more barriers to tackle and habitats to improve on the Rother to allow fish to move up and down the river. Other organisations are working on improvements through the ‘River Rother Restoration’ project, so we hope to see more action soon!