Dwelling on the bed of our swift-flowing rivers is one of our commonest and distinctive fish species, the Bullhead. While it’s certainly a diminutive fish, it has a relatively large chunky head that does give it a certain bullishness. Another common name for it is Miller’s Thumb, probably because they are digit-sized and typically inhabit the kind of energetic rivers that were for centuries strung with watermills.
I think Bullheads must be really common in Sheffield’s rivers. Many a time we’ve inadvertently caught one when using pond-dipping nets to collect invertebrates from the river bottom. They squirm weakly in our dank catch of insect larvae, crustaceans and grit, and look accusingly at us with upward facing eyes. If it’s so easy to catch one from a small patch of riverbed then surely they must be down there in their thousands?
Apparently Bullhead are good dads. Female fish visit males and deposit around 100 eggs which the soon-to-be fathers protect and care for until the resulting fry are free-swimming, a level of parental care found in only a handful of British’s freshwater fishes. Neither sex is very sociable, preferring a solitary existence, and establishing small territories that they defend and occupy for their entire lives; tiny underwater fiefdoms of cobble and stone.
In the mornings and evenings Bullhead become more active to feed. They are omnivorous and eat a wide range of food including freshwater shrimp, midge larvae, fish fry, as well as plant matter. They wisely stay hidden away in the daytime, sheltering in gaps under rocks, to try avoid their many predators such as grey heron, kingfisher, otter and brown trout. I think it’s a sensible approach to being a small fish in a big river.
Bullhead need well oxygenated cleanish water and for a long time they were absent from Sheffield’s grossly polluted rivers. That they are now thriving in the River Don in Sheffield demonstrates how much water quality has improved. They are hard to spot, but if you look into the Don and see a boulder or cobble, or maybe even a brick, there’s a good chance there’s one of these charming fish secreted underneath, waiting out the day until it can safely emerge for its supper.
Don Catchment Rivers Trust is named the winner of the ‘Seize The Opportunity’ award, in the British Safety Council International Safety Awards 2022 for protecting its employees from the risk of injury and ill health through their work.
Don Catchment Rivers Trust is one of the very few to become a special overall award winner in the International Safety Awards 2022, in recognition of its commitment to keeping workers and workplaces healthy and safe during the 2021 calendar year.
Now in their 64th year, the International Safety Awards recognise and celebrate organisations and individuals from around the world who have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the scheme’s independent judges their commitment to preventing workplace injuries and work-related ill health during the previous calendar year. The awards also recognise organisations and individuals that have shown commitment to wellbeing and mental health at work.
The ‘Seize The Opportunity’ Award is a new category that recognises organisations that have gone the extra mile to seize health, safety or wellbeing opportunities resulting from a crisis.
Rachel Walker, Operations Director at Don Catchment Rivers Trust said about winning the award:
“The pandemic restrictions were for us, and many organisations, a crisis. We had spent years encouraging people to volunteer, socialise and enjoy our rivers and then suddenly our whole ethos and purpose was disrupted. We could not do our jobs as we knew them. Instead of shutting down, we decided now was the time to put everything we had learnt about wellbeing and supporting volunteers into practice, and we did that with a sound basis in health and safety.
“The Trust is enormously proud of how our staff and volunteers pulled together to support each other through an unprecedented time, and we are particularly pleased to win this award because it shows the power our rivers and natural heritage have for supporting wellbeing. We thank all our funders and supporters for working with us to enable the Trust to make a positive difference at such a terrible time.”
Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, congratulated Don Catchment Rivers Trust on their success in being crowned overall winner of ‘Seize The Opportunity’ in the International Safety Awards 2022. “The British Safety Council commends Don Catchment Rivers Trust on their achievement. The award is in recognition of their commitment and efforts to keep their employees and workplaces free of injury and ill health.
Announcing the winners Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council said:
“My sincerest congratulations to all the individuals, teams and organisations that have won a prestigious International Safety Award. The winners have made substantial efforts to protect and enhance the health, safety, and wellbeing of everyone in their organisations. All the winners, as well as those who were shortlisted, have gone above and beyond in dedicating additional time, resources and commitment to ensuring their work, teams and workplaces remained healthy and safe during 2021.”
9 months ago I wrote a blog about finishing my Kickstart position and all the amazing experiences I had during that time. Now I write as I am about to leave DCRT and move onto the next chapter in my life.
Next week I am going on a big adventure to the USA to start my PhD in submarine lava flows. I applied for this position around the same time I transitioned into my new role as Project Assistant for the Trust. I never believed in a million years that I would actually make it.
As excited as I am about starting this new challenge, I am also sad that I will be leaving DCRT. My time with the trust has left me with memories that I will never forget. Over the course of the last year I have learnt so much, not only about river conservation, but I feel like I have also learned a lot about myself as a person.
I would like to say a massive thank you to all the volunteers who welcomed me with open arms to the team last April. Over the past nine months I’ve got to know all of you and love the conversations we have while we are out on our volunteer days, I have honestly learnt so much from you all.
I would also like to say a huge thank you to all the team at DCRT. I felt so nervous when I started at the Trust just over a year ago, but you all offered me a warm welcome and supported me every step of the way. You are honestly the best team that I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
So once again, thank you to you all. I will make sure to keep in contact and I will be following all your hard work on social media. I look forward to seeing what amazing work the trust will do I the future!
In this blog, we hear from Finn Davies on his work experience with the DCRT team.
I wasn’t certain on what I wanted to do after sixth-form before coming to Don Catchment River Trust. Someone drew my attention to DCRT and I thought I would go and see if I could do my work experience there as I have always had an interest in nature. When I emailed them to see if they could have me they got back to me very quickly and were so welcoming from the get go!
Having completed the week, I am now certain what I want to do, I want to work in conservation inspiring the younger generation in caring for the environment. Over the week I was lucky enough to have a number of different experiences including going on school visits which involved teaching the kids about the river and doing practical work with them. I also got the chance to go to a local park and do some fish filming which was really interesting as it made me realise there is so much nature so close to everyone. I did a volunteer day which was great as it allowed me to meet new people and help my local community. Last but not least, I got to help out in a local project providing activities for children along the river using activity boards.
Not only did I have a great experience, this also allowed me to learn loads of new skills and was a great inspiration. I learnt how important teamwork is, not only inside the organisation but between organisations and the community itself. I also learnt about many different steps that people could take to protect the environment.
A massive thank you should go out to the DCRT team and I could not recommend their work experience highly enough.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
After starting the new year in the midst of another lockdown, we weren’t sure what to imagine for 2021 at DCRT, but we have found ourselves ending the year on a real high after a jam-packed programme of riverside events.
Wading, splashing, paddling – we’ve loved being back outside with you all on volunteer days and at our community events. A huge thank you to those volunteers who joined and fed back on our initial volunteer trial-days as lockdown ended – and a very warm welcome to those that have recently joined the team again after many hard months of shielding.
So what did DCRT get up to in 2021?
Even with the lockdown halting volunteer days until the spring, and limited group sizes thereafter, DCRT volunteers contributed a whopping 1605 hours to cleaning up our rivers, removal of invasive species, surveying freshwater invertebrates and restoring riverside habitat this year.
88 volunteers have been trained in beginner’s botany, fungi identification, meadow-surveying, bird-surveying, hedge-laying and underwater film-work. Several volunteers also helped to research, write and record audio guides for our new walking trails in Chesterfield. Bird nest boxes were built by our volunteer team and installed in the Rother Washlands, which were monitored over the breeding season, and we’ve begun monthly bird surveys at Wardsend Cemetery in Sheffield.
We’ve worked hard to ‘slow the flow’ and improve flood resilience through NFM (natural flood management) in the catchment.
Volunteers have built more than 30 leaky barriers of different shapes and sizes along tributaries of the Moss Brook in Newfield Spring Wood, and the Holme Brook in Holmebrook Valley Park.
Farmland along the Rother has seen further measures introduced to hold back runoff and boost wildlife habitat with the planting of 160m of new hedgerow and removal of large areas of the invasive Himalayan Balsam thanks to our wonderful volunteers.
250 trees have been planted by volunteers in Rotherham in partnership with Rotherham Council, with more on the way in January.
The public have sent in 15 photos as part of our fixed point photography project to help us monitor the landscape at Grassmoor Country Park, where we plan to start a very exciting Natural Flood Management scheme soon!
We’ve been working in partnership with National Highways to support the delivery of a natural flood management pilot project in the Little Don catchment. The project aims to explore whether natural flood management can be part of the solution to highway flooding and will involve improved soil aeration, tree planting, leaky barriers and storage ponds!
And what about river restoration? Woody debris has been installed on the river Hipper in Somersall park to create new micro-habitats in the river for fish and help restore a more natural flow to our post-industrial rivers. DCRT now have a Fisheries Officer in post, Matt Duffy, who will be working to improve the fishery across the catchment and keep an eye on the returning Atlantic salmon.
As restrictions lifted we were able to deliver our River Guardian’s educational sessions to schools and uniformed groups and have taught a total of 404 children this year, with activities including well-dressing, earthworm surveys, bat-walks, river-dipping and bug-hunting!
We worked with 3 groups of young people this year by partnering up with Chesterfield College, Catch-22 and the National Citizen Service programme. We supported 16 young people with special educational needs and disabilities on a week-long volunteer programme with us. Our community engagement partner Kakou also delivered a computer-tech project working with young people with special educational needs, who created a new riverside walking trail and an amazing online game for us! We’ve also really enjoyed working with students from Sheffield Hallam University, FLOD, on their incredible enterprise placement creating eco plant-pots out of river litter.
It was a joy to bring back our community events this year and over the summer holidays, we welcomed 79 children and parents to our Brook Explorer events. Families joined us to sew memory squares, go boat-racing, river-dip and hunt for mini-beasts! A real treat was the volunteer summer celebration picnic in Queen’s Park, where at last we got together as a big group to celebrate our volunteer team’s achievements.
From foraging to bat-detecting to industrial nature, we’ve led 7 exciting walks by the riverside this year, and during the lockdown, we hosted a fantastic series of 5 online talks about river heritage and conservation – thanks to those who joined the discussion!
And finally, we were delighted to welcome 3 new staff members to DCRT this year: Jenny Palmer our Agricultural Officer, Erika Phoenix our new Catchment Host Officer and Beckie Fulton our new Project Assistant. We are so proud of our growing team!
A huge thank you to all our funders and supporters for making this year possible.
The research from this blog was found out by young people from Chesterfield College taking part in the Autumn National Citizen Service with the DCRT team. The young people volunteered for a full week of social action with the DCRT team, helping to make bird boxes, clean out the river, manage wetland vegetation, taking a boat trip on the John Varley II and kick-sampling for invertebrates.
They also spent some time mudlarking for river treasure and researching the history of their finds. Read on to find out what they discovered.
What is Mudlarking? Treasure-hunting for old artefacts on the riverbank. The everyday items lost to the river can reveal what life was like in the past – a form of industrial archaeology.
What we found: Below are some of the pieces the group found in the river Hipper during their mudlarking session. The abundance of pottery fragments may be due to the many Brampton potteries that used to surround the river here in the Victorian Era.
Artefact one: Pottery fragment
After investigating this fragment it was discovered it was an old piece of a water filter, used to filter drinking water, made in England era 1880. Water filters became commonplace in victorian Britain after cholera epidemics were linked to dirty water.
Artefact two: Old pewter tankard
This pewter tankard with a lion handle was found in Chesterfield a few years ago, but we’ve never before known its history. An inscription reads the date 1957 (Feb 26th) and the words ‘professor and ‘marriage’. Perhaps a wedding gift?
Artefact three:A piece of ceramic pottery
Artefact four: A clay pipe
This clay pipe was found by our volunteer Chris Davies many years ago in Rotherham’s River Don and kindly donated to DCRT. The students investigating it found the inscription ‘Dublin’ on the pipe, suggesting it was imported from Ireland. They dated it to the 19th century based on the shape and length of the stem. Production of clay pipes dwindled in the 20th century as cigarettes became available.
In this latest blog we hear from DCRT Project Assistant, Beckie Fulton, on Climate Change and the impact on our rivers.
What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a hot topic in the news this week as more than 190 world leaders gather in Glasgow, Scotland for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). The summit aims to bring together world leaders, negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens to discuss what actions can be taken to accelerate towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change⁽¹⁾.
Climate change is the long-term shift in weather patterns and global temperatures. Geological records show that these shifts can occur naturally. However, since the 1800s, human activities such as burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, has exponentially increased greenhouse gas emissions and is the main driver of modern-day climate change⁽²⁾. Greenhouse gases include Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Water Vapour and Fluorinated Gases (which are synthetic). These greenhouse gases act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth and trap in all the heat which normally escapes back into space. Over time this leads to an increase in global temperatures, since the late 1800’s greenhouse gases have already resulted in the Earth warming by around 1.1°C⁽²⁾.
The latest figures show that on average we are emitting around 51 billion tons of greenhouses gases in a year⁽³⁾. In order to reduce the impacts of climate change (which we are already beginning to see) we need to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and half our emissions by 2030. This was agreed by international science committees as it would limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C, which will help us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and maintain a liveable climate⁽²⁾. Reaching these targets will be incredibly hard. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, when the world and economy came to a halt and millions lost their lives, greenhouse gas emissions only reduced by around 5%, which means we emitted 48-49 billion tons instead of 51 billion tons⁽³⁾. Thinking about this makes it hard to imagine how we will ever manage to reach our net-zero emissions goal by 2050. But we must achieve this, or we will see devastating changes to our natural world before the end of the century.
How will climate change impact our rivers?
Now we have discussed what climate change is and the seriousness of the situation, let’s talk about how climate change will impact our rivers. The main ways climate change will impact our rivers are: flooding, drought, water quality and ecosystems.
Flooding and Drought
Flooding and drought are often what people first think about when asked how climate change will impact our rivers. As mentioned earlier climate change is the long-term shift in weather patterns and global temperatures. Firstly, rising temperatures increases both evaporation from land and water surfaces. As a result of shifting weather patterns, there can be prolonged periods of time with no/ minimal rainfall. The combination of these two factors results in severe and long droughts.
Also, warmer air can hold more water vapour and in addition to increasing rates of evaporation more extreme rainfall events are triggered – this means greater volumes of water falling at higher intensities.⁽⁴̛ ⁵⁾. Rainfall intensity depends on how much water vapour the air can hold; research suggests that the air can hold 7% more water vapour for every 1°C rise in temperature⁽⁶⁾. Rain that falls during these intense events does not have the chance to soak into soils but rushes straight off increasing surface runoff, particularly in compacted soils or soils damaged by drought. This means that the rainwater will reach the rivers faster, and as the rivers do not have the capacity to store all this sudden extra water, it causes a flood. As climate change continues to worsen, we will start to feel the impacts as flooding and drought events increase in both frequency and severity.
Another impact of climate change that we will see in our rivers is a change in water quality. This aspect links into the flooding and droughts that we will experience. When extreme rainfall occurs after a drought it will lead to an increase in soil erosion and will also transport any harmful chemicals, from pesticides or herbicides, that have accumulated on the top soil into our rivers⁽⁴⁾. It will also wash into the river toxic chemicals that build up on warm roads during dry weather ⁽⁵⁾. Washing toxic chemicals into our rivers can have a devastating impact on the plants and animals that live there. These chemicals could make the river uninhabitable for species of fish and plants, which in turn will decrease the biodiversity in our rivers. Not only will this harm our biodiversity, but these toxic chemicals can also be washed into our fresh water supplies that we use for drinking water.
Another way in which the water quality of our rivers will decrease is through sewage pollution. During intense rainfall excessive storm waters become a big problem for sewage disposal. The sudden increase in water levels cause overflows at the sewage treatment plants and the raw sewage enters our rivers through combined sewer overflows (CSOs)⁽⁵⁾. As with the toxic chemicals from run off, this sewage pollution will decrease water quality and have harmful effects on our wildlife. CSOs are already discharging outside of extreme weather conditions and changes are starting to happen to address this but with climate change increasing the frequency of high-intensity rainfalls and storms and CSO discharge as a result, much more needs to be done to prevent this form of pollution. More on this is available here.
Our rivers are freshwater ecosystems and climate change is impacting these systems not just by altering the temperatures but also by changing water flows regimes. Flow regimes are patterns in flow variability such as long-term monthly and annual means and high and low flows⁽⁷⁾. Research has shown that changes in these flow regimes (as a result of climate change) will have a large impact on our freshwater ecosystems⁽⁸̛ ⁹⁾. Such impacts include the lower water column depth on the spawning of salmon and impacts of reduced runoff on breeding grounds for water birds ⁽¹⁰⁾. Another impact to our rivers ecosystem in the UK is invasive species. Recent research indicated that climate change will raise river water temperatures and may promote higher Signal Crayfish performance in the future, which will further enhance the ecological impacts this invasive species is already having⁽¹¹⁾.
What can we do?
Although the climate change situation may seem bleak, it is not too late to make changes and limit the impacts we will start to see in the coming decades. There are two main ways we can do this: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves actively tackling the issue of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whereas adaptation involves developing measures to help limit the impacts of climate change.
The Rivers Trust is currently doing amazing work to help lower greenhouse gas emissions for everyone. There are 4 main ways Rivers Trust’s are doing this across the UK:
Planting trees – As I’m sure many of you know trees take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps reduce the amount on greenhouse gases, thus helping to reduce warming. Local Rivers Trusts planted 300,391 trees in 2020⁽¹²⁾.
Saving Soil – Soil has the ability to store carbon. This ability is maximised when the soil is healthy. The Rivers Trust is working with landowners and famers to make their soil healthy to maximise their soils ability to hold carbon⁽¹²⁾.
Water Quality – By cleaning up our rivers and removing pollution from the water we are reducing the amount of energy that is required to clean it before it enters our homes and businesses. 630 water quality improvements and pollution events were dealt with by The Rivers Trust in 2020⁽¹²⁾.
Creating and Restoring Wetlands – 90% of wetland habitats have been lost in the UK in the last 100 years. Wetlands are important for biodiversity but also important for tackling climate change, as they can store huge amounts of carbon. As well as this they act as a natural filter to remove specific nutrients that can cause problems downstream such as algal blooms. Local Rivers Trusts created and restored a total of 62 wetlands in 2020⁽¹²⁾.
As mentioned previously the frequency and severity of events such as flooding will increase as a result of climate change. However, there are ways in which we can try to minimise the impact these events have on our local communities. There are 3 main ways The Rivers Trust is aiming to adapt to climate change
Natural Flood Management (NFM) – As climate change worsens our floods, we cannot keep just building bigger and bigger flood defences. NFM is using natural processes to help reduce the impact of flooding by capturing and slowing the flow of water through the landscape before it reaches the main river network. This includes a whole range of measures including soil management, tree planting and wetland creation. Many of you have helped us install leaky dams too, another technique that is used in the upper catchment to slow the flow of flood waters into the main rivers. Holding this water back for a period of time will allow the main river to deal with the extra input of water better. Additionally, leaky dams can push water onto the surrounding flood plains and allow it the time it needs to infiltrate the soil, work through the ground and recharge underground aquifers that we use for drinking water, that run low during droughts. Scour pools created downstream of leaky dams can also become vital refuges for wildlife during the drier summer months. In 2020, 248 NFM schemes were put in place by local Rivers Trusts⁽¹²⁾.
Improving Connectivity – Connectivity is important at it links habitats together and provides pathways for species to adapt to climate change by altering their distribution. This is why the Rivers Trusts mission to restore our rivers and their connectivity to different habitats is so important⁽¹²⁾.
Cooling Cities – The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect is becoming an increasing problem in the UK due to rising temperatures and more frequent heatwaves⁽¹³⁾. Evaporation from surface water in cities has the ability to create a cooling effect. Research conducted on the River Don, Sheffield showed a mean level of daytime cooling of over 1.5°C above the river in spring, the amount of cooling varied throughout the year, particularly in the summer when water temperatures were higher⁽¹³⁾. The type of urban development that was on the river banks impacted the amount of cooling felt away from the river. The Rivers Trust aims to make sure urban rivers, such as the River Don, are protected to continue this urban cooling effect⁽¹²⁾.
Rivers Trusts across the UK are working with nature to protect our river ecosystems from the impacts of climate change and environmental damage, but this serious worldwide problem requires a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the switch to clean, reliable energy sources before ecosystems are irreversibly damaged by global warming.
⁽⁷⁾ DÖll, P. & Zhang, J. (2010). Impact of climate change on freshwater ecosystems: a global-scale analysis of ecologically relevant river flow alterations. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 14, 783-799.
⁽⁸⁾ Poff, N. L. & Zimmerman, J. K. H. (2010) Ecological responses to altered flow regimes: a literature review to inform the science and management of environmental flows, Freshwater Biology, 55, 194– 205.
⁽⁹⁾ Matthews, W. J. & Marsh-Matthews, E. (2003) Effects of drought on fish across axes of space, time and ecological complexity, Freshwater Biology, 48, 1232–1253.
⁽¹⁰⁾ Kundzewicz, Z. W., Mata, L. J., Arnell, N. W., Doll, P., Kabat, P., Jimenez, B., Miller, K. A., Oki, T., Sen, Z., & Shiklomanov, I. ´ A. (2007). Freshwater resources and their management. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by: Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden, P. J., and Hanson, C. E., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 173–210.
⁽¹¹⁾ Rodriguez Valido, C. A., Johnson, M. F., Dugdale, S. J., Cutts, V., Fell, H. G., Higgins, E. A., Tarr, S., Templey, C. M. & Algar, A. C. (2020). Thermal sensitivity of feeding and burrowing activity of an invasive crayfish in UK waters. Ecohydrology, 14(1), doi: 10.1002/eco.2258.
In this blog, we hear from DCRT’s Kickstart trainee Beckie Fulton, who is now moving on to a role as Project Assistant on the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project.
In April 2021, I jumped at the opportunity to become DCRT’s Young Persons Conservation Assistant. Although I had no previous experience in conservation and only some knowledge of hydrology that was years old, I knew that I couldn’t pass up on this job. DCRT’s mission “To conserve, protect, rehabilitate and improve the Rivers Don, Dearne and Rother and the associated non-tidal and tidal systems that might influence their fauna, flora, water quality and hydrology.” Whilst also engaging and educating the local communities on how to protect and love their rivers again really sparked by interest. As I grew up loving nature and the natural world, I knew that this position would allow me to follow this passion and also continue to learn more than I could during my time at university.
The position was only a six-month temporary position, funded by the Government’s Kickstart scheme. I knew that these six months would pass really fast and I would need to take every opportunity possible to learn as much as I could in the short time period. I had the chance to do so many things that I honestly won’t have time to mention them all, but the main highlights for me were being able to work with:
Schools and Youth Groups
One of the main parts of my role involved going into schools to help in the delivery of lessons and activities that taught young people about rivers, the return of the salmon and NFM. Working with young people in schools across the catchment and delivering river guardian sessions to sea cadets and beavers was one of the main highlights for me. I have always wanted to teach as part of my career goals, as I believe it is important to inspire the next generation and teach them how they can help save their planet. So, getting to do this as part of my role with DCRT was incredible. I was so surprised to find how much they already knew at such a young age – far more than I did when I was that young. I think this is a great thing because it shows that our message is getting across and the environmental sector is getting more widespread recognition than it has ever done before.
Working alongside and supporting DCRT’s amazing team of volunteers has also been one of the highlights of my kickstart position. Volunteering days gave me the opportunity to learn many new skills including kick sampling, meadow and bird surveying, post-installation and waymarking, litter picking and building bird boxes. But the most important thing I learnt came from interacting and talking to the volunteers. All of whom are passionate about our local environment, come from many different backgrounds and were knowledgeable about so many different things.
Unfortunately, I injured my wrist early on in my placement which made getting out to volunteering events difficult. I have not been able to attend as many as I would have liked, but the ones I did attend were great. I had so much fun working with our volunteers and this is why it is one of the highlights of my kickstart placement.
The final highlight of this experience was working with the other members of DCRT staff. Entering this role from a background in Volcanology and Geological Hazards, I had little conservation knowledge or experience, which meant I was nervous starting this role as I didn’t know if I had the expertise to excel in this line of work. However, I was greeted with a warm welcome by the DCRT team. I quickly learnt the ropes at DCRT and realised that teamwork was a major part of keeping such a big project going with a small team. Everyone was really supportive, willing to lend a hand and teach me when I was unsure. Getting to work in this role I learnt from everyone on the team including community engagement from Sally, NFM from Debbie and volunteer management and more technical skills from Matt and Anthony on volunteer days. Without such a supportive team I know this Kickstart would have been very different and I can’t thank everyone enough for their encouragement and help during these past six months.
Overall, this Kickstart position has opened my eyes to a career path that I would never have considered. I am also extremely lucky that I am able to continue working with DCRT, now my Kickstart placement has finished, as their new Project Assistant! This means I will be able to attend a lot more volunteer days and will continue to work on community engagement. Everything that I have loved doing over the past few months. I’m looking forward to this new opportunity and everything else I have still to learn. Thank you to everyone who made this such an amazing experience and I cant wait to see what the next year will bring.
Beckie’s six-month work placement was funded by the Government Kickstart Scheme which aimed to create new jobs for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit. It was supported by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which supports former mining towns and villages throughout the UK.
It’s that time of year when here at DCRT we start to get excited about the possibility of seeing salmon make their annual migration up our river systems to reach their spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the Don catchment. After an absence of 200 years, it’s the best time to see your very own king (and queens) of the river Don in generations. We’re asking people to submit sightings of salmon via our salmon recorderhere.
Here’s a few tips for seeing salmon in your local river.
Where to look
Currently, migratory fish like salmon will struggle to get beyond Oughtibridge on the River Don, Staveley on the River Rother and Little Houghton on the River Dearne due to impassable weirs, though if you’re lucky, you may see them attempting to jump these weirs after a heavy rain fall! Look downstream of here for your best chance of seeing one in the water.
Bridges and raised riverside footpaths are your best look out point for a bit of fish twitching. To conserve energy, they like to spend most of their time in slower flowing, deeper areas often at the edge of the river.
(Hint – I saw a number near Forgemasters, the Riverside pub and on Club Mill Road on the Five Weirs Walk/Upper Don Walk, Sheffield in late November last year)
What to look out for
Their large appearance – they can be on average around 70cm long but anywhere up to 1.5m in length! Although you can get large brown/sea trout, this sign can at least help you get it down to a salmonid fish.
Fungal spots – salmon that have been in the river for longer may have a number of pale fungal patches on them. Read more about this here.
Salmon carcasses – 95% of salmon die after spawning so don’t be worried if you see a dead salmon on the river bank. This is the best thing to find as we can collect a sample for the University of Sheffield to conduct eDNA research on to confirm identification. If you think you’ve seen one of these please contact us immediately.
If you’ve been fishing and caught what you think might be a salmon parr, click here to see how they compare to a brown trout.
When to look
Migration is triggered by Autumn’s heavy rainfall causing rivers to rise with spawning usually occurring November – December (though can occur any time October – late-February).
You can make salmon easier to spot by looking when there hasn’t been much rain fall in the days before as the water will be clearer. Also going on a sunny day will light up the river
What to take
You need very little to spot a salmon but consider taking the following:
Binoculars – these will give you a closer look
Camera – a photo will help us identify what you’ve seen
Polarised sunglasses – helps to take the glare off the top of the water
Salmon of steel trail
Find out more about this festival of the mind project herewhich includes rivery podcasts, fish art and University of Sheffield research also download our ‘Salmon of Steel’ trail – a walking loop in central Sheffield.