There’s a real joy in seeing the first signs of spring. Lesser celandine creates a beautiful display of yellow stars along the river bank after what often feels like a long and grey winter, the first song of returning migrants like the chiff-chaff chewing through its two-note performance. The Marsham family (link – https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/61/11/2853/440390) must have thought something similar and for a whopping 211 years recorded “indications of spring” – a collection of information on the first time they saw a range of different plants as they came into flower that year – until they were told they were no longer of use.
But this type of anecdotal evidence gave birth to a study known as ‘phenology’ – where we examine the effect of environmental changes on nature which is extremely important as we experience the effects of climate breakdown (if only the Marsham family had continued!!).
Keeping a nature jounal has an added benefit of helping us remember what we’ve seen that day, taking an opportunity to savour our favourite moments and if we’re ever feeling a bit depleted we can even look back on it in years to come and remember “that time I saw…”.
Our friends at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust have made this great video for nature journaling with kids
But if I’m truly honest, despite loving seeing nature and talking about it ALOT, I don’t actually keep one myself so I’m going to challenge myself to keep one for a week and I’ll let you know how it goes.
Here’s a few ideas of what I might include in mine –
Weed or Wildflower?
“It’s a weed!” is what my Mum would shout on noticing my curiosity at a plant that had popped up unexpectedly in the garden. But to me the plants that wriggled through the cracks in the pavement or scattered the lawn uninvited were wildflowers. The daisy and the dandelion are the ones we learn early and remember from childhood, but there are many more to find and learn.
With less floral diversity than many other parts of the world, an amateur botanist in the UK has a good chance at learning the names and habits of nearly all the native and introduced wildflowers. However, an easier way to learn, rather than one by one, is to learn the ‘families’ that plants are grouped into. Each family has a selection of characters which we can learn to recognise, for example the wonderful Carrot Family’s members have flowers that sit at the end of umbrella-spoked stems. Or the pea family, which includes clover, recognisable from their lip-shaped petals and neat little leaves.
The St John’s Wort family is an easy one – always yellow, with 5 pointed petals radiating around an explosion of stamens (where the pollen comes from!). The cabbage family, whose members have fat seed pods that point upwards, are alternatively called the Crucifers: the flowers all possess four distinct petals which appear like a cross. The Dead-nettle family (it’s members unrelated to the common nettle but with similar-shaped, un-stinging leaves) are a little trickier to spot. This is where our noses can help us as this family contains those herbs we are familiar with in the kitchen – marjoram, thymes and mints.
Once you’re aware of all the family groups and their defining characters, when you come across a new wildflower you can begin to narrow down where it might belong in the tree of life, and reach an identification much quicker!
Books The best way to get to grips with the families is with a good guide or key. Francis Rose’s Wildflower key is a firm favourite among amateur botanists. At first it can be daunting, but with practise you can get to grips with the terminology by using the excellent illustrated glossary at the back (whorl and wing, ray and raceme, panicle and papus are a just a few of the words you’ll have to get used to as you learn to identify the plants around you). Francis Rose’s key is beautifully illustrated, but it can be nice to complement it with a photographic guide. Simon Harrap’s Wildflowers field guide is split into the same family groups but contains useful distribution maps and photos of each species, allowing you to be extra sure you’ve named that wildflower right.
What’s in a name! Wildflowers were once treasured and named for their healing properties. Nowadays few of us would dare to guess which wildflower might provide medicine for an ailment, but these secret medical uses are often hidden in the plant’s common names. Eyebrights (a dainty meadow flower in the Figwort Family) is still used today for eye problems, Speedwell (in the same family) provided curative tonics to speed healing and Feverfew (from the daisy family) in medieval Britain was planted around doorways to protect homes against disease and plague.
When to start? The best time is now!
The first flowers of Spring stick out like sore thumbs after months of winter and grey. First comes Lesser celandine in March, a bright yellow woodland flower (belonging to the Buttercup Family) which is a sure sign of Spring. You might spot Green Alkanet of the Borage family (forget-me-nots belong here too) with bristly spear-like leaves and bright blue five-petaled flowers. Then by the end of April appears Jack by the Hedge (the Cabbage family) with tiny white cross-shaped flowers and garlic-smelling leaves. Aim to learn the new flowers as they appear and watch them carefully as they change throughout the season.
Make a Herbarium Why not make your own herbarium collection to refer to as you learn!
We asked DCRT trustee John Housham to tell us his hopes and expectations for life and the environment after the coronavirus pandemic, read on to find out more…
Without a crystal ball it is hard to picture how things will be after our current situation is over, even whether it will be over.
The soothsayers are of course online with their views of our future way of living, government, economy and even the environment. Some pessimistic, some optimistic and some in between. Whatever the future becomes, we will all have created it.
What if we took the opportunity to create something better, more compassionate and humane, what could it look like? Here are my hopes on the future.
People will have new habits and values that protect the environment
Many more people will have experienced and interacted with their local environment alongside rivers, lakes and in parks in recent weeks. There could be even more opportunity for people to connect with rivers and value the wildlife that they see, benefiting from the physical and mental stimulation. The environment will become more important to more people and all our healthcare.
More space and more diverse habitats will be created for wildlife
I recently heard that a fox appeared on platform 6 at Sheffield railway station… there is room for both people and wildlife in our towns and cities. You may have heard about the building of fish passes on the many weirs of the Don that will bring salmon back through Doncaster and Rotherham to Sheffield. This could be extended to connect even more lengths of the Don up into Stocksbridge and the Peninnes or even opening up the River Dearne to Barnsley and River Rother to Chesterfield. The River corridors could be teaming with an abundant and diverse wildlife from fish to birds to mammals for people to enjoy and value into the future.
Spark more community pride with more people working together
Pictures from space tell us of a new world with less air pollution brought about by less carbon emissions associated with fossil fuel travel and power generation. These trends could continue with more working from home and less travel. Together we can all reduce pollution of water, land and air by producing less waste at home and at work and use more sustainable energy sources.
Join us for the next part of the Salmon’s Tale! In this blogging series by DCRT trustee Chris Firth, follow Salmo the salmon smolt as he travels from the River Don’s headwaters to the low, meandering reaches of the river. Learn which fish species inhabit the three different reaches of the Don and pick up some of the history of the Don along the way…
Salmo had reached the outskirts of Sheffield and everything he once knew was changing. The clarity of the water was no longer the crystal clear condition he had enjoyed in the upper river and the taste and scent were very different. As he dropped further down the river he felt unnerving vibrations and noises rumbling through the water. The bank side vegetation had been replaced by high stone walls, with strange objects moving along the tops of them. The only thing which was consistent were the fish species he encountered. Trout and grayling were in abundance down here darting in and out of the bright green weed which stretched in long ribbons across the surface. He felt safe tucked under this weed but his sanctuary was short lived. Suddenly, without warning, a trout came hurtling past pursued by a large brown creature which expertly grabbed the fish in its mouth and swam up to the surface. It quickly carried its struggling victim to the river’s edge, before disappearing into the bankside vegetation.
This event prompted a desperate urge to keep up his descent. He had been coming upon an increasing number of the walls which stretched across the river but in most cases these had sections cut out of the top which enabled him to drop down into the pools below without much delay. He was now reaching the downstream outskirts of the city and having just descended a particularly large obstruction, noticed a large flow of water entering. This inflow almost doubled the flow of the river and had a particularly unusual taste and smell which he found rather distasteful. Nevertheless, within this flow were hundreds of small fish, very similar in size to himself. They were silvery in colour with slightly orange coloured fins, and appeared to be feeding on small particles in the flow. As he passed through this shoal he also noticed, on the fringes, a number of much larger fish drifting backwards and forwards. These were powerful looking and were clearly attempting to pick off weaker members of the small fish. They were bronze in colour with distinctive orange fins and black tails. They had large mouths that they opened and closed almost in anticipation of taking an easy meal. In an attempt to avoid them Salmo swam close to the opposite bank where there was some overhanging vegetation.
At this point the habitat was beginning to change even more, with very deep pools running into shallows. Fish seemed to everywhere but one group particularly caught his attention. They were laid close to the bottom on the gravelly shallows. They were huge, bronze in colour with the same bright orange fins, and their mouths seemed to be under their heads with strange whiskers hanging from their lips. Their size unnerved Salmo but, as he passed they completely ignored him.
Our salmon was now approaching the outskirts of Rotherham where another river joined the Don. From this point on the changes he was to encounter would be even more profound.
The new fish species that Salmo encountered were dace, chub and barbel. These three species were introduced back into the recovering river Don in 1990 being released at several locations including below Sandersons Weir. The fish were purchased by Yorkshire Water from a fish farm run by the National Rivers Authority. These were some of the first coarse fish to be artificially reared in this country and before introduction were placed in tanks where the flow was steadily increased. This developed their strength, giving them the ability to swim against the flowing river. From these introductions the populations of these species have developed and are now fully sustainable.
Dace live in large shoals preferring steadily flowing water. They feed close to the surface and are sometimes seen in large numbers taking small insects as they drift down. They rarely exceed 300g in weight or 20cm in length.
In their immature stage Chub can be easily mistaken for Dace. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the shape of the fins, particularly the anal fin. In dace the end of the fin is concave where as in chub the fins are convex. Chub can grow up to 4kls in weight. They have a very varied diet but can be extremely predatory feeding heavily on the fry of other species.
The iconic Barbel are extremely powerful fish and in the Don specimens of over 7kgs have been taken. They prefer conditions where there is a good flow pushing food downstream along the riverbed, such as below weirs. They can be found throughout the middle and lower reaches of the Don.
We’ve lost a third of our urban hedgehogs and over half in rural areas so it’s important we can do whatever we can to slow the rate at which we’re loosing them.
Also when you picture the river you may not imagine a hedgehog there but when you start thinking about the river as a catchment of an area where water flows off the land into it, it encompasses everywhere including all the animals that live within it (and I’m sure a few hedgehogs have taken a drink from the river at some point).
Here’s a video from Catchment Officer Matt showing you what you can do to give hedgehogs a helping hand in your garden/allotment.
The adventures of Paxton the rescue hedgehog!
Next, we have an interview Matt did with Christine and Ava – two of our catchment volunteers that join us on days when we’re Moss Valley.
Ava planting marginals at Never Fear Dam in the Moss Valley
Christine bashing Himalayan Balsam
Hi Christine and Ava, I found out recently that you’ve got a rescued hedgehog living in your back garden and since it’s national hedgehog awareness week I wanted to ask you a few questions about it…
Why do hedgehogs need rescuing?
Hedgehog numbers are seriously in decline and there are various reasons why we may be able to help them along. They are often found injured by dog or rat attacks, they can be injured by a strimmer or they can get caught in garden netting and then starve. They can be underweight in the Autumn if they are from a second litter. If they are found wandering in the daytime it means something is wrong.
Where did you adopt your hedgehog from?
We adopted the Hedgehog from a friend who had been asked to look after it. On the 18/10/2019 it was found wandering around in the middle of the day by a South Yorkshire Police Officer, so the Hedgehog was taken into custody! My friend lives next door to the police officer and as the Officer knew she loves wildlife, they asked her to look after it. She rang the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) who put her in touch with people locally who look after Hedgehogs, but they didn’t have room so asked her to look after it.
In November it only weighed 750g and needs to be at least 800g to be released, so she decided to over winter it. in December It went into hibernation and came out in early spring at 800g. She kept it until it had made it back up to 900g, then asked us to give it a “soft release” as we live in the country and have safe water supplies at our ponds. The hedgehog came with it’s house and run and feeding stations. After a couple of days we opened the doors to the cage to allow it to explore our garden and the fields beyond. We have tried to keep track of it with a camera trap but we are not sure if it has been out of it’s run or if it’s still curled up in the house. We’ll keep on putting food down for it at the feeding stations and hopefully it will explore further and further afield and be less dependent on our food.
How do you look after the hedgehog?
The British Hedgehog Preservation Societygave loads of advice. The first thing was to to weigh it. It was found to be under weight in October, at only 200g. So she was advised to keep it and feed it up. They gave her a Hedgehog house and a run and gave advise on feeding stations. She fed it on dried “Hedgehog Food” which you can buy at pet shops and wet cat food from pouches and plenty of water. She supplied it with hay which it used for lining it’s nest.
Have you given it a name? Is it a boy or a girl?
The local people from the BHPS, gave it the name of “Paxton” and thought it is a male.
Join us for the next part of the Salmon’s Tale! In this blogging series by DCRT trustee Chris Firth, follow Salmo the salmon smolt as he travels from the River Don’s headwaters to the low, meandering reaches of the river. Learn which fish species inhabit the three different reaches of the Don and pick up some of Chris’s expert identification tips along the way…
For several weeks Salmo the salmon smolt had been experiencing new, and rather strange feelings. He noticed his shape was changing and his scales were becoming a brighter and brighter silver, but most of all he had this compelling urge to leave the area of river in which he had existed for the last two years. The urge was growing stronger and eventually could not be resisted. He began to descend down the river.
The water helped him to drop down, further and futher, swimming backwards most the way. As he decended he noticed that the environment was slowly beginning to change. The river was widening and deeper pools began to appear in which he noticed much larger brown trout. Some of the fish were very aggressive and chased him away. In one of the pools he noticed strange fish which he had never encountered before. They were silvery in appearance but as they turned a flash of green or purple was obvious, particularly on their dorsal fins which were long and seemed to wave in the current. There were more than 30 fish in the shoal and they were intent on taking small flies from the surface. Can you guess this species? Scroll to the bottom for identification!
After two days he noticed that the flow had slowed down and as he looked around noticed several small silver fish which were identical to himself. They were all facing what appeared to be a wall across the river over which just a trickle of water was spilling. For several hours he and the other smolts remained confused and reluctant to try to go over the wall but eventually they found a small notch in the structure where the water was slightly deeper. Over he went dropping several feet into a pool below.
Over the next several days he was to encounter more than a dozen of these structures and his reluctance to descend them diminished. The river was getting much wider now and the pools much deeper. On one occasion whilst he and his fellow smolts rested before descending, he saw through the water surface a large grey bird which lunged forward grabbing the smolt alongside him. The captured fish shook in an attempt to free itself but to no avail. It disappeared down the throat of the bird. Salmo dived towards the sanctuary of the deepest part of the pool as quickly as he could.
Over the next few days the descent involved several changes in the conditions. Several smaller streams merged with the main river and each brought with it changes in the taste and smell of the water. The pools got much deeper and the channel wider. The silvery fish with the large dorsal fins appeared in greater abundance as did the number of brown trout. Weeds rooted to the bottom became more common providing cover from the increasing number of large trout and large grey birds that sought to consume him. He had reached the outskirts of Sheffield and despite what he had endured could not imagine the experiences that still awaited him downstream.
The species that salmo met on the first phase of his downstream journey were Grayling, sometimes called ‘ The Lady of the Stream’. This very attractive fish lives for up to 6 years and can weigh up to 1.5 kls. Grayling were the first fish species to be introduced to the Don as water quality improved on the upper river. The fish came from the River Hull at Driffield and were introduced to the river at Hazelhead in in 1983.
In this blogging series by Chris Firth, follow the life of a salmon smolt as it travels from the River Don’s headwaters to the low, meandering reaches of the river. Learn which fish species inhabit the three different reaches of the Don and pick up some of Chris’s expert identification tips along the way…
Crystal clear water tumbles, sparkling over a rocky riverbed under the warmth of the sinking sun. The upper reaches of rivers are generally unaffected by pollution, litter and development, offering us the opportunity to enjoy and experience a natural river environment. What could be more pleasant and relaxing than sitting on the banks of the river on a balmy summers evening watching fish rising, taking flies from the surface. This area of river could justifiably be described as its jewel in the crown.
Many centuries ago this headwaters, in the months of November and December, would have been a hive of activity. Hundreds of salmon, fresh from the sea, would have battled each other for a prime section of gravel in which to deposit their eggs.
Today this part of the Don is the preserve of the brown trout, a smaller but no less interesting cousin of the salmon. Apart from those occasions when we see the trout rise to the surface to take a fly, the life of these fish is largely hidden to us. What a shock we would get if we were able to submerge and witness the underwater commotion that is constantly taking place. This really is a hierarchical environment with fish constantly battling to protect their piece of feeding space. It may appear to us that there are only one or two fish when in reality there could be twenty or thirty in just five or six metres of river bed.
Brown trout lay their eggs at the same time of year as salmon and, for the first year and a half, the juveniles of both are difficult to identify from one another. At between 18 months and 2 years the young salmon begin to change significantly. The fish begin to assume a much more streamlined physique, their colour begins to change and they assume the same silver colouration of their parents. At this stage they are known as Smolts and are preparing themselves to journey down the river and out to sea.
The demise of the Don’s salmon population more than 200 years ago was brought about by the development of industry, in particular the construction of weirs, which obstructed the upstream passage of the fish. Over the last ten years amazing progress has been made in providing facilities to allow salmon to once again fulfil their desire to reproduce in the Don. Fish can now reach Sheffield and plans are in place to open up the river right up to those crystal clear sparking waters at the head of the river.
Between there and the sea the Don goes through many habitat changes from tumbling rocky fast flowing conditions to deep sluggish sections where the river resembles a long slowly moving pond rather than a river. Within these varied conditions a fascinating range of fish species exist. Over the next few weeks we will follow the experiences of a smolt on his downstream journey to the sea. Lets call him Salmo. Salmo will face many threats as he descends the river, from giant predatory fish to conditions where he struggles to breathe. Will our smolt make it to the sea and become a magnificent silver fish, capable of swimming against the fastest of flows? Will he return to those sparkling upstream reaches to mate, ensuring that new generations of salmon are there for people to wonder at?
Make sure to follow the smolt’s journey next week in part 2 of the Salmon’s Tale series, written by DCRT Trustee, Chris Firth.
We’ve been exploring things we can do in our gardens to help reduce flood risk in our weekly newsletter feature “NFM in the Garden”. Our volunteer, Barry Caldwell, has been in touch with a fantastic example from his garden using permeable, rather than standard paving, that allows rainwater to soak into the ground instead of rushing over the surface into struggling drains or directly into the river:
With both of our children living at home and now driving, we have had to face the inevitable decision to enlarge the parking area in our garden but we wanted a green solution that would allow us to slow the flow and do our bit for Sustainable Urban Drainage (SuDS) and wildlife! Inspired by a visit to the RSPB visitor centre at Spurn Head on the East Coast last summer, where the parking area was a permeable paving system and gabion boxes were used as a retaining wall, my wife and I decided to recreate a smaller version at home.
We used a good quality product recycled from plastic and a quality grass and small leafed clover mix, that if left to grow a little in the summer, would attract bees.
Using a permeable paving system also meets planning regulations as permission is required when the area to be paved is more than five square metres! Dealing with runoff at source rather than allowing it to runoff quickly into the River Rother is a little contribution to reducing peak flows and therefore, flood risk. The gabion boxes were filled with some old concrete we had stored and we have ivy growing along them to hopefully attract lots of bugs.
We are pleased with our hard work and it’s good to know that we are not increasing flood risk in places further north, such as Fishlake, so badly hit last Autumn.
Further guidance on a range of ways to make your paving permeable is available from the RHS here.
We were delighted this week to receive a letter from Dan – one of our regular volunteers on the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project in Chesterfield. He was more than happy to share this with everyone via our blog so here it is, enjoy!
If you’d like to respond to Dan’s letter address it to Dan via our postal address and we’ll forward it on. Alternatively, if you’re feeling inspired to write about your experiences during lockdown please send them us using the address below –
Don Catchment Rivers Trust
Churchill Business Centre
Churchill Road (off Wheatley Hall Road)
Hello, Matt here! Whilst we’re spending more time around our homes, I’ve come up with a few ways you can make your house that bit more river-friendly. Even if your house is not near a watercourse, you might be more connected than you think…
If you haven’t read our blog on 7 ways to a river friendly bathroom click here.
Check your water connections
If you’re going to do anything, do this one first!
If your house was built after the 1920s or if you’ve had a bathroom or kitchen extension the plumbing could be installed incorrectly and your waste water or ‘grey water’ could be going directly into a local watercourse instead of the treatment works.
I actually spotted some of this on a walk along the Meersbrook in Sheffield last week which I reported to the Environment Agency. Can you see how the water is a milky, grey-blue colour? This is most likely coming from household waste water.
It’s important to remember that what you put down the sink or toilet could potentially end up in the river during storm events. Dispose of cooking fats or oils in the bin by mopping up a frying pan with kitchen paper or bottling up larger quantities of oil and binning them. They may be composted in small quantities. Even if you emulsify fats with washing liquids they can still solidify in sewers, combine with other things that shouldn’t be there like wet wipes, and cause blockages – yorkshirewater.com/help-and-advice/blockages/
Scrape any leftover food in the bin or compost before you wash up and put any unused milk there too. Cow’s milk, if it gets into our waterways can have a more detrimental effect than sewage! This is because milk has a high biological oxygen demand – meaning it takes lots of oxygen out of water in order to break it down. This can often lead to water becoming depleted in oxygen and there isn’t enough for aquatic wildlife such as fish or invertebrates to breath.
You might have left house hold chemicals such as paints, white-spirit washing or motor oils, pesticides or fertilisers. These shouldn’t go down the sink, always refer to the product information before disposing these in the bin.
Using less water allows more to be released into our rivers, especially during drought conditions. Whilst using less water during flooding conditions, using less when water is abundant can also help to not overload the sewer systems and then ultimately overflowing into our rivers.
And if you’re on a water meter you’ll save money as well!
If soaps get in to a watercourse they reduce the ability of oxygen to dissolve into water for aquatic wildlife to breathe. Washing your car on the road will means the soapy suds will be going directly into your local water course via the surface water drains. Try washing it on a surface that will soak up the washings such as gravel or grass. If you don’t have access to these take it to a car wash where the washings will be disposed of correctly (many of them are on old petrol stations which have a sump under them).
Here’s one I spotted last year, the surface water drain will be going directly into a watercourse.
Use eco-friendly cleaning products around the house
There are many eco-friendly cleaning products out on the market that if they do get in to the environment are less harsh. Also using these means less chemicals and energy are used at sewage treatment works to strip them out compared to conventional cleaners.
Dispose of litter in a bin or try to reduce single use
Here at DCRT we pick a lot of litter out of the river. Even if you responsibly dispose or recycle waste materials they still unwittingly can get into the environment. Here are some of the best things you can do to reduce, reuse and refuse –lessplastic.org.uk/9-tips-living-less-plastic/
Follow our ‘NFM in the garden’ feature in our newsletter
Debbie Coldwell, our Natural Flood Management Officer, will be giving us a few ideas of what we all can do in our gardens to help reduce flood risk.