I’m finding it difficult to believe that I have been working for the Aire Rivers Trust for three months now. Time really does fly when you're having fun! So much has already happened that I wanted to take a moment to share my favourite bits so far as well as all the things that I am still looking forward to doing as my placement goes on.
I think the best place to start has to be with our wonderful volunteers. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting you all. Thank you for making me feel so welcome and bearing with me as I find my feet. The amount that has been achieved even in this short period of time has blown me away. The range of work I have been able to participate in is huge, but my favourite bits have to include coppicing, wildflower meadow conservation, and in a very weird way, path laying. Although I am yet to master how to use a billhook properly, I am determined that by the time I have finished my placement I will be able to use one with some degree of success.
Going out to help with Japanese Knotweed treatment has been something that I wasn’t expecting to get the opportunity to do, but I have absolutely loved it! It makes me feel very privileged that I get to go out and explore new places, even if they aren’t always the most glamorous. I am also really enjoying getting out and about in nature on a more regular basis and seeing loads of amazing species. I had the wonderful opportunity of being able to go and see salmon jumping Stainforth Force, an experience I know I will never forget and a definite highlight of the year. But there is also something really special about seeing more humble species like kingfishers, herons, or even beetles when you least expect it that makes me smile.
I am looking forward to getting stuck in with tree planting and litter picking later on in the year, as well as continuing to meet and talk with even more inspiring people from who I am constantly learning.
There have definitely been aspects that I have found challenging, but that is never a bad thing and I hope that over the next few months I will continue to surprise myself and gain more confidence in my abilities within the supportive ART community.
I have already learnt so much and can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!
Electrofishing in Hirst Woods
A guest blog by Prof Jon Grey from the Wild Trout Trust.
Back in May, the new footbridges constructed by Aire Rivers Trust in Hirst Woods over the old mill goit made an immediate and obvious impact on the walkers, both two and four-footed. But they were also built to reduce the human impact in the goit itself. Over the past months and with input from the Wild Trout Trust, members of Saltaire AC have been working steadily towards reinstating the flow and reintroducing some habitat features to benefit the flora and fauna of the goit.
This has involved the removal and relocation of accumulated boulders and freeing up the compacted sediments in between to allow fresh water to flow through the goit even under summer conditions. The water bubbling over the riffles (shallow gravelly stretches) provides a very different habitat to the slower deeper stretches which remain quite silty on the bed.
It is hoped that with some higher flows over winter, much of the silt that accumulated when the goit was blocked up will be flushed out or relocated to the sides where we have installed some ‘brash mattresses’. These are densely packed branches and twigs tucked behind chestnut posts on the inside of bends to accentuate the sinuosity of the channel (make it more wiggly) and create dead zones into which the silt will percolate and eventually stabilise the material. As the woody material breaks down over time, marginal plants should colonise and further stabilise the structure.
Brash mattresses also provide excellent nursery habitat for young fish with plenty of protection from both flood flow and predators. More physical diversity in the channel allows for more biological diversity too.
The impacts on fish are much harder to ‘see’. However, part of the funding for the habitat-focussed project from the Yorkshire Water Biodiversity Enhancement Fund was ring-fenced for monitoring pre and post works. On Friday 19th Sept, we electric-fished the full goit in exactly the same manner as we did last year prior to any improvements.
Last year from the relatively stagnant water of the blocked goit, we caught very few fish (~60) from only three species: three-spined stickleback, stone loach, and minnow. The stickleback is characteristic of slow or stagnant waters and the stone loach favours a more silty bed. Hence, the impoverished fish community reflected the sorry state of the goit then.
This year, we caught six species, adding chub, bullhead, and gudgeon to the list. All of these ‘new’ species favour more flow, especially the bullhead that was typically found around the new riffles on the cleaner gravel and cobble. Furthermore, the goit was teeming with fish this year. We did not bother to net minnow after the first 10m and I would estimate we would have had several thousand if we had continued. The small chub (~100mm) and fry of all the other species indicated that the goit was once more offering suitable nursery habitat.
The results speak for themselves. Good news. No wonder the local kingfishers have been far more frequent visitors of late! I’m excited to see what further changes will bring to the goit in 2022.
Prof Jonny Grey (Wild Trout Trust)
My time with ART: Moving onto the next chapter.
My year with the Trust is coming to an end very soon, and what a year it has been. I am so grateful for being offered this awesome Industrial Placement during a very turbulent year, but also for the fantastic opportunities I can take away with me now back to the University of Leeds, and for my future. I would like to say a massive thank you to the ART staff and Trustees for taking a chance on me and accepting me into your team and also to all the people I have met along the way. Thank you.
I would love to tell you about every single thing I have done, been a part of or experienced this year, but we might be while. Therefore, I have a few wonderful highlights to tell you about instead.
My best bits...
Mini placement on the fish pass site. The construction of the fish passes was all part of the DNAire project. For me this was really exciting. Not only was I able to wear a hard hat and steel toe boots for the first time in my life, but I learnt how to interpret blue prints, observe how to actually construct a fish passage and learn that nature will take it's course, regardless of deadlines... Having only heard of a fish pass once before, I can now confidently explain to anyone that asks why we are doing it, the purpose and how important they are for migratory fish species like Atlantic Salmon.
Volunteering on Thursdays and Fridays. I couldn't not mention this. One of the best parts of my position was being able to assistant on work days across different sites meeting new people who all care for the environment as much as I do. I learnt new skills, how to use different tools effectively and made new friends who I hope to stay in touch whilst moving onto the next chapter.
I helped form a collaboration with a local Youth Centre to teach young adults and children the importance of looking after watercourses, such as Haigh Beck, that feed into larger rivers and eventually the ocean. It was so inspiring to see how enthusiastic the groups were when doing activities such as litter picking. It reiterated the importance of why our work as a Trust is so important for so many different reasons.
Challenges I faced...
This year alone has been a very hectic year. It has taught me that some things are simply out of your control. I had to adapt, like many others to working from home. Which although it made delivering some of the things we would normally do, such as going into schools difficult, it never stopped us from coming up with alternative ways to connect with people. I was able to learn how to edit Youtube videos for the first time, create beer mats for our walks, help design our origami Christmas cards and assist on creating our DNAire interpretation boards along the river.
Things I have learnt...
Throughout my placement, I have learnt so much across a broad spectrum of things. Whether that's how to build a fish pass to using new tools that I have never seen before and learning new skills, I can return to my final year at University saying that I can do so much more than when I started. I have learnt that rivers are so important in connecting people, places and things. They're an integral part of local communities and provide us with so much biodiversity and life.
What would I change if I could?
I think the obvious answer to this question would be to rewind the clock and prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from happening in the first place. However, despite the turbulence, we were able to adapt as a trust and work with our volunteers to safely deliver events, run online educational sessions and still create great things. I would have loved to be able to go into schools and teach younger students about rivers using our river table and do some cool monitoring with them. That is still something I will look to doing in my future.
Oh I almost forgot, I am yet to see an Otter along the Aire, but I have spotted many Kingfishers now 🙂
Once again, I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity I was lucky enough to be a part of. Thank you to all of our volunteers, the ART staff for looking out for me and providing me with some awesome experiences and the Trustees for welcoming me with open arms. I will cherish my memories I have made this year for a very long time. Yorkshire has a special place in my heart now!
How to report Invasive Non-Native Species
Non-Native Invasive Species (INNS) are plants or animals that have been introduced to an area where they don’t naturally appear, either on purpose or accidentally by human activity. Along the Aire and within the catchment, you may be able to spot some Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, Giant Hogweed and North American Signal Crayfish. These species have the ability to spread very quickly becoming the dominant species within the area or habitat they take over. Not only does this have hostile impacts on the environment and ecology, they also have economic and human health impacts.
So how do you go about reporting INNS?
INNS Mapper is another great tool for reporting INNS sightings. Unlike the sadly no longer funded Plant Tracker app, this is better to use when you get home rather than on the go. All you need to do is follow the link below and it will take you to the website.
The site is used by local action groups or organisations tackling INNS.
The site is straight forward to use and they have tutorial videos you can watch to help you along the way found under ‘How to Guides’. All you need to do is set up a free account with them, make sure you’ve got the coordinates of where the species you spotted was and what the species is! There is an opportunity too add pictures to your survey should you wish. Below are some of the pages you'll expect too see on INNS Mapper.
Alternatively, report to us!
There are a few things we can do to help fight Invasive Species. During the summer months, we take groups of volunteers to ‘Balsam Bash’ along the riverbanks. This is a highly effective way of removing the plant from the area. It has been a great success at Kirkstall Abbey where we were a couple of weeks ago. In place of the Balsam, a great array of wildflowers and other plants have flourished!
Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed are treated professionally. They require being sprayed or injected with chemicals to remove them. This is done on the main river by the River Stewardship Company in Leeds and YorGreen in Bradford. However, some of our staff are trained to do this and we help Friends of Bradford Beck treat their catchment. If you see any, please let us know via email@example.com.
Who is it benefiting? How do I get into it? Where do I start? What will I learn?
Volunteering isn’t just the act of giving up individual time and labour to better the community. It is so much more than that. Despite the turbulent year 2020 was, we have had the most incredible help from so many volunteers. They’ve helped us plant over 1000 trees, pulled pollution from our rivers, restored pathways and hedges, taken part in some training events such as first aid and so much more.
Buzz words that you often hear whizzing around the volunteering sphere are things like helping the environment, having fun, helping others, making friends and developing new skills. These are so important. But it is a way of improving your mental health, physical health, reducing loneliness and giving back to the world that has done so much for us all. The Rivers Trust described volunteering as a ‘nature-based prescription’. While breaking a sweat and making a difference to the environment, you’re healing your mind. You’re stepping out your comfort zone in all weathers, making connections with others. Let’s face it, we all need some human contact every now and then.
What do our volunteers say?
Below is a couple of videos from our existing volunteers. In the week we shot these, they were laying a hedge at a site in Gargrave using billhooks, saws and other tools.
The beautiful thing about joining in on voluntary work is that you meet people who perhaps normally you wouldn’t get too. Share your stories and learn from one another. As a university student, I found myself surrounded by like-minded students wrapped up in a bubble of what meal deal am I going to buy myself today for the library. Or stressed about upcoming assignments and exams. But by taking part in the various activities, I have met fabulous people, learnt so many new things and am now a qualified first aider. Who would have thought I’d be able to help pull over 45 tyres out the river Aire? I didn’t that’s for sure!
Every six years, the Environment Agency publish data showing the state of our rivers relative to the standards required by the Water Framework Directive (which has been transcribed into UK law post-Brexit). This blog explores behind the headlines that caused outrage when the results were first published and led to a stinging blog by myself and reveals a very different picture to that which might be imagined if you only read headlines. In fact, the River Aire is improving - not a lot, but significantly.
Does it pass or does it fail - both!
My headline is not that all rivers fail, but that the Aire has improved in many ways. Whether it passes or fails depends upon what data you use and how you look at that data. It's not a simple story, so settle back and read on...
I started work as a Pollution Prevention Officer on 1st July 1974 and have been involved, one way or another, with our river ever since and you might think, from the headlines, that all of the money, time and thought that has been put into improving the River Aire over the 45 years in which I have been involved has been wasted. That's not true - so here is my interpretation of way over 250,000 individual 'analyses' done by the EA on the River Aire in the last three years. In order to do that, and to make what is happening understandable, I need to look at three key issues: 1) The 'one out, all out' rule 2) Ecological data 3) Chemical data
One out, all out
According to the ‘one out all out’ principle of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) good status of a water body is reached if all parameters (aka analyses) are classed as good. Missing one single parameter is sufficient to downgrade all of them. Essentially, if they analyse for 50 different chemicals and one fails then the whole river fails regardless of how good the other aspects of river chemistry are. Think about this. The more chemicals you analyse for, the more chance of the river failing regardless of whether there has actually been a deterioration and if you suddenly decide to analyse for a 51st chemical then the risk of failure increases even though the quality might not actually have changed. Well, this is what happened. Whilst this might be considered as an application of the precautionary principle, the approach has several disadvantages. With such a principle, the classification obtained does not reflect any partial progress made, especially on the reduction of significant pressures. In some cases, parameters such as hydromorphological and physicochemical elements may better reflect changes in the water status while biological parameters are used to reflect the status of the whole ecosystem. Moreover, it is subject to quirks such as introducing new parameters into the mix (such as Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers - PBDEs, mentioned below) and thus increasing the chances of failure regardless of whether there has actually been any change. This is what happened to cause all waterbodies to fail for chemical status. See below for more detail.
Let's look at the ecological data first - after all this is the good news relating to data about the fish, invertebrates, plants etc in the river. They just 'sense' the state of the river without bothering about pesky EU Directives - remember that we have salmon below Leeds waiting to find their way upstream to spawn and the middle/upper Aire is a strong trout and grayling fishery. They don't do very well in failing rivers!
Of the 51 waterbodies in the Aire, we now only have 2 at 'Bad' status (3 in 2015 and 4 in 2016)
...we have 3 more waterbodies at 'Good' status (we had 2 in 2015 and 2016), so we now have 5 at Good
...all the rest are classified as 'Moderate'
There is still some way to go, but steady progress is being made and many (most?) of the 'Moderate' classifications would be better were it not for the actions of our predecessor generations who thought they were doing right but weren't. Many are Moderate because they have been designated as 'Heavily Modified' because they were canalised, culverted, had weirs installed, straightened, had stone or concrete walls put in place and so on, so they are no longer natural in appearance or function. Much of this damage to the natural state of our rivers will take generations to resolve and may never be done - how, for example, do you de-culvert Bradford Beck when it runs underneath some of the most iconic buildings in the centre of Bradford or the River Aire running beneath Leeds City railway station?
Now let's look at the chemistry. The EA analyse for a very wide range of substances, from Dissolved Oxygen through Biochemical Oxygen Demand (the amount of degradable material in the water - often from sewage) to some real 'exotics' such as Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers PBDEs - we will come back to these shortly. According to this data not one single waterbody passes! This is the data that caused all the fuss and it needs to be taken in context and the reasons for the mass failure understood.
Looking wider, the picture is actually improving, and faster than for the ecology. This chart shows the percentage of all the individual tests that passed the relevant limits for each of three years.
Again, there is still some way to go, but progress is being made. Planned (and financed!) improvements to Phosphate and Ammonia discharges by Yorkshire Water will help substantially and we expect this to be significantly better in 5 years' time.
What's causing the failures?
So what happened to the chemistry of our rivers? Simple really - the EA started to analyse for a couple of exotic, yet ubiquitous, organic chemicals and found them everywhere (after all, they are ubiquitous!). PBDEs and something called Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS for short). They also changed their method for looking for Mercury and found it to be more widespread than first imagined. Horror, you might think! Well, maybe not. These chemicals have been in our environment for decades,
PBDEs for instance have been used as flame retardants in a wide range of products including electrical and electronic equipment, textiles and foams. Releases occur during use and disposal of these products and they continue to enter waste water treatment works. They may be present in soil as a result of the spreading of sludge to land. PBDEs may also be released into the water column by the re-suspension of contaminated sediment or the transformation of decaBDE, which is still in use in industrial products. They may also volatilize and be deposited aerially.
PFOS has been used in a range of domestic consumer products, as well as in industrial processes and in aqueous film forming foams used in fire-fighting. Older consumer products such as carpets, textiles and upholstery that have been treated with PFOS or related substances will continue to act as a source of PFOS. Emissions can occur during the use, washing and disposal of such items, entering the environment via waste water treatment works, urban runoff or waste management facilities. PFOS can be present in soil from historical sources or from the spreading of sewage sludge to land.
And finally Mercury, which has been used in electrical equipment such as thermostats and batteries, cosmetics, wood preservatives, textile treatment agents, dental fillings, measurement devices and as an antifouling agent on boat hulls. A major use of mercury has been in mercury amalgam dental fillings, although this is now declining. Atmospheric releases of mercury are significantly greater than direct emissions to water, with thermal power plants and combustion installations being the largest industrial source emitters. Aerial deposition originating from outside the UK is now a significant source of mercury.
All three of these substances are now controlled (and substantially banned) internationally and are so ubiquitous and persistent that it is expected that they could be around for at least another decade. Realistically, there is little that a Rivers Trust or indeed the EA can do to further reduce these chemicals unless we find a point source discharge (we are checking, just in case).
Want the raw data?
If you want to look at the raw data yourself, you need to be looking here for chemical data and here for ecological data. Be warned - it's a very clunky process and you will end up with huge quantitites of data in spreadsheet format. But if you persevere and are handy with Excel then it's intriguing stuff. This blog has opened the curtains and seen that things are better than might have been imagined. If you want to go a layer deeper in understanding the data and/or how the classification system works then do contact us.
Contrary to what the headlines might have suggested, the River Aire is actually improving for both chemical and ecological standards. There is some way to go yet, but we have to be heartened by the fact that we have such a good existing fish population and by the plans of Yorkshire Water to spend large sums to further improve the situation. Not that we will rest on any laurels - there is work to do and The Aire Rivers Trust plans to be at the forefront of pushing for and delivering the necessary improvements.
Hydromorphology is a term used in river basin management to describe the hydrological (water flow, energy etc) and geomorphological (surface features) processes and attributes of rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) dictates that the ecology of surface waters is protected by correctly managing their hydrology and geomorphology.
Hydromorphology assessment and prediction requires an evaluation of aquatic habitat composition and the dynamic nature of water bodies and facilitates sustainable restoration.
The physicochemical status of a waterbody is linked to a series of measurments of the physical condition - Temperature for instance - and the basic chemistry - Ammonia, Phosphate, pH, BOD etc...
This is the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. All life needs oxygen, so this is an indicator of the ability to support life. It is typically about 10 milligrams per litre, but the maiximum depends on the temperature of the water (the hotter it gets, the less oxygen the water can carry and so the more stressed the biota become).
Biochemical Oxygen Demand
Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) represents the amount of oxygen consumed by bacteria and other microorganisms while they decompose organic matter under aerobic (oxygen is present) conditions at a specified temperature. The lower the better as high levels (above 5?) suggest pollution.
My Time at the Newlay Fish Pass Site
To quickly introduce myself, my name is Hannah, ART’s new placement student and I study BSc Geography at the University of Leeds. Starting my position with the trust during these unprecedented times was so daunting, however, I have enjoyed every minute of it so far. From meeting volunteers at our Friday workdays to creating videos with Abby, the last student. One of the major projects I get to be a part of is the DNAire, Developing the Natural Aire project. As a result of this, I was given the awesome opportunity to go and work at the Newlay Fish Pass site for two weeks, gaining insight into the daily operations that goes into engineering and construction.
It was the first day at Newlay. I remember driving early Monday morning to get there and thinking my past 8-year-old self would never have envisioned me in a hard hat and steel toe boots, but 13 years later, here we are. The team working for Suttles, welcomed me with socially distanced arms and introduced me to the site. Before this, I have only ever seen a fish pass once. Now I was about to watch one being constructed. I observed how the machines operate to carry out different jobs, why different materials were used for different stages of the pass and the unpredictability of working alongside a river which can change the programme of the day within minutes.
During the course of the two weeks, a few days of heavy rainfall led to the site flooding twice, halting work and slowing progression. Whilst the river levels were rising, the engineer on site showed me how to use the digital levelling equipment to help construct a basic flood risk model. Having used optical levelling equipment throughout my degree, using a more precise bit of kit was very exciting. I felt very cool.
The fish passes along the Aire are Larinier Passes. These have aluminium baffles along the base to churn up the water, increasing friction ultimately slowing the rate of flow, allowing fish to swim up. A resting pool is positioned halfway up the pass, giving the fish time to rest before continuing their journey. This differs to the Eel and Lamprey side, which is made of tiles with cone structures, enabling individuals to manoeuvre between each cone.
All in all, I am very excited for the completion of all these passes and the benefits they will bring to reconnecting the river to the wider world. Thank you to Suttles, the Environment Agency and The Aire Rivers Trust for this awesome opportunity!
Working with Wild Trout Trust to Improve In Channel Habitats
We have been working with the Wild Trout Trust in a few locations to improve the habitat for fish by adding large woody debris to the river channel. The intention is to try and mimic or create the natural river ecology with variations in the flow rates, depths, and areas of deposition.
A river may look like a nice pleasant environment to people. But when we consider the modifications that have occurred up and down the water course it has a negative effect on fish populations. The reasons a course of a River can be altered maybe due to construction of a road, allow buildings, increase yield for agriculture, and to harness the power of the river
Otterburn Beck is a terrific location and one of the original Upper Aire Project sites. However, the beck has been straightened to accommodate a road. There are also signs of an older river channel about 15m to the left which may have been blocked to increase the size of the field. Recently trees had been planted and willow spiling to reduce bank erosion a little downstream. During our visit we did not see a trout as we would expect. A seriously depleted natural habitat.
To rectify this several Sycamore trees were harvested. They are growing in the road retaining wall and had previously been cut and now growing multi stemmed from the trunk.
Once the tree is cut the stem is anchored allowing the crown to be in the river. The effect will be to slightly alter the flow of the river and increase this area of deposition to enhance the slight meander we can see in the photo. The foliage will also provide shade for the river creatures which are also lacking in this section of river. These changes will provide more habitat potential for fish than previous. The phrase every little helps comes to mind.
As my placement comes to a close and I return to the University of Leeds at the end of September, I wanted to take the time to reflect on my year with ART and all of the opportunities and experiences I have gained, and how I have grown over the last year in my role as a Community Engagement Assistant and STEM Ambassador.
My favourite task
Looking back to my year I have enjoyed and been so proud of what I have achieved I could not just choose one so instead I have chosen 3
One of the biggest achievements I have had was designing and delivering our new schools’ program, River Defenders. I enjoyed doing this as I got to see my vision for the sessions come to life and it was so rewarding to see how excited the children were to both learn and visit the river.
During lockdown I was proud of being able to produce a video to replace our normal talks which highlighted the history of Kirkstall and our DNAire project. The feedback I got from this was incredible and it had over 1.5k views on Kirkstall 1152’s Facebook page!
Lastly I will always remember and have fond memories of our volunteering Fridays, I am proud that I managed to keep spirits high during all weather conditions we faced in the winter months and how much I have contributed to conservation probably planting around 4000 trees, collecting numerous flood debris and litter. Also getting the experience to install leaky dams in the upper Aire.
Challenges I Faced
I think this year we have all had to face challenges adapting to Covid and adapting our normal routines and job roles. Luckily at ART we continued to work, and my placement was not cut short. Although a challenge having to adapt our normal delivery, I enjoyed thinking of new ways for us to connect with others through social media and other platforms. Rather than seeing challenges as a negative thing I see them as being a way to grow my skills and through my placement I have set myself many of these challenges to create displays, videos, leaflets and data collection techniques having to face challenges to teach myself how to use new software or finding suitable ideas along the way.
Things I've Learnt
Through my placement I have learnt the importance and impact of community engagement. It has been a pleasure to work with our volunteers every week and see how much they enjoy and value helping the local area we are in and how much volunteering means to them. It also has been an honour to be able to design and deliver school sessions and hear from parents that their children had spoken about what they had learnt in the classroom mentioning salmon and teaching other members of their family how weirs and fish passes work.
I have also grown and come to see my own skills which I have developed over the last year. I have learnt my strengths such as being creative, being able to engage others, working to deadlines and being passionate and confident about what I am doing. I have also learnt what it is like to work for a small charity in the voluntary sector and I have really enjoyed having this break from university to have a taste of a job in the real world and learn more about what I would like to do in the future with my career.
One thing I would change
Although I am extremely happy with all the opportunities I got this year if I could change one thing about my time at ART it would have been being able to get out and teach more (which was halted due to Covid). I really wanted to be able to keep teaching independently, which I was able to do for 4 classroom sessions but I wanted to be able to get more practice at doing this for my own sense of achievement and capability that I could do it alone. I would also have loved to have spent longer with the Environment Agency to widen my experience in other sectors in case any were to be future career paths.
After a winter filled with volunteering days, I also wish we could have got out in the summer too and enjoyed the sunny days we have had this summer!
Overall, I have loved my time at ART, and thank everyone greatly for the experience and memories.
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