Findings from the Don Discovery Bioblitz at Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery is a secluded and hidden spot of Sheffield, nestled on the edge of the River Don. Left without management for many years, Wardsend has a wild, over-grown and unexplored quality – a small haven for wildife in Sheffield.



kinder kalsi 11
Photo Credit: Kinder Kalsi

The Don Discovery Bioblitz on the 10th August was the first Bioblitz event to take place at the Cemetery. Wildlife organisations, experts and scientists came together to show visitors how to survey, identify and record the wildlife on the site, with the aim of counting as many species as they could within one day. The grand total at the end of the day was an incredible 343 biological records of plant, fungi and animal (Bioblitz species list).

6 c. Kinder Kalsi
photo credit: 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 allows 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.

At the Don Discovery Bioblitz, Dr Deborah Dawson from the University of Sheffield and wildlife experts from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildife Trust and the Moors for the Future Partnership were on hand to tell visitors about the return of otters to the River Don and their work recording them. Camera traps placed along the river-side help to record the otters activity along the river at night, when they are most active. The group also survey the river itself, climbing down the steep banks to look for otter footprints and spraints (droppings).

1 c. Kinder Kalsi
Photo Credit: Kinder Kalsi


The Friends of The Blue Loop sampled the water in the River Don for freshwater invertebrates – the tiny mini-beasts, insects and larvae that are found in the water. The river sample was rich with species, of stonefly and mayfly, indicating good water quality. Throughout the day many of the larvae left the water and emerged into their adult form, a transformation from a creature with gills to one with wings. Mayfly don’t live for long once they emerge (they are sometimes called day-flies) and are often caught and eaten by the fish in the water.


David Rowley and Bob Sedgwick from Don Catchment Rivers Trust spent the afternoon fly-tying. They showed visitors how to tie cotton and feathers to make fishing hooks which mimic the mayflies’ appearance and fool unsuspecting fish.

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The day was filled with walks and talks by natural history experts. Chris Firth from Don Catchment Rivers Trust gave a talk about the history of fish and return of salmon to the River Don. Val and Bob Clinging from Sorby Natural History Society guided visitors on a mini-beast hunt around the cemetery. Ben Keywood from SRWT and Joe Margetts from Moors for the Future took visitors on a stroll down the River Don to hunt for bees and butterflies – they recorded 10 species of butterfly.

Bioblitz guests were also able to try and catch insects themselves using insect nets and pots. One of the favourite finds of the day was a Devil’s coach horse beetle, which rears it’s whole abdomen in the air when it feels threatened. A beautiful banded long horn beetle, Leptura quadrifasciata, was also spotted at the end of the day by the river.

At the end of the afternoon, Matt Duffy from DCRT took guests on a bird-walk along the river Don, where dippers, king-fisher and heron are often seen. The last walk of the Bioblitz was a bat walk with Alistair McLean, Natural Sciences Curator from Museums Sheffield and Kate Denton, a bat expert from the University of Greenwich. Kate showed the guests a Soprano pipistrelle bat specimen, one of the tiniest species in the UK (the size of a thumb!). Alistair explained to guests how to identify bats with bat detectors, which turn the bats’ high pitch sonar calls into sounds audible to human ears. 5 species of bat were recorded and we were lucky enough to see rare Daubenton’s bats fly inches from the water’s surface; a special feeding behaviour they use to catch their insect prey.


At the end of the Bioblitz, scientists and visitors had worked together to record an incredible 234 species at the Wardsend site.

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. Special thanks to The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery; Paul Winks & Graham Perkin from the Friends of the Blue Loop; Sara Blackburn, Jayne Scally & Ben Keywood from Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust; Sarah Procter, Barry Soames & Joe Margetts from the Moors for the Future Partnership, Dr Deborah Dawson from the University of Sheffield; Natalie Dos Remedios & Amy Withers from the University of Leeds; Kate Denton from the University of Greenwich; Alistair McLean, Natural Sciences Curator at Museums Sheffield; Val & Bob Clinging from Sorby Natural History Society and Owlerton Stadium.


The 2007 Floods in pictures

 Rotherham in the 2007 Floods
Photographs by Chris Bilton.

The months of May to July in 2007 were recorded as the UK’s wettest in 250 years. The river Don, was already fit to burst it’s banks when, on 

Monday 25th June 2007, a torrential downpour fell. The rainfall was some of the heaviest recorded in UK history) and led to flooding across areas of Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster.

Chris Bilton, a Rotherham resident and writer, explored the flooded town with his grandaughter Jade. His photos show a empty and strange Rotherham.


floods 25 6 07 028

Jade looking over the flooded river in Rotherham. The chance of a flood of this extent happening in Rotherham was 1 in every 200 years.

The extent of the floods in Rotherham town centre and beyond

Bridge before boat
The river flowed over the Bailey Bridge


Later, as the tide went out a boat was left, parked on the top of Bailey Bridge

splatted bench (2)

Jade, investigates a bench splattered with twigs and leaves. The river normally flows around 30 metres from this flooded spot on the Eastwood playing fields.

Flotsam was dragged down the flooding river and built up on the side of Chantry Bridge.

Chantry Bridge View

The dramatic flooding around Our Lady of the Chapel on the Bridge.

Bottom St Anns Road


The town was shut down with roads, motorways and railways closed. Meadowhall shopping centre was left with a ground floor submerged in several feet of water.

Hundreds were evacuated from their homes by dinghy, boat and helicopter. Entire villages nearby Ulley reservoir were evacuated amidst fears the dam would burst.

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Shortly after, millions were invested in flood protection schemes and upgrades to the flood defences along the Don.

Don Valley Way project (teaser)

Matt has been out and about in the wet weather today collecting photographs for our ‘Don Valley Way’ project – a long distance trail from Doncaster to Sheffield with audio trails and improved signage. One of the stops along the way is the remains of a 17th century Sprotbrough pumping engine (pictured).


For a detailed and interesting description of the history of the pump station please have a read of the article through this link –

If you would like to visit this heritage feature head down to the canal adjacent to the carpark on Nursery Lane, Sprotbrough and follow the towpath downstream in a northerly direction for around 400m.

Keep an eye out for details regarding the unveiling of our Don Valley Way trail here on this blog!

Meet our latest team member!


Just a quick one to introduce myself…

I’m Matt Duffy the new Project Assistant for the Living Heritage of the River Don project. I will be delivering volunteer days and community engagement activities having a particular focus on ‘hot-spot’ project sites along the river. These are areas that have been identified for improvement including tackling highly visible areas of litter, vegetation maintenance and fencing works. This will hopefully allow people to access and use these riverside hot-spots for recreation purposes as well as learning about the local history and heritage of these sites. If you’d like to know more about this project please contact me at

If you’re interested in the route I’ve taken to my current position – after leaving university I started my career in environmental conservation at the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust delivering community engagement events. Following this I worked for the River Stewardship Company delivering environmental contracts and community work days which equipped me with the necessary skills for waterway management.

Our response to the Update on the Upper Don and Sheaf consultation

At the end of last month Sheffield City Council released an update to the Upper Don and Sheaf Consultation that was undertaken last year (

Here is our response to the update:

We welcome the Upper Don and Sheaf consultation update and suggest that Sheffield CC publicise it directly to the various community forums already engaged and email it to all those who made submissions to the consultation. The 2007 Sheffield floods dealt a blow to many businesses in Sheffield and it is essential that similar events do not occur in the future. We are keen for flood risk to be reduced through the implementation of sustainable solutions that not only protect against flooding but also provide multiple additional environmental, economic and social benefits. 

We recognise: 

– the need for a high standard of flood management to protect people, property and businesses across the Don Catchment to ensure the sustainable social and economic future of communities. 

– the challenging limitations that Sheffield CC are faced with in terms of; treasury rules that favour hard engineering solutions to flood risk, funding limits and timescales to deliver high standards of flood defences for Sheffield.

In particular we welcome the consultation outcomes that:

– seek to reduce the environmental impacts of proposed flood storage particularly in the Rivelin and Loxley valleys.
– make positive comments about NFM and use of YW reservoirs for flood storage. We will closely watch progress on the commitment to these measures. We believe these alternative may well enable the removal of the more environmentally damaging proposals remaining in the proposals.
mention of the potential for fish passage improvements.

As we have stated before, what is troubling is the urgency of the programme’s timetable, and we fear that Sheffield CC is placed in the position of having to rush through decisions without being able to fully explore alternative options. In particular we urge like-minded organisations to continue to lobby for NFM and for Sheffield CC to take the message to the heart of government.

Going forward the Trust wishes to work constructively with Sheffield CC, Arup and other stakeholders to arrive at the best outcome for the catchment and its people. We will seek further clarifications on how the remaining culverting options, flood storage reservoir usage and NFM are to be taken forward.

We offer the Trust’s expertise to help further develop work in these areas. We wish to engage with Sheffield CC to provide advice on measures to reduce the environmental impact of hard engineering. For example the scale and nature of culverts associated with storage structures to minimise any possible impedance to upstream/downstream movement of species. We would be happy to provide a list of specifications and criteria that any culvert should meet and to support any NFM funding opportunities.

Don Catchment Rivers Trust


Keels & Sloops

Most of the boats seen on the River Don nowadays are used for leisure. This is a very different scene to when the River Don was an important trading artery and part of the network linking the tidal Humber ports to the industrial cities far inland.

On the moorings today you will more than likely see narrow boats. But, narrow boats aren’t really native to this part of Britain, and while they were plying their trade in the West and South of the country on the narrow canals with their intricate ‘roses and castles’ decorations, the Yorkshire waterways were more suited for heavier, wider, deeper vessels.

There were two main types of Yorkshire barges – keels and sloops – although there were many variations within this tradition. They were built strong to withstand the tides of the River Humber and had a flat bottom in case they had to (intentionally or not!) spend low tide on a sand bank. They were big enough to carry a good cargo on the Humber, but at the same time were small enough to travel far inland – this meant they did not have to unload at ports and could carry on their journey unbroken, taking cargoes direct from suppliers to buyers.


A sailing Keel (Copyright Yorkshire Waterways Museum)

While the hulls of keels and sloops were very similar in design and construction, the sails were what marked them apart and suited them to particular jobs. For example, a keel has a single square sail, possibly with a top sail, and was more suited to work on the canals as the sail area was contained to the width of the boat. Whereas a sloop would have a triangular sail on a boom that was better suited to catching wind on the wider rivers such as the Humber, where there was space for the sail to swing out beyond the sides of the vessel.


A painting of  ‘Harry, the Humber Sloop’ by Reuben Chappell.
(Copyright Yorkshire Waterways Museum)

The dimensions of a keel and sloop depended on the particular water they were trading on and the size of locks they could get through. A ‘Sheffield’ sized keel, as the name suggests, would be able to get inland as far as Sheffield, and owing to the size of the locks on the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Canal could be no longer than 61’ 6” and no wider than 15’ 6”. A ‘West Country’ keel was not as the name would imply trading in Devon or Cornwall, but went as far as West Yorkshire from the Humber – it was therefore a few feet shorter to accommodate the smaller locks. A Humber Keel could be longer, typically up to 70’, but was constricted to how far inland they could trade.

During World War II, barge owners were encouraged to convert their vessels from sail to engines and received grants from the government to do so. So, in the 1950s the stunning sight of a keel or sloop in full sail had all but disappeared. New barges were built with engines only, and cargoes were motored around the region, until lorries became the preferred choice for transporting goods.


Motor Keels waiting to unload at Doncaster Power Station
(Copyright Yorkshire Waterways Museum)

There are still some descendants of the traditional Yorkshire barges to be seen in the area. Some have been converted back to sail, many have been converted into house boats or have found other uses, with some still doing their traditional job – such as the Waddingtons fleet based at Swinton.


Sobriety was built as a sailing keel in 1910, and is now a residential barge that takes visitors on trips around the Yorkshire waterways. Here she is motoring on the Humber.


Don Network grants

The Don Network LOGO CMYK (740x800) (592x640) (296x320)At the Don Network one of the things we are keen to do is encourage local communities to get involved in protecting and improving their own river environment.  To help do this we offer a number of small grants to community groups.  Although the amounts are relatively small they can make a real difference.  The grants are decided by the Trustees and members of the Don network and they look for projects which meet the priorities of the Don Network and in particular those that involve volunteers or the public.  The more people who get connected with the rivers the more people who will realise what fantastic places they are!

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and a band of volunteers used their grant to plant a hedgerow next to the river at Centenary Riverside Wetland Nature Reserve.  Once it grows up, the  hedge will provide habitat for insects and invertebrates and, in turn, the birds and mammals which feed on them. All contributing to make Centenary Riverside a great place to visit.

Friends of Blue Loop organised three clean up days for more than 60 volunteers last spring.

They targeted the area between Hillfoot Bridge and Livesey Street in Sheffield and cleared footpaths, riverbanks and waterways (including removing four fridges) as well as tackling invasive species, most notably Himalyan Balsam.  Some of the volunteers were environmental conservation students from Hillsborough College.  As well as helping remove the fridges from the river they also took the opportunity to learn how to report environmental incidents and about invasive species and freshwater invertebrates.

Phoenix and Parkgate Angling Club at Ravenfield Park near Rotherham used their grant to create floating vegetation islands in the pond margins. Once established these will provide habitat for insects, shelter for fry and remove nutrients from the water.

This year’s grants include a project to clear and restore the riverside at Sprotbrough falls and fish stocking at Carlton Marsh.  This will benefit the Cudworth Dyke as surplus fish will spill out into the stream during periods of high flow helping to build populations in this rapidly recovering watercourse.

Karen Housham,  CaBA Project Officerpic