Georgia Oakenfold, who did a Kickstart placement with the Trust, explains why we use tree guards and considers the problems they cause for our environment.
At The Aire Rivers Trust, one of our main winter activities is tree planting. Over the 2022/23 winter planting season (1st November – 30th April) we managed to plant 3635 whips! Whips are baby trees, typically they are around 2-3 years old and under 1 metre tall. We choose to put tree guards on our newly planted trees to protect them from animals that might eat them and from harmful chemical sprays. The guards also act like a mini greenhouse; this gives the trees a nice environment to grow in and their tall, narrow design means that the trees reach up through them for the light which encourages them to grow.
Tree guards were invented in 1979 and since then, almost all of them have been made from plastic. Unfortunately, plastic is not an environmentally friendly material; the average water bottle takes about 450 years to decompose, meaning that for hundreds of years, plastic builds up in places like landfills, on the streets, or in our rivers. In 2019, Greenpeace did a study of 13 UK rivers and found plastic in all of them! They stated that this is the case because once plastic gets into a river, it is almost impossible to completely remove it all, especially if they are microplastics.
Here in the UK, 12% of our land is covered by forests. This is a much smaller percentage than the likes of Germany who have 32% of their land covered by forests, so the UK need to be planting a lot more trees. One of the things we can do to help raise the number is to ensure the survival of the whips that we plant, and using guards is a way of doing this. Trees are essential for life on Earth; they release oxygen which humans and thousands of other beings on Earth need to survive. Trees also create habitat for wildlife, food for birds and other animals, and help protect against flooding because they catch some of the rainwater flowing into rivers and other bodies of water which lowers the chances of them overflowing.
85% of trees that are planted with guards around them survive, compared to 50% of trees that are planted without a guard. On top of this, if the tree guard is kept on for 5 years, about 99% of trees survive! In recent years, deer and grey squirrel populations have increased and both animals will eat parts of a baby tree or even the whole thing. Trees have less natural protection now because a lot of them are planted in towns and cities where there aren’t many spikey thorn bushes etc to keep animals away from them. In towns and cities, they are also more likely to be damaged by humans.
We are currently looking into what we can do about this issue. We want to protect the trees to help them survive but we also want to make sure everything we do is as environmentally friendly as possible, and that would mean using an alternative to plastic tree guards. Have you seen any products or methods you'd like to see used in the Aire valley?
Bingley North Bog is a West Yorkshire wetland located in between the A650 and the impressive Five Rise Locks landmark. According to The Canal and Rivers Trust, the bog was formed around 10,000 years ago as a result of a glacier that covered much of Airedale forming a moraine; a moraine is a collection of sediment that has been deposited downhill by a glacier. Vegetation (plants) in the waterlogged area began to both partially decay and partially preserve, creating the peatland we see at North Bog today. Peat looks a lot like soil but can only be found in the wet, acidic conditions of bogs!
Bingley North Bog is a particularly important site for many reasons, one of which being its role against climate change. Peatlands are incredible at taking carbon from the air and storing it. Peatlands cover around 3% of the world’s land, yet they store double the amount of carbon as all of the world’s forests by trapping the carbon that living plants had captured from the air. It is because of this that Tim Christopherson from the UN Environment Programme considers them the most essential environment on Earth, in terms of fighting climate change. If North Bog were to degrade and become an unhealthy bog, it could release its stored carbon, and in turn, accelerate global warming.
Bogs in good condition like North Bog, are wet and covered in vegetation. The mix of plants commonly found in bogs creates a ‘rough’ surface which slows the flow of water to towns and villages downhill when it rains. As it is a wetland, Bingley North Bog also helps prevent flooding of communities. Instead of flooding the town and villages, overflow can happen at the bog because there is plenty of space and vegetation that can use the water! This means that North Bog is an essential part of flood prevention in the area. Follow the link to watch a video produced by Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust with further information on this: Natural Flood Management - Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (ydrt.org.uk)
Bingley North Bog is home to a diverse group of wildlife including dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, toads, insects, bugs and bats to name a few. The Canal and Rivers Trust have identified mallards, herons, white geese, coots, moorhens and kingfishers as birds you might spot around the bog. On top of this, Shaun Radcliffe of Bradford Ornithological Group has spotted blackcaps, chiff-chaffs and reed buntings in the area as well.
Species Profile: Kingfisher
Look out for the wildlife, it’s not every day you get to see the wildlife that can be found at North Bog! Try the Bingley five rise locks and canal family walk and keep an eye out for all the wildlife mentioned above. The loop will take you from town past the 5 locks, 3 locks, North Bog, along the canal and back to town again so there is plenty of opportunities to spot some wildlife. There is also a geocaching search set up by the Canal and Rivers Trust that explains aspects of North Bog that create a great habitat for all of the wildlife there. This is a great idea for a family day out!
Every week we organise volunteer days where we run a variety of events such as hedge laying, tree planting and litter picking. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to join in and help us protect the river Aire and surrounding areas. If you want to volunteer with us, register your interest here:
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!
Hedge laying is a task that we complete with the help of our volunteers throughout the winter months, from October till March, while the growth stage of the hedge is dormant and it is unlikely for birds to be nesting in this season. Hedge laying is a traditional agricultural skill dating all the way back to Celtic times, been first mentioned in Julius Caesar’s ‘Commentaries on the Gallic Wars’ and is still in practice in the UK.
The use of hedge laying in the UK took a major hit after the Second World War due to many factors, including the lack of labour available to maintain the hedges in the traditional way, causing them to grow out into sparse lines more like a line of small trees, the rise in the use of wire and wire mesh to contain animals and marker land, the invention and wider use of machines designed to cut hedges and trees and changes in land use increasing land use for agricultural purposes, the increase in agricultural mechanisation saw many hedgerows grubbed out to increase field sizes.
The practice of hedge laying is still used in the UK for several reasons, such as an environmentally friendly alternative to fencing, creating a weather protective shield for cattle and crops, maintaining a habitat for rural wildlife and as an aesthetical screen for fields and gardens. Traditionally hedge laying would have been completed using billhooks, shears and axe/hatchets, and now loppers, small chainsaws are also used as well. With Hedge laying the process cannot be seen in its full light till the spring and once completed it normally looks quite ropey and messy when all cut up, but this allows the lower areas to access light in the spring allowing the whole shrub to grow from top to bottom creating a thicker, more consistent hedge.
Over the last couple of weeks those of you who have volunteered with us will have heard Nick explain that there are many different versions of hedge laying and why they are performed in this form, listed below are a few of the more popular styles used in the UK and a short explanation of how the styles differ and what they are primarily used for:
There are many other types of hedging, and the tradition seems to be enjoying a revival as the techniques are used more to help establish and maintain the rural and urban countryside, if you are interested in learning more about Hedge laying there are a couple of sites you can visit including:
With most countryside-based skills, there are no specific Hedge layers, but every farmer contributed when needed so everyone would have needed to know how to do this. Therefore, it’s a great volunteer activity, allowing our volunteers to learn the basic techniques and be able to make and see a positive overall contribution.
This blog post was written in mid-October before the government's Environment Bill went before Parliament and the fantastic and widely publicised public debate that has followed it. Unfortunately, we have been delayed in publishing it or updating it due to staff sickness. We are still publishing as it contains (amongst other things) some really interesting maps and data about our catchment.
It's quite a long blog. If you want to find out how to make a difference you can skip to the end to find links to actions to take now.
The start of October saw the release of the "State Of Our Rivers" report by the Rivers Trust (a national charity that campaigns on behalf of the Rivers Trust movement). It makes grim reading. England's rivers are failing and looking close to home this story rings true.
Make no mistake, our rivers are improving. We mustn’t let community memories of foam blowing off the river and down streets in Castleford or fish gasping for air below Baildon weir dominate conversations. The passing policeman who told one of the catchment’s river fly monitors “You won’t find anything alive in the River Worth,” was wrong. Our rivers are full of life. Pollution sensitive fish species like Atlantic salmon and grayling can once again be found near Leeds. With them, otters and kingfishers have returned, but our rivers are not good.
However only five of the 51 water bodies in our catchment have good ecological health.
The State Of Our Rivers" report identifies the key impacts on our rivers as agriculture; the water treatment sector; and the urban and transport sector a quarter. Pollution is not the only problem, though, as abstraction and habitat destruction also play their part in impoverishing our rivers.
After finishing tackling large amounts of Himalayan Balsam on Eller Beck, I recently took a walk downstream through Craven looking for other areas it had spread to. Walking downstream for about three kilometres I found almost none. Intriguingly, this isn't the good news story I hoped for. Instead, I found many banks with sparse vegetation, leaving them open to erosion by high flows. Grazing, often at uncontrolled locations where sheep and cattle can actually walk into our rivers, also places significant pressure on our waterways. We know that soil washed into our rivers pollutes our rivers, adding nutrients and smothering the gravels that fish need for spawning.
Within the Aire, much of this comes from livestock rather than arable farming. Work such as that undertaken by the Upper Aire Project is key to excluding livestock from our riverbanks and providing farmers with alternative water sources. For farmers to get on board it is critically important that the government makes it profitable to become involved in environmental schemes. We can only hope that pilot schemes for Defra's Environmental Land Management Schemes start to give the clarity farmers need for long term business planning.
The Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Phase 2 is a unique opportunity for the Aire catchment. It echos a key theme of the State Of Our Rivers report that nature holds the key to us becoming climate-resilient. Renaturalising and remeandering channels; reconnecting floodplains; together with the creation of natural flood management features like tree planting, leaky dams and soil aeration hold the key to reducing the flood risk to our homes and communities. We are currently involved in a pilot project working with landowners to identify natural flood management potential. If you would like to know more please get in touch.
In the meantime, we will once again be planting trees this winter. Even with the disruptions of Covid, our staff and volunteers have planted over 5,500 in the past two years. There will be many more needed.
You can help improve our local rivers by volunteering at one of our weekly volunteer sessions. the work we do ranges from planting trees to cleaning up the riverbank to laying hedges. Through this we hope to will introduce you to our fantastic river, others who care about it and offer you an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
We're particularly keen to recruit volunteers for our new citizen science project. The work they will do will help us understand our catchment, its health and the opportunities for improvement in it. You can find out more on our volunteering page.
If you spot pollution happening you can report it to the Environment Agency on 0800 807060.
The sewerage infrastructure that runs our streets was first put there by the Victorians and fundamentally, whilst populations have grown and the way we live has changed, those sewers are no longer up to the job. House building puts increasing strain on the sewerage network. To prevent sewage backing up into our homes, water companies are permitted to overspill untreated sewage into rivers during extreme rainfall events. However, these discharges happen with alarming regularity. The worst combined sewer overflow in our catchment is at Ingrow Lane in Keighley and discharged for a total of 2092 hours in 2020 (139 events of over 12 hours). You can explore your local area on the Rivers Trust's interactive sewerage map here. The blame for this doesn't rest solely with water companies and housebuilders. We buy new stuff and flush disposal cleaning products downpipes that were never built for them. Wet wipes form a depressing feature of every river clean up we do. We need the government to bring legislation that not only impacts water companies but manufacturers too. If you use wet wipes, please put them in the bin and NOT down the toilet.
At the launch of the State of Our Rivers report the Minister for the Environment Rebecca Pow boasted that, over the hill in Ilkley, her government has taken the step of designating the first river with the first inland bathing water status. This is a river I swim in regularly with my kids but she omitted to mention it is completely failing to meet the standards for this. (She also incorrectly named the swimming spot Otley which would no doubt horrify a few locals!) We all deserve rivers that are fit to play in whether it be fishing, swimming or canoeing.
Yorkshire Water has made some significant improvements over the past couple of years but our water bodies are still heavily impacted by both partially treated and untreated sewage discharges. Industry has played a huge role in the history of Airedale and we find a great deal of it remains along the banks of the Rivers Aire and Wharfe. We need to work with these industries to help them understand the risks they pose to the environment. Both Bradford and Leeds made the top five areas with serious water pollution incidents.
To tackle pollution in our rivers we need major investment in our sewage infrastructure. This is something that we not only need the government to demand but also to be willing as water consumers to pay for it.
All these problems need urgent action. Our rivers cannot wait for politicians and corporations to improve our environment little step by little step. They need bold leaps into action.
We need robust legislation to protect our waterways and an Environment Agency that is funded well enough to enforce them.
We need the funding in place that enables charitable partners, farmers, landowners and water companies to make the investments that create sustainable change. Some of this will come from the government but some must come from us recognising the value of our environment and accepting that we must fund it, for example through the prices we pay for food.
We also need to take local action - wet wipes and fat in the bin not down the drain, take your litter home with you (you might leave it on the land, which is bad enough, but much of it then gets blown or washed into our rivers, get a qualified plumber to put in your washing machine or dishwasher and make sure they connect to the sewer and not the surface water drains and come to volunteer your little bit "every little helps" (to steal ASDA's tag line!)
Only when people realise there is a problem are they likely to act. So we believe the best way to create this change is to share information. We need to connect communities to their river and each other to demand and bring about change. By making this data public we can hold regulators and polluters accountable.
As an example of the sort of information we hold and make freely available, the following map was created as part of a workshop to look for opportunities for improvement within Bradford Council's area. We want to use data to drive our decision making allowing us to make the most impact with our work.
This might seem a bit 'techy' but bear with us, it is simpler than it looks.
You will need to press the ">>" button in the top left hand corner to reveal the legend. Then click the tick boxes to add or remove layers of information from the map. Clicking the ">" button by each layer will reveal the full key.
An explanation of what each layer means can be found below.
Public Paths Outer / Bradford Public Paths / Other Paths Outer - Public footpaths in the Bradford area. Supplied by the Council as three layers but can be considered one dataset. This map was produced for a Bradford event so data has not been added for Craven or Leeds.
EA Risk of flood rivers Aire Clip - An Environment Agency assessment of flood risk/
Bradford Council Land - Land owned by Bradford Council
Cat1 2 Env Pollution Incident Aire Catch / Cat 3 Pollution Incident Waterbody heatmap - Water pollution incidents categorised from Category 1 (most serious) to Category 4 (least serious and not included in this map). Category 3 incidents are mapped as a heat map rather than individual incidents (as Category 1 and 2 are). You can read more on page 36 of this document here.
RiverObstaclesLayer Aire Catchment - Obstacles blocking fish passage in the river.
YorkshireWaterEDM2020 Clip - Yorkshire Water "Event Duration Monitoring" recording how long and how frequently combined sewer overflows released diluted sewage into water courses. You can read more here.
WB Aire Catchment WFD 2019 Fish 08OCT / WB Aire Catchment WFD 2019 Invertebrates 08OCT / WB Aire Catchment WFD 2019 Phosphate 08OCT / WB Aire Catchment WFD 2019 Ammonia 08OCT / WFD River Surface Water Aire Catchment only 2019 - The EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) which was adopted by the UK in 2000, imposes standards for the improvement of all aspects of water environments, including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater. It requires surface water or ‘blue space’ to be of good quality by 2027. It assesses a number of chemicals and ecological components and rates them from High to Bad.
WB Aire Catchment WFD 2019 - Individual catchments are given assessments based on the lowest scoring component.
Aire Catchment River outlines - Our major watercourses.
OSMapWaterCourses Aire Clip - And minor ones.
Aire Catchment - The area covered by our catchment.
There are lots that you can do to make a difference. Why not join us as a volunteer on the riverbank or make small changes in your home, like installing a water butt? The Aire Rivers Trust doesn't work alone. Nearly every river has Rivers Trust and we have an umbrella organisation called "The Rivers Trust" that campaigns on our behalf. Head to their website to learn more about the issues facing our rivers and to help them by writing to your MP.
If, after looking at the map above, you have suggestions of projects for us to develop to improve the Aire catchment please get in touch with our Catchment Officer, Billy Coburn, by emailing him at email@example.com .
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more general advice follow the link below to the Gov.uk website to learn more: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prevent-the-spread-of-harmful-invasive-and-non-native-plants
Equally, you could contact the Environment Agency with any concerns or queries regarding Invasive Non-Native Species:
Telephone 03708 506 506