Rotherham river revitalised

Masbrough Weir fish pass project has been completed
Masbrough Weir fish pass project has been completed. Image permission by Don Catchment Rivers Trust.

The final piece in the jigsaw of a 20 year vision to enable salmon to return to the River Don has been completed.

People passing by Forge Island in Rotherham will now be able to see the Masbrough Weir fish pass, thanks to a partnership between Don Catchment Rivers Trust, Canal and River Trust, the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.

For the first time in 200 years salmon will have a fully joined up river so that they can get to their first available spawning grounds in the centre of Sheffield. Speaking about the project, Anthony Downing, Environment Agency catchment coordinator for the Don and Rother, said:

“It is very exciting that this month we will see the completion of the fish pass at Forge Island. With Sheffield City Council also finishing the fish pass on Sanderson’s weir, this will open the entire migratory route from the North Sea to spawning grounds upstream of Sheffield.

“The work to open up the route has been a great partnership effort involving many organisations to enable fish passage at 18 previously unpassable weirs and hopefully we will now see a sustainable salmon population in the river Don after an absence of around 200 years. Not only will salmon benefit from the fish passes but many can be used by other species increasing connectivity and benefiting other wildlife in the river corridor.”

It was in the early 1990s that there were reports of salmon being caught in the lower Don around Doncaster, which was a strong sign that more life was returning to the river. These sightings of salmon set the wheels in motion for organisations to start talking about how to enable them to return to spawning habitat in the Pennines.

The removal of Crimpsall sluice in Doncaster, and water quality improving on the river Don gave the inspiration for organisations to work together on a vision to enable salmon to get back up to spawning grounds in the upper catchment for the first time in 200 years. Masbrough weir is 18th major obstruction that has been made passable, allowing salmon to move freely up and down the river. Dr Ben Gillespie, Technical specialist (river resilience) at Yorkshire Water said:

“At Yorkshire Water we are invested in improving and maintaining the environment around us. We are proud to be partners in this ground-breaking project, returning migrating fish back to their spawning grounds for the first time in 200 years is an incredible achievement.”

Together, the project member organisations raised the funding in time for construction at Masbrough to be completed ahead of the upcoming Forge Island development work. Not only will the fish pass help wildlife, but the river will now be a prominent feature that people will be able to see and enjoy as part of the new leisure quarter. Speaking about the benefits of the project, Stuart Moodie, Heritage and Environment Manager for Canal & River Trust, Yorkshire and North East, said:

“Canal and River Trust are delighted to be part of this project. The Trust recognises the importance of improving the environment of the River Don for all of its wildlife, particularly migratory salmon, and also for the human communities that enjoy the river. This project is vital to promote the health of the river and the wellbeing of people spending time next to its waters”.

Despite losing five weeks to the weather at the beginning of the year, Bailey Contracts Ltd in conjunction with Visio Management, have persevered through deluges of rain, high waters and the lock down, to complete the works on time and on budget. Councillor Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs & the Local Economy, said:

“I’d like to thank workers on the site who have carried out the work on the project through tough winter conditions and the implementation of the Coronavirus lockdown period. The project is an exciting one that we are proud to be part of. It’s another important step in the regeneration of the town centre which includes improvements to the river, three new town centre housing developments and the leisure development at Forge Island. I’m sure the fish pass will prove to be an attraction for visitors and residents in the area for years to come.”

Although construction is now complete, this is not the end of the project. Once social distancing rules allow, there will be a community event to celebrate the opening of the fish pass, and a story telling and animation project for local school children in conjunction with Grimm and Co.

Speaking about the project, Rachel Walker, project manager at Don Catchment Rivers Trust said:

“I can’t imagine a tougher set of circumstances for building a fish pass, but we’re there now, and we are very proud that the River Don is coming back to life. If there is one thing we have learnt during the lock down, it’s that people need access to the natural environment for their wellbeing. Now, we’ve put the pieces in place for the people of Rotherham to enjoy their river. We look forward to celebrating this with you, and communities all along the Don, as soon as we can!”

Published: 1st June 2020