Grant funding allows habitat improvements to the River Moss catchment

Hello Matt here again. I just wanted to tell everyone about our Moss Valley Project which has finished after starting it in December 2017. This project has been funded by Yorkshire Water and Don Network grants.

We worked with landowners, parish councillors and the Moss Valley Wildlife Group to establish aims for the project through a number of designated tasks.

Our aims for the project were to remove an obstacle to fish migration, improve instream and riparian habitat, reinstate flow to Never Fear Dam and to remove encroaching scrub from a nearby fen thereby improving the ecological condition of the Moss catchment.

Remove obstacle to fish migration

The collapse of Neverfear Weir several years ago presented an opportunity to remove this obstacle to fish passage on the Moss Brook. During high flows the weir had breached, but the debris still presented a barrier to fish movement (see Picture 1). Through a combination of manual clearance (see Picture 3) and the employment of a digger and drill we were able to clear the debris blocking the river (see Picture 4).

20171122_111408 Picture 1. Neverfear Weir blocking the Moss Brook

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Picture 2. Digger breaking capstone apart

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Picture 3. The team at work clearing debris.

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Picture 4. Connectivity restored.

Improving instream and riparian habitat

In-stream habitat was improved in over-widened channels through the installation of fixed woody debris (see Picture 5) and the creation of ‘tree kickers’ (see Picture 6) which improved natural processes such as sediment sorting, scour, flow heterogeneity, as well as introduced new microhabitats. The riparian canopy was thinned, as a mixture of tree cover and canopy improves biodiversity.

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Picture 5. The Wild Trout Trust demonstrating how to use fixed woody debris to improve river habitat.

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Picture 6. Some of the ‘tree kickers’ habitat enhancement work.

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Picture 7. This fixed woody debris was placed at a point of excessive erosion so to reduce the amount of sediment entering the river in addition to providing new microhabitats.

Removal of scrub encroachment

The riparian fen at the bottom of the Moss Valley SSSI was becoming increasingly overrun with trees and scrub (see Picture 8). Over nine days we worked with volunteers to clear small trees, scrub, brambles and Himalayan Balsam (see Pictures 8, 9 & 10).

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Picture 8. Trees and scrub encroaching on one of the fields.

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Picture 9. The same field after clearance.

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Picture 10. No cutting had been done for a number of years so trees of substantial size needed felling.

Reinstate Flow to Never Fear Dam

A goit leading to Never Fear Dam had kept the dam topped up with water. But over time the bank wall had eroded away allowing water escape back into the main river (picture 11) leading to water levels dropping in the dam.

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Picture 11. Water  loss from the goit (before)

We rebuilt the goit bank using stone from the concrete capstone and used the digger to deposit clay and soils to reinforce the bank walls. To prevent erosion we secured coir netting to the soil and spread grass seed to knit the soil together (Picture 12.).

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Picture 12. Goit wall (after)

Another issue occurred during high water/winter conditions with a lot of water pooling around bridge over the goit (picture 13). This was due to a culvert being silted up reducing the flow. We decided to remove the culvert and replace it with a bridge (picture 15) allowing free flow of water underneath.

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Picture 13. Silted culvert (before)

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Picture 14. New bridge over Never Fear Dam goit

We created a spill way (picture 15) upstream of the bridge to allow water to be released back into the main river, relieving the amount of water passing further down.

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Picture 15. Spill way

 

The last job: Introducing marginal plants to Neverfear Dam

Now that water levels in Neverfear Dam have been restored we finished off our Moss Valley Project by introducing a mixture of marginal plant species to Neverfear Dam during a volunteer day. (Picture 16, 17 and 18) This included Yellow Flag Iris and Phalaris grasses, which have been known by the MVWG to have once grown in the area providing habitat for harvest mice.

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Picture 16. Before 20181024_131651.jpg

Picture 17. During

 

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Picture 18. After

 

Thank you to everyone that has been involved with the Moss Project over this last year, couldn’t have done it without our dedicated volunteers.

 

 

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The Lost Fish Species of the Lower River Don

Our Trustee Chris Firth (MBE) describes the historical drainage of the lower Don’s diverse wetlands, which species can still be found and which are yet to return.

Prior to the early part of the 17th century the lower River Don consisted of a vast area of wetland which extended from the town we now know as Thorne all the way to the confluence of the Rivers Trent and Ouse. It then extended up the Trent valley as far as Misterton and across from there to the outskirts of Doncaster. It covered an area equivalent to 90 thousand acres and encompassed one of England’s foremost Royal hunting estates, the Hatfield Chase.

This area of land known as the Isle of Axholme was made up of a myriad of wetland habitats including lakes, meres, ponds, marshes, reed beds and river channels including those of the Rivers Idle and Torne which at that time were tributaries of the Don. Most notable of the features was Bradmere, a huge lake which at the time was regarded as the second largest body of fresh water in Yorkshire eclipsed only by Semerwater up in the Yorkshire Dales. Bradmere stood immediately to the west of Thorne and received the flow of the Don as it coursed its way into the wetlands of the Isle of Axholme. This area was subjected to frequent inundation from both spring tides and fluvial flooding and provided conditions which accommodated a huge variety of fish species. Passing annually up the river channel were huge numbers of salmon and sea trout heading for the clean fresh conditions of the upper Don and its tributaries. An indication of the numbers of these species frequenting the river can be gained from their market value at the time. Salmon was the cheapest fish available and was generally eaten by only the poorest in society. In comparison, eels were jealously guarded with the rights to fish for them most often held by Monastic Orders. In the lakes, ponds and meres species such as roach, bream, perch and pike would have abounded and these would have been the most common species exploited by the residents as a source of food. But there were other species which despite the Don’s recovery from gross pollution, are no longer found. Species such as the smelt a small silvery fish which appeared in huge shoals and moved up the tidal areas to spawn. Another was the burbot a freshwater member of the cod family. Both of these species would have been present in huge numbers as would river lamprey which would have entered the river to reproduce. Interestingly the river lamprey’s larger cousin the sea lamprey made its first appearance in the Don in 2016 after more than a century of absence. All of these species were tolerant of the brackish conditions created by saline influence of the Humber Estuary.

Today, smelt are still found in parts of the Humber Estuary but in very small numbers compared to the vast shoals which once existed. They make their way into the estuary between January and April to breed then drop back out to sea. As late as the 1970s large numbers of this species would make their way, by way of connected channels, into the lakes created by redundant mineral workings along the Humber banks around Barton and Hessle and annually their presence could be detected by a distinctive smell of thyme rising from the water. Their decline has been blamed on a number of factors mainly associated with land drainage activities. The introduction of clough gates and pumping stations at the outfalls into the estuary undoubtably had a significant impact as it restricted access to many of the most suitable spawning sites. Despite there being a remnant population in the estuary, no sign of them returning to the River Don has been found.

The burbot is the only member of the cod family to live in freshwater and as earlier stated, was once common in the rivers connected to the Humber. Its eating qualities were regarded as very good despite its ugly appearance and it would undoubtably have been a prized dish for the residents of the lower Don. Burbot were still present in relatively large numbers in the Yorkshire Derwent in the late 1940’s and early 50’s and my uncle was a regular visitor to Bubwith and Wressle often returning with half a dozen fish for the table. Its decline and later extinction has been blamed once again on land drainage practices, particularly the construction of the barrage which was built at the outfall of the Derwent into the River Ouse, changing the tidal nature of the river. Today the burbot is recognised as extinct in British waters.

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The European Sea Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio

Probably the most iconic species yet to make a reappearance is the European sea sturgeon, once an occasional visitor to the Don. These huge fish, some weighing in excess of 200 lbs, probably entered the river in search of suitable spawning sites but the construction of weirs, particularly the one at Doncaster built around the 12th century, would have been a complete barrier to their upstream movement. There are records of these fish being speared and gaffed when they appeared in the weir pool at Doncaster where, because of their size, they would have been easy prey to the local human population.

The recovery of the River Don’s fish population has been remarkable over the last 25 years with 27 of the river’s original 32 recorded species now present within the system. The prospects for the return of smelt and river lamprey are probably good despite the national decline of these species but the likelihood of us witnessing the return of burbot and sturgeon are poor, particularly with burbot which is recognised as extinct in British waters. The only possibility of this happening would be reintroduction from populations existing in Europe, something which has been considered. We must recognise however that because of the extensive draining of the Don’s tidal floodplain in the 17th century, the habitat of the lower river has fundamentally changed resulting in little being left of the habitat that supported such a remarkable fishery.

We should never say never and perhaps some time in the future the work that has taken place to restore this once incredible river system will be rewarded with the return of all of its historic fishery inhabitants.

 

Doncaster Pupils Become Budding ‘River Champions’

A grant from the Brelms Trust enabled us to engage 107 young people living in disadvantaged areas in Doncaster with our exciting schools project – ‘River Champions’. This allowed us to go into schools and teach pupils about their local rivers and freshwater life through a program of environmentally orientated lessons. Pupils learned about the ecology of the river told through the story of the mayfly enabling them to build a model of the river in the classroom and seeing mayfly nymphs metamorphosise before their eyes. We accessed training in how to deliver this aspect of the project through Paul Gaskell at the Wild Trout Trust as we would be engaging multiple schools. Once DCRT staff were trained-up, this information was passed on to classroom teachers, allowing future classes to participate in this project.

Schools that took part were also invited out to a field visit to the river; this is something disadvantaged schools have limited funds for, particularly for coaches. During their visit to the river classes had the opportunity to do some river dipping, seeing what invertebrates live in the river. During the field trip we delivered ‘Yellowfish’ – an EA project that aims to teach pupils about how pollution affects the river ecology and how they can help stop pollutants entering the river system. This proved to be an engaging method of making the link between human activity and environmental impacts.

This project hopes to inspire the next generation of environmentally-conscious young people by broadening their horizons and stimulating new interests, in turn having an impact in the physical environment of their local areas. The grant contributed towards staff costs, pupil’s transport and tank equipment. We would have not been able to deliver this project without the grant funds from the Brelms Trust.

Quotes from class teachers included:

“Children really enjoyed the Mayfly session and the creation of the habitat. Children were involved in every aspect of this and built up substantial knowledge of this area through videos, discussion and visuals. Fantastic session.”

Y5 Teacher at Windhill Primary School

 

“Matt and his assistant were fantastic, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. They had a nice manner with the children who responded well to them and learnt a great deal.”

Y6 teacher at New Pastures Primary School

If you know of a primary school that would be interested in taking part in this project in Spring/Summer 2019 please get in touch with us at info@dcrt.org.uk or call us on 01302 796173.

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Discoveries from the 2018 Wardsend Cemetery Bioblitz

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Wildlife organisations, experts and scientists came together on Saturday 11th of August to survey, identify and record the wildlife at Wardsend Cemetery, with the aim of counting as many species as they could within one day.  This year’s grand total was he grand total at the end of the day was an incredible 190 biological records, counting 131 different species of plant and animal (click here for the Bioblitz species list). Check out last year’s blog to compare our finds!

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Photo credits: Kinder Kalsi

What is a biological record? A biological record documents the sighting of a plant or animal, in a place and at a time. A record includes four bits of essential information: the name of the person that  saw the species, what the species was, the location it was found in and the date it was seen – the Who, What, Where and When.

Collecting this information builds up a detailed picture of UK biodiversity. Combined, the biological records allow scientists to observe changing patterns in how different species live and behave. This is especially important for conservation as it helps scientists understand which species are in decline and need our help.

Experts and nature enthusiasts led wildlife walks throughout the day for visitors. Julie Riley and Lizzie McBride identified plants (wildflowers and trees) in the cemetery. Sally Hyslop led bug-hunting along the river and Jim Clarke showed the public how to listen out for and spot birds. Chris Firth demonstrated fly-fishing throughout the day on the River Don.  Any unknown finds were taken to the Investigation Hub for further identification.

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As well as walks, there were stalls throughout the cemetery with activities including ‘Who Dung it’ (identifying which poo belonged to which UK mammal!), bats and butterflies and Otterly Amazing, showing footage of otters and their pups found in Derbyshire. A huge thank you to all the volunteers, experts and organisations that ran these fantastic stalls including the University of Sheffield, the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery and Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

 

This event was part of DCRT’s Heritage Lottery Funded Living Heritage of the River Don project. A big thank you to all the scientists, experts and visitors that joined us on the day to record and celebrate the nature found at Wardsend Cemetery and along the River Don.

Photos by Kinder Kalsi.

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Vounteers’ week!

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It’s volunteers’ week and the team at Don Catchment Rivers Trust would like to say a huge THANK YOU to our spectacular volunteers that make our trust’s work a real pleasure.

To celebrate this year’s volunteers’ week we are delighted to release this fantastic video (click here!) of our volunteers in action cleaning up the River Don, produced by The Rivers Trust and starring Rowena Mellows, who has been volunteering with the trust for a whopping 15 months. Read about her experience volunteering HERE.

This year so far our volunteers have already filled over 1000 bags of litter from the catchment’s riversides and waterways. 18 tyres, 11 trolleys and many more traffic cones, bikes and chairs have been removed from the river itself. All this hard work, in all weathers, has helped to clean up the river and improved water flow and quality. The team have removed fly tipping, reported incidents of pollution and been helping make the river Don a safer place to be.

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Our volunteers have also been out on the Moss Valley on practical conservation days to restore its biodiversity and heritage value. Volunteers have been making improvements to the river’s flow for fish, restoring wetland areas and planting marginal species of plants in an old mill dam.

Another huge thank you to our education volunteers this year for dedicating their time to helping deliver our River Guardians and Mayfly in the Classroom sessions to schools and scout groups in the catchment. We couldn’t do it without you!
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Treasures of the river (and canal) bank

A guest blog by our volunteer Antony Meadows 

Well, perhaps not treasures exactly, but interesting just the same! I started volunteering with the Don Catchment Rivers Trust in January this year, and have thoroughly enjoyed discovering the rivers and canals of Rotherham and Sheffield; places I have only driven past or not appreciated all the years I worked in Sheffield and Rotherham. I have even enjoyed the litter picking! So much so that I am now also part of Love Where You Live in Rotherham, where I litter pick with a local group and on my own in my village.

I enjoy the sense of achievement when we have cleaned up an area, knowing we have made a difference, even though I am aware it’s a never ending task and we need to keep on top of it regularly. I guess I’m also nosey  and curious to know what I might find! The answer has been up to now, the usual glass and plastic bottles, cans, crisp packets, and plastic bags. I have avoided finding anything too gross or dangerous thankfully. However, recently I found something interesting – at least I think so.

We were out along the banks of the River Rother at Canklow. Amongst the vegetation I saw a whole brick face up, with the manufacturers name – Stairfoot – clearly showing .  I know Stairfoot is a district of Barnsley, but that’s about all! I thought this brick, in some vague way, would be good to use in my garden somewhere. Moving further along the bank I saw 2 more bricks, again in good condition. One was inscribed Maltby Metallic, and the other the intriguing Midland Ir Rother,: the rest of the lettering was obscured under what looked like slag. By now I was hooked, so these were loaded into the wheelbarrow- thanks Matt and Sally! – and brought back to where we were parked. I spotted another brick near my car marked LBC Phorpres, so I came home with four!

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Cleaned up – bricks found along the River Rother, Don and canals

I cleaned them all up when I got home. A quick google on one of the names brought up a  website devoted to old bricks! It told me all I, or anyone else, would need to know about bricks. As I thought, one was a London Brick which are quite common, but the others were local. There  was a brickworks at Stairfoot apparently. I had heard of Maltby Metallic as my childhood Council house home was made from their bricks ; finally, the one I had to clean turned out to be the Midland Iron Company of Rotherham. They were in Masbrough, and made wrought iron products but must have made their own bricks too. There were photographs of all these on the website so I haven’t found anything that unusual it seems, but I’m still pleased to find them!

Since then I have been looking for other examples while out with the DCRT team. I have managed to find at least  one brick on each occasion. I now have bricks marked Kilnhurst, D & S Clarke Rotherham, DMC Ld (Darfield Main Colliery), and I left a Dyson Refractory brick in situ as I already had one other brick to carry which was heavy enough!

I have also found R V (Rothervale Collieries), and Staveley bricks while litter picking locally. My greenhouse is resting on bricks, at least one of which is just visible and is marked Rushworth. This is apparently from West Yorkshire and were commonly found in Bradford buildings! I dug up a Dinnington brick from my garden some years ago, (luckily I kept it) and I recently found fragments of Accrington Nori bricks in my partners sisters garden near Coventry!

Until I looked into this I had no idea that there were so many brickworks in this country, and indeed in South Yorkshire. There was such a variety of types of brick and brick making companies, and to me these bricks are an window into our history. I hope by rescuing a few here and there I am preserving the memory of our recent past.

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Antony and the rest of the team after a clear up of the Hartley Brook in Sheffield

What to do if you see an environmental incident along a waterway?

Hello, Matt here. Just thought I’d do a post about something that happened recently whilst we were out on a volunteer day. We were litter picking along the River Rother in Canklow when we came across an inlet to the main channel that was discoloured (grey), smelled unpleasant and had rags of material caught up in it (see pictures below).

I called the Environment Agency with the location and details of what I had seen and they gave me a reference number for the report and said they’d look into the incident. A week later I received a call back from an EA officer saying that they found it to be a Yorkshire Water combined sewer overflow (CSO). Yorkshire Water were unaware of the issue as the telemetry indicator was not working and said they would fix the problem.

Anyone can report such incidences as this which can in turn help improve water quality and the general health of the river environment. Together we can report deliberate and non-deliberate sources of pollution and be the eyes to the authorities that have the power to implement changes.

If you see any of the following:

  • damage or danger to the natural environment
  • pollution to water or land
  • poaching or illegal fishing
  • dead fish or fish gasping for air
  • main rivers blocked by a vehicle or fallen tree causing risk of flooding
  • flooding from any river, stream, canal, natural spring or the sea
  • incidents at Environment Agency-regulated waste sites
  • illegal removals from watercourses
  • unusual changes in river flow
  • or collapsed or badly damaged river or canal banks

Report it to the EA Incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60

or visit https://www.gov.uk/report-an-environmental-incident