The Aire Rivers Trust is bringing together Yorkshire artist Alex Blakey and the local community to celebrate the return of a globally threatened fish to the village. Atlantic salmon were once so common in the River Aire that the Reverend Miles Gale described in 1690 how poor folk from Keighley would hunt them at Michaelmas “with blazing iron forks.” The growth of mills and cities along the Aire poisoned the river and blocked their way meaning that they did not return to the river above Leeds for 150 years.
Now the reconnection of the final 60 kilometres of impassable river, with fish passes in Leeds and Saltaire, has paved the way for this iconic species to return to Craven. Atlantic salmon are born in pebble beds of rivers and streams in Yorkshire but must make a migration that takes them to the waters of the Atlantic Sea off the coasts of Greenland and Norway before returning to shallow rivers like the River Aire at Gargrave. Good water quality and an open route to our oceans are vital to fish species, like Atlantic salmon and European eels, who travel vast distances during their lifetimes. The demise and likely removal of the weir next to the Scapa Healthcare site at the lower end of the village means that one-day lucky people may spot them swimming through the village.
Experts at the Environment Agency believe that we will see Atlantic salmon spawning in the upper waters of the River Aire in the next few years after catching individuals further downstream looking for spawning opportunities. They are working with local charity the Aire Rivers Trust on a project called Developing the Natural Aire which is working to improve the River Aire and has worked with hundreds of volunteers to encourage wildlife along the river.
Many local residents will have fond memories of playing in the river at Gargrave and species such as grayling, brown trout, kingfishers, and otters that call it their home. Artist Alex Blakey hopes to capture some of these in a piece that will celebrate the nature and heritage of the river at Gargrave. Alex is one of the UK’s leading glass artists and her work draws inspiration from individual and collective stories and memories. By utilising its natural colours and transparent qualities she aims to hold memories and the emotions they evoke within the glass. As a glass artist, she believes that glass has the ability to connect us between both the existing and imagined world. It can provide a window into the past or a glimpse into the future.
Alex’s glass is held within robust frames to create public works of art and the Aire Rivers Trust is working with Gargrave Parish Council to agree on a final location along the river. Alex will be visiting local schools to work with young people to explore this unusual and tactile material. Look out for other community events in Gargrave and online on the new dedicated Facebook page.