2020 at the Don Catchment Rivers Trust!

Happy New Year all!
In our first blog of 2021 we hear from Project Assistant, Anthony Cox, on what DCRT got up to last year.

2020 has been a very difficult year for so many. We haven’t been able to see our friends or family as we normally would, but there have also been some surprising benefits for our environment as well.

Volunteering

Can you remember a different time when we were free to travel wherever we wanted to go, see whoever we wanted to see? Well this era was known as January and February 2020. We ran a volunteer day every week during this time with as many people as wanted to come along. This is genuinely enough to give you nightmares in the current climate.

However after the lockdown hit in March we had to adapt to find new ways of volunteering. Our dedicated volunteers were going out on their own or with members of their household to clear up riverside paths and parks in their local areas. This level of dedication has made us all very proud of them and we are very grateful to have such a commited volunteer team. We also ran regular online tea breaks so that volunteers could stay connected online.

A photo of a socially distanced volunteer day in Rotherham

When we came out of lockdown we had to adapt our voluntary tasks and make them covid-safe for the volunteer team. We restricted volunteer days to 6 people (volunteers and staff) at a time, and started to run two sessions per day to accommodate more volunteers. We restarted volunteer days for the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project in Chesterfield, led by Catchment Officer Matt Duffy, and for the Friends of the Don Valley Way, ran by me (Project Assistant Anthony Cox).

Natural Flood Management

We’ve been very busy last year in the field of NFM. Our Natural Flood Management Officer Debbie Coldwell has been developing various NFM projects in the Rother Catchment, with two key schemes getting underway in 2020. The first began at the start of the year before the lockdown where we were preparing to construct leaky dams in the Moss valley. Leaky dams are put in place to hold water back in times of high flow, reducing the amount of water heading downstream and therefore reducing the flood risk downstream. The first day on the site was in February where we had lots of volunteers come out to help us prepare to construct them. However due to the COVID19 issues that followed construction of the leaky dams did not begin until October.

Leaky Dams in the Moss Valley

Debbie has also been leading a lot of work on a farm on the banks of the Rother between Grassmoor and Hasland. This work involved multiple innovations including putting in flood storage scrapes and planting a wildflower meadow. This will reduce the flood risk as the rougher meadow vegetation creates more resistance to runoff, and the scrapes can hold water becoming small ponds in times of heavy rainfall. Both activities also create more wildlife habitat on the farm. Click here to read Debbie’s blog on this scheme.

Volunteers spreading wildflower seeds to create a meadow

It hasn’t just been Debbie working on NFM though. Volunteer Barry Caldwell has also been conducting his own NFM work at home. He has created his own rain garden to slow the flow of water from his garage roof. Click here to read Barry’s blog about his rain garden. He has also constructed his own permeable paving so that he can park his car and slow the flow of water into the rivers reducing flood risk. Click here to read Barry’s blog on Permeable paving.

Prix Charles Ritz

At the start of the year we were the first ever UK organisation to win the Prix Charles Ritz award for our work on the Living Heritage of the River Don Project (click here to learn more about the project). The award is given to individuals or organisations who make a difference to the rivers they cherish, exhibiting the upmost devotion and commitment to the environment, and celebrates those who champion river improvement work. The prize is awarded by the Fario Club, and this is the first time it has been awarded in the UK. Click here to read more about this prestigious award.

The DCRT Team collecting the award in London in January

Lockdown Content

You may be wondering “Anthony, what does a Rivers Trust employee do when you have to work at home during a lockdown?” Well reader, I will tell you. Over this difficult year we decided we would produce a regular newsletter jam-packed with entertaining and educational content. I wrote a regular article on positive wildlife stories to try to give people a boost as let’s be honest, the lockdown was really depressing.

We also created fun activities for children and adults to have something to do. Regular videos were created on a broad range of topics from cycling to garden schools to history, which would hopefully connect more people to their local rivers. Click here to see our YouTube channel.

We also created our learning pool on the website, an educational page for children to learn about their river (click here to view the page). Finally we created 1200 activity packs throughout the year which we have taken to foodbanks so that disadvantaged children have something to let them learn and play throughout the lockdown.

Community Engagement Officer Sally Hyslop preparing some of the packs

Citizen Science

If this year has done anything it has shown us the importance of science to our society. This was our 3rd year collecting data on aquatic invertebrates in the Rother. The project is lead by Community Engagement Officer Sally Hyslop and has been a real battle to keep running this year. Days have been postponed many times due to bad weather and lockdowns, however the data has been collected on what was once the most polluted river in Europe. You can learn more about how we collect this data by clicking here.

Staff out on a sampling Day

Capital Works

This year we installed the last fishpass on the River Don to allow Atlantic Salmon to reach their spawning grounds in Sheffield. The last weir that needed a fishpass was Masbrough Weir in central Rotherham. We worked with Canal & Rivers Trust, The Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. This was the final piece in a 20 year puzzle for fish passage to the spawning grounds a Salmon Pastures.

The completed fishpass on Masbrough weir

Also this year we removed a weir on the River Rother. This will improve fish passage and re-naturalise the river, allowing a wider variety of species to live there. The weir that was removed was Slitting Mill Weir. Special thanks to Project Manager Rachel Walker for leading these projects and for helping the rest of us get through the year.

Slitting Mill Weir after it was removed

Apprenticeship

This year I completed my level 3 apprenticeship in environmental conservation. Finishing an apprenticeship in 2020 was very challenging as it was hard to complete practical work. However I have always enjoyed working for the trust for every day since I started in October 2017. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the staff, trustees and volunteers who have helped me get to where I am now, and a special thanks to my college tutors Craig and Cathryn.

Events

Events were a little different this year, but we still managed to take part in the Chesterfield well dressing festival. Volunteers created a section of a larger design, which we fitted together like a huge puzzle. This welldressing was displayed for two weeks at Tapton Lock on the Chesterfield canal.

The welldressing we created at Tapton Lock

We also worked on the Festival of the Mind this year in collaboration with the University of Sheffield. This involved us creating a metal Salmon sculpture which is currently in place outside of Sheffield Train Station. The idea was to promote the River Don and the return of the Atlantic Salmon. We also created a new walking trail map and audio guide for a route following the river from Kelham Island to Sheffield Station. Click here to learn more about the project.

A photo of the Salmon Sculpture made for the Festival of the Mind

In the Autumn we worked with Rotherham charity Grimm & Co, who work to help children unleash their creativity and learn literacy skills by creating magical stories. In a series of online creative writing sessions, local children explored the history of the river Don and the disappearance of Atlantic Salmon. Working together, the children produced and voiced their own script which will be turned into a short animated film about the salmon’s magical return. Watch this space!

What a year!

I’m not going to pretend 2020 has been our best year at the trust, however we’ve worked hard to achieve as much as we possibly could in these tricky times. We want to thank all of our volunteers for keeping in touch and joining in with our online programme, and our wonderful trustees who have supported us through these strange times. Finally we would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund and our other project funders for allowing us to have the flexibility to adapt our projects, so we can still work to complete them during the lockdowns and restrictions.