A collaborative approach to ensuring effective fish passes on the Don

We have been seeing concrete evidence of Salmon successfully returning to the Don catchment after 150-years since they disappeared from our waterways. Considering approximately £14 million has been spent over the last 20-years to improve fish passage within the Don, this is a great success story for all those that have been involved and everyone living within the catchment.

Part of the success has been down to the 17-fish passes that have allowed a variety of species to ascend otherwise impassable weirs – relics of our industrial past. Fish passes within the Don catchment are in a somewhat unique situation where by there are multiple stakeholders (nine in total) that own weirs – including the fish passes that occupy them. It is also the responsibility of the fish pass owner to maintain these structures to ensure they are operating at maximal capacity all year round, particularly during our busy spring and autumn migration seasons.

Due to the nature of man-made structures being within a tempestuous river system, high flood waters can often cause organic (trees, branches, sediment and rocky debris) and non-organic (litter and large derbis) material to partially or fully block the fish pass channels.

If properly maintained, in theory, anadromous (sea to river) and potadromous (within river) migrating fish species should be able to reach appropriate spawning habitats Beeley Woods in Sheffield. A study showed that even if there was a 10% reduction in the effectiveness of our fish passes, the cumulative effect would be that species would have a 50% chance of reaching habitats upstream of Blackburn Meadows. Given the improvements in water quality and spawning habitat availability upstream of the city centre, this is quite significant if we are looking to see a successful breeding population of Atlantic salmon in our waters once again.

Given the variation between organisations that own fish passes, a pilot project has been set up to ensure involved parties have or are able to access the skills and knowledge needed to properly inspect and maintain their assets, with some beneficial results…

Having engaged the majority of stakeholders, quarterly meeting have been arranged to discuss maintenance best practise, updates from recent inspections/clearances and future ideas of how fish passes can be adequately maintained going forward. Also, a collaborative approach to monthly inspections has been organised, whereby the River Stewardship Company, Yorkshire Water and Don Catchment Rivers Trust share the responsibility, meaning individuals are making less trips per year and blockages are being effectively recorded.

Steelbank Fish Pass – Blocked in 2020 after high flood waters

It is hoped that this approach can be replicated elsewhere in the catchment as well as other catchments in the Yorkshire region.

For more information on this project please contact Matt Duffy (fishery habitat officer) via matt.duffy@dcrt.org.uk