The River Aire was subject to gross pollution along most of its length from the mid 1800s until the 1970s, the affected length stretching from the entry of the Bradford Beck at Shipley down to the confluence with the Ouse near the village of Airmyn. Direct discharges from a range of industries and from sewer overflows and sewage works discharges conspired with the result that this whole length was basically devoid of fish and associated wildlife and little recreational activity took place there. Even upstream of Shipley, the water quality of much of the river tended to be poor.
Improvement commenced with the formation of The Yorkshire Water Authority in 1974. Following the Water Act 1973 a more holistic view of the river was taken and poorly performing small sewage treatment works were closed and the effluent directed to the larger works where large investment took place. Contemporaneously direct discharges to river were ‘encouraged’ to either connect to sewer or treat to a very high standard – there are now only a handful of significant direct industrial discharges along the whole length of the river.
In recent times, the Freshwater Fisheries Directive ensured that the major sewage treatment works, particularly at Esholt (Bradford) and Knostrop (Leeds), were improved. The river now has fish populations along its full length and this has led to the return of otters and other wildlife.
Another piece of European legislation, the Water Framework Directive, is now leading the way in improving the ecology of the river and its tributaries and the river is set to improve to a standard which could not have previously been considered possible. The Aire Rivers Trust intends to play its part in the process of improvement, to ensure that the public recognises the improvements which are taking place and to afford the public the opportunities to benefit from this.
Kevin Sunderland, one of our Trustees, has been busy. He has produced an excellent paper on fish populations in the River Aire. The latter part relates to each species of fish and where it can be found. The first part is a bit more general and may be of interest to those who aren’t particularly fish people. River Aire Fish History 2012.
An edited version of this report appeared in The Naturalist No 138 (2013).