The Aire Rivers Trust is working closely with the Environment Agency to develop a very large scheme designed to restore a heritage species, salmon, to the headwaters of the river where it once spawned. This scheme, currently known as DNAire (Developing the Natural Aire) brings the canal and the river together at ‘kissing points’, highlighting the heritage assets and drawing communities closer to the river for enjoyment and education.
Currently in the early stages of development, we plan to bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to install fish passes on those major weirs on the main channel that inhibit the passage of migratory species. we will also develop awareness of the many heritage assets, of which salmon is one, along the river valley. These range from the UNESCO World Heritage site at Saltaire, to Armley, Thwaites and many other Mills, Riddlesden Hall and of course the canal itself which celebrates its 200the anniversary of completion in 2016.
This is what we said in the initial, so far successful, expression of interest to HLF:
The project will focus on the twin strands of water heritage through the Aire Valley from Leeds upstream through the World Heritage Site at Saltaire to Gargrave – the River Aire and Leeds & Liverpool Canal. The Aire Valley has provided a rich backdrop for people and nature to flourish. This is manifested in the industrial towns and cities along the valley that were economically sustained by the river. Before humans harnessed the river for industry it was home to a rich and diverse ecology including coarse and migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and eels.
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal cuts its way through the Valley contiguous with the River Aire meeting at numerous ‘kissing’ points. The canal, along with its twin, the river, has been integral to shaping the nature of human life along the Valley. These two sinuous intertwined helixes of life, meet, and diverge to support each other, human and natural life. This has been the DNA of the Valley for people and wildlife – hence Developing the Natural Aire. One strand of this helix – the River Aire – enabled a rich aquatic ecology to flourish. The second strand – the canal – enabled economic activity to flourish. Human activity impinged on the river through weirs and discharges of industrial and human waste which adversely affected and fragmented the ecology of the river. The twin strands of human economic and natural life will be rebalanced to create a life rich corridor celebrated and cherished by the Valley’s communities.
The project will also focus on the relationship of the two waters’ rural hinterland with its downstream urban reaches. The River Aire and Leeds & Liverpool canal are intensely urban from where they meet at Granary Wharf, Leeds to Steeton. The project will focus on the heritage of these urban waterways as part of the ecological and economic DNA of the Valley. Upstream of Steeton the waterways enter a broad rural landscape. The rural hinterland has always been the source of water that powered downstream industry and fed the canal. The recovery of the river and celebration of the canal heritage will reinvigorate this relationship. The river’s rural reaches contain the nurturing spawning gravels to which migratory fish returned year after year until the consequences of the Industrial Revolution wiped them out. The project will restore this natural heritage, highlight this incredible journey and clearly demonstrate the rural and urban relationship.
Describe what your project will do.
The project will foster an enriched human relationship with the waterways, in the process opening up small-scale economic opportunities. It will also build on previous HLF investments in Roberts Park at Saltaire and the fish pass on the River Aire at Castleford.
The project will install fish passes on several weirs which capitalises on a considerable ecological momentum gathering on the river. The Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme (funded by the Environment Agency) and privately funded downstream hydropower developments will enable migratory salmon, sea trout and eels to reach Leeds city centre within a few years. This project will enable these iconic fish to migrate to the upper Aire Valley around Gargrave thereby reinvigorating the ecological thread to the rural hinterland. Using the iconic symbol of these returning wild species the project will re-awaken people’s historic relationship with the River Aire and canal heritage.
People will interact with the river and canal at ‘kissing points’ which often coincide with leisure businesses and heritage features such as bridges, locks, pathways and towpaths. The project will promote the concept of the river and canal as two complementary sparkling strands of life that people and communities can access, celebrate and enjoy. This will be based on the metaphor of the twin DNA helix running through the valley:
Sustainable salmon and sea trout populations following the river will encourage people to interact with the two waterways. People will understand and enjoy the contrast between the rural and urban elements of these two defining features.
The ecology of the river will be more resilient and robust through greater ecological connectivity.
Access nodes at the ‘kissing’ points to the canal and river heritage will be signposted and promoted thereby increasing participation in heritage of the waterways. This will be both physical and virtual. A virtual web based trail supported by an App is an option to be explored. This will enable people to access information about the river and canal, routes, points of interest and related information in the process understanding more about the pre- and post-industrial heritage and how developments in the last half-century have renewed both river and canal.
Towns and cities will gain a sense of the wild and appreciation of their relationship to and dependency on the rural hinterland and vice versa.
The natural heritage will be in a better condition and appreciated. Natural life will be free to migrate along the valley thereby inspiring community interaction. Weirs will change from having a negative to a positive environmental impact. They will have a rejuvenated role and become the means by which ecological connectivity is restored and showcased. There will be an improved interpretation and awareness of water engineering through the Aire Valley. A distinct feature of the project will be the engagement of people with the past and future water engineering of the valley and related skills development opportunities.
More and a wider range of people will understand how the river and canal intertwined aquatic ecology and human economic activity. This heritage will therefore be better preserved through people and communities valuing and protecting their heritage. To achieve this, volunteering and outreach programmes will be developed helping to change attitudes to the river. In the urban reaches there persists the belief that the river is polluted and degraded. The return of the iconic salmon and sea trout will highlight to people and communities that the river and canal are invaluable ecological and economic assets worth preserving and cherishing. This will help reduce negative environmental activities as people understand how this affects downstream communities and ecology.
The River Aire and Leeds & Liverpool Canal are a latent helix of wonder, life and heritage through the Valley. Restoring the relationship between these two strands and reconnecting people and communities with them will provide a host of wider benefits. The sense of living alongside a river home once again to a charismatic creature such as the Atlantic salmon will help change people’s perceptions of the environment. This will make it a better place to live, work and visit with attendant social and economic benefits.