Let’s get rid of Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed may be visuallGiant Hogweedy attractive, but it is a serious ‘health’ hazard because if you get the sap on your skin it forms seriously nasty weals/blisters and may leave your skin photosensitised for life. Getting the sap in your eye may blind you!

We want to get rid of this nasty plant – it often grows on riverbanks and the seeds are easily spread downstream, so control is really important and you might be able to help.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are offering some free training to volunteers who can commit time to controlling the weed. Here is the text of their email:

Do you know of anyone who would be willing to be trained to deal with invasive species on the River Aire in the Bradford Metropolitan area? We are having a big push to eradicate Giant Hogweed in this area. We can play our part in walking the banks and liaising with others to find the plants. Although we don’t have too much Giant Hogweed we do need to stop it expanding before its too late. There’s more about than was thought so dealing wHogweed bllistersith it is more urgent than thought previously.

There is a mammoth task for the EA and others in the Leeds area but the job in the Bradford area (Kildwick to Apperley Bridge) is a lot more manageable.

Please get in touch if you know of anyone who would be willing to undergo the free training offered by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Environmental Conservation Apprenticeships

A fabulous opportunity to gain a Level 2 qualification as an Environmental Conservation Apprentice has just opened up. These are available throughout Yorkshire.


FutureWorks Yorkshire Futureworks (Yorkshire) are working together with the Environment Agency and Bishop Burton College to offer opportunities for individuals to work towards a L2 Environmental Conservation Apprenticeship

Details are in the attached Environmental Conservation Apprenticeships flyer – please send any queries direct to them, we have no further details.

Bishop Burton College





Monitoring urban diffuse pollution

Barney Lerner samplingBarney Lerner has been in the international news recently – several newspapers, including the Washington Post and a Spanish language e-newspaper, carried his article outlining the essence of how our project on monitoring urban diffuse pollution will go about identifying locations and sources.

I hope that The Guardian is not too upset that I have copied the text of their article for your delight.

Glow-in-the-dark tampons could be used to show where sewage is seeping into rivers, scientists have suggested.

A study has found that tampons absorb even tiny amounts of “brighteners” found in detergents, toothpaste and shampoo and subsequently glow under UV light.

A team at the University of Sheffield has shown that “tampon tests” can be used to track down which houses sewage is coming from at river locations where a problem has been identified.

David Lerner, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Sheffield who led the study, said: “Sewage in rivers is very unpleasant, very widespread and very difficult to track down. Our new method may be unconventional, but it’s cheap and it works.”

Prof Lerner’s team is focussing on how to pinpoint housing developments in which waste water pipes are incorrectly linked to the water network. Most new housing is built with separate pipes for sewage and other wastewater, such as rainfall in drains, that can be sent directly into rivers. “All you need is for someone to have a cowboy builder and connect their appliances to the wrong drain and you have sewage going into the river,” said Prof Lerner.

Defra estimates that around 5% of homes have misconnections that result in sewage being pumped into streams or rivers, rather than being sent to treatment plants, and scientists believe this is a significant contributor to water pollution in Britain. Just 17% of England’s rivers are judged to be in good health, according to Environment Agency figures released last week.

The problem is identifying where sewage is coming from as most existing tests are complex and expensive.

The latest study, published today in the Water and Environment Journal, reports that when tampons are dipped for just five seconds into diluted detergent (at a concentration 300 times less than expected in a surface water pipe) optical brighteners could be identified immediately and continued to be visible for the next 30 days.

Lerner said one of his students identified tampons as the ideal detector because, unlike most cotton products, they are untreated and do not contain optical brighteners.

The test was trialled in the field by suspending tampons on rods for three days in sixteen surface water outlets running into streams and rivers in Sheffield. When they were checked under UV light, nine of the tampons glowed, confirming the presence of optical brighteners – and therefore sewage pollution. Working with Yorkshire Water, the team followed the pipe network back from four of the nine polluted outlets they’d identified, dipping a tampon in at each manhole to see where the sewage was entering the system. They were able to successfully isolate the sections of each network where the sewage originated, narrowing down the households which would need to be inspected in more detail.

A visual inspection in one area immediately revealed a house where both a sink and soil stack were connected to the wrong waste pipes.

Currently, the only way to be sure a house is misconnected is by using a dye test – putting dye down a sink or toilet and seeing where the coloured water appears. “It’s clearly impractical for water companies to do this for all the households they supply, but by working back from where pollution is identified and narrowing it down to a particular section of the network, the final step of identifying the source then becomes feasible,” said Lerner.

The team are now running a larger-scale trial aimed at identifying sources of sewage pollution on the Bradford Beck, which runs through central Bradford.

Funding for work on Bradford Beck approved

The Friends of Bradford Beck submitted a proposal to improve the urban runoff situation to the Aire and Calder Catchment Partnership. The proposal, valued at £38,500, has been approved by the ACCP (and subsequently the Humber Liaison Panel) and now sits with the Environment Agency, who we expect to approve it. Subject to that approval, monies will be released in lat May and wok can then start immediately.

This project will use a “citizen science” approach to provide evidence-based, methodical notifications across the city of Bradford on the presence of misconnection effluents in watercourses and outfalls.  The team will then act as “citizen police” and follow up the notifications to ensure that appropriate action is taken!

It will use a novel, cheap and efficient method developed by the University of Sheffield to locate all reaches and outfalls affected by misconnections1.  This method detects optical brighteners (OBs) which are pervasive in misconnection effluents, being present in almost all detergents; appliances and sinks account for over 75% of all misconnections which is why OBs are an excellent indicator of problems.

All polluted sites will be reported to the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and Bradford Council for them to take action as required by regulation and under the good practice guide2. Trained volunteers, organised by a project co-ordinator, will carry out the monitoring and reporting.  Follow-up monitoring will determine whether the problems have been rectified; this is what will make the project fully effective in the short term – the local paper is very supportive of the Friends of Bradford’s Becks and will be very willing to run name and shame stories if needed; we doubt this will be needed as all 3 organisations are aware of the project and expecting to take the necessary actions as part of their “day job”.

The project team will conduct some reconnaissance exercises in the Keighley waterbodies (also part of Bradford) to ensure that similar problems are not present there, and to check whether there are any significant contributions to pollution in the R Aire from this urban area; there have been some anecdotal reports of misconnection effluents.

The project includes development of an schools pack and a training pack for other voluntary groups.

Lower Newlay Weir (Horsforth) removed

Lower Newlay weir has been removed. The weir itself had suffered significant collapse and was in a state of disrepair. It is understood that a weir was built, along with a mill (St. Helen’s woollen Mill), at this location sometime between 1820 and the early 1830s. Ordnance Survey maps in the early 1900s show the weir and suggests it was probably then supplying water to The St. Helen’s Leather Glue and Gelatine Works and the St. Helen’s Chemical Works (right bank looking downstream). It is understood that St Helen’s Works was demolished in the mid-20th century and the site is now part of the Kirkstall redevelopment.

Newlay Weir before
Newlay Weir before removal

• The objective of the scheme was to contribute towards addressing Water Framework Directive (WFD) failures through improving fish passage and restoring river morphology/habitat at Newlay lower weir (SE2430236909).
• The weir had suffered significant collapse and was in a state of disrepair, but was still around 90cm high (creating ‘ponding’ of habitats upstream and impact on the free movement of fish).
• Provision of free fish passage for all fish species under all flows has now been achieved.
• It has restored more than 300m of upstream river habitat (better for fish, invertebrates, water plants (macrophytes), better sediment transport, less stagnation, etc. and more aesthetically pleasing).

Newlay Weir after
Newlay Weir after

Unfortunately once they started the works at the centre of the weir, the rest of the weir (which was already badly damaged) started to deteriorate further and slump towards the scour hole. It therefore became very difficult to limit the works to just the removal of the central third of the weir as we’d hoped. However the bankside structures appear stable and they have also placed some of the weir blocks on the bank to used as future reference to the weir (could perhaps be used as seating?).




The weir has been removed by the Environment Agency  in partnership with the Aire Rivers Trust’. Thanks to Neil Trudgill of the Environment Agency for the info and photos.

Have our rivers got better or worse?

WWF commentA report on the BBC website this morning grossly over-simplifies the  challenges we face in improving our rivers. Our rivers are certainly not pristine, but to suggest that they have got much worse is way off the mark.

The Environment Agency are right to be “aggrieved”; the situation may not be as we would like it to be, but the WWF are way out on a limb here.

Commenting on data made available as part of an ongoing consultation on improving our rivers under the auspices of The Water Framework Directive, the WWF, who really ought to know better, stated

“The figures released today are shocking and show us that things are worse than we thought. This is unacceptable and threatens wildlife and livelihoods.

“It’s clear that we are failing our rivers and the wildlife they impact. We need to see government action to restore these rivers, for example by reducing abstraction and tackling pollution.”

The apparent deterioration is linked to significant changes in the classification criteria associated with the Water Framework Directive. Whereas previously rivers were classified using essentially ‘chemical’ criteria and showed a steady improvement over the last 3 or 4 decades, the new classification system takes account of the biota in the river as well as the physical (hydromorphological) condition of the river. This is clearly sensible, yet HAS led to this apparent deterioration in quality.

Having said that, the classification criteria themselves have some oddities – for example the presence of a natural waterfall, or the absence of fish species that would never have inhabited the watercourse in pristine times, can lead to a lower classification! Do not be sucked in by this biased allegation by the WWF, who should know better.

The Aire Rivers Trust and the Aire and Calder Catchment Partnership will be commenting on the Humber River Basin Management Plan (which is our regional version of the data/plan which sparked the WWF comment) in the very near future.

New fish passes at Burley Mills and St Ann’s

Two new fish passes have been opened at Burley Mills Weir and St Ann’s Mills Weir on the River Aire alongside Commercial Road in Kirkstall, Leeds.

The passes have been built by the Aire Rivers Trust in partnership with Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency.

The Burley Mills Fish Pass, located in attractive surroundings, can be seen from the public viewing point at the weir.

St Anns Mills fish pass
St Ann’s Mill fish pass

The £400,000 Kirkstall project was funded by Defra’s Catchment Restoration Fund which is administered by the Environment Agency. Leeds City Council will be taking ownership of the two fish passes.

The fish passes will enable the current fish populations of brown trout and coarse fish to move freely past the weirs to find the best places to feed, shelter, spawn and grow.

In the longer term the two fish passes will be a part of a chain which will allow salmon and sea trout to reach their historic spawning grounds upstream in Leeds, Bradford and the Craven District of North Yorkshire.

The weirs at Kirkstall have been a barrier to upstream movement of fish for around 200 years and the fish passes will not only improve fish stocks but will also improve the general ecology of the river.

Kevin Sunderland, Chairman of the Aire Rivers Trust, said that water quality improvements over the last 40 years have led to improved fish populations and this has meant that fish passes have become necessary to allow the river to reach its full potential. He also paid tribute to the help and co-operation which the Trust had received from various departments within Leeds Council and thanked the Environment Agency for providing the necessary funding and technical advice.

Neil Trudgill, Fisheries Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency said: “We are delighted to have worked with the Aire Rivers Trust on this project and congratulate the Trust on completing the project early and under budget.

“Angling is very popular in Leeds city centre and these passes will help improve our fish populations to benefit people and the environment. When fish are able to move freely up and down rivers, they are also less vulnerable to the occasional accidental pollution incidents that still occur in our rivers.”

[Environment Agency Press Release]

Rodley Fish Pass opening

Promises of a new wealth of fish in our waterways

The Yorkshire Post carried a nice piece about the Rodley Fish pass, here is the text…

Until recently the possibility of salmon and sea trout swimming in the Aire seemed as likely as pigs flying in the sky. It has been almost two centuries since the people of Leeds, Bradford and the surrounding countryside have had the pleasure of observing, or indeed catching, such creatures. But this is about to change.

Rodley Fish Pass Upstream View The Aire Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency now agree that salmon and sea trout, along with eels and brook lamprey, will begin repopulating the Aire within the next five years.

It is the region’s industrial legacy, in the form of a series of more than 20 weirs coupled with poor water quality that has prevented migratory fish from reaching the upper river. During the industrial revolution, the Aire was pumped with waste from factories and urban centres, and as recently as the late 20th century, outdated sewage treatment plants prolonged its water pollution problems.

But now, thanks to better regulation and de-industrialisation, water quality has improved and is no longer a limiting factor for fish. Even in urban centres like Leeds, grayling, a fish which seeks out the cleanest water, have been spotted.

Freshwater trout now breed throughout thRodley Fish Passe Aire catchment area, right up to where the river rises at Malham. Downstream, the Environment Agency has caught sea trout weighing up to 8lbs, and recorded up to 25 salmon an hour at Knottingley weir.

As fish have returned, so have otters and heron. Otters have been caught on CCTV at Granary Wharf in Leeds city centre and are increasingly common in the upper catchment area.

The return of salmon and sea trout to the upper river is now prevented only by a handful of man-made weirs. Pete Turner, fisheries officer at the Environment Agency, says: “Ten years ago you might have looked at it and had your head in your hands, but actually it’s happening. Structures and passes are being built.

“The River Aire’s my river. It has its issues, but we’re putting in place what we think is the right thing.”

Kevin Sunderland, chairman of the Aire Rivers Trust, is equally passionate about the river’s fisheries. He says the possibilities for salmon and sea trout will change after the biggest remaining challenge, the weir near Knostrop sewage treatment works in South Leeds, has been developed.

At both Knostrop and Crown Point, a smaller weir between Knostrop and Leeds Railway Station, new moving weirs will be built as part of the £50m Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme. Construction is due to begin this year and is scheduled to be completed next year. It means that if the rains are favourable, salmon and trout will be able to reach West Yorkshire’s great cities.

“Knostrop is the killer,” says Mr Sunderland.

“I’ve seen salmon and trout there trying to get up. It’s the shape of it. It projects out at the bottom, which make it very hard for the fish to climb.”

Beneath Leeds Railway Station itself, the river flows under the Dark Arches, a complex of massive underground channels, roads and walkways belonging to Network Rail, which is working with the Environment Agency to ensure fish can get through.

Mr Sunderland believes minimal intervention will be required. “It might just be a matter of bolting in some boulders to slow the current and give the fish somewhere to rest.”

A couple of miles up the river, the Aire Rivers Trust has been building two fish passes in Kirkstall with support from Leeds City Council and Defra’s Catchment Restoration Fund. Its weir at St Anns is now operational and work is underway at Burley Mills.

Last year the Environment Agency completed a new fish pass at Rodley, between Leeds and Shipley which is owned and maintained by Yorkshire Water. Between 2015 and 2020, Yorkshire Water will be investing £10m on a further 20 barriers to fish passage on Yorkshire rivers and their tributaries.

Neil Trudgill of the Environment Agency says: “The fish bypass at Rodley is an essential step in the recovery of the river’s fish populations.

“The naturalised design will provide a passage around the weir as well as a habitat in which fish and other aquatic life can actually live, feed and grow.”

Further upstream, at Hirst Weir in Shipley, members of Bradford Amateur Rowing Club are working with the Environment Agency to raise money for repairs to the weir. Work on designs for a fish pass, which will be installed as part of the project, is underway.

But although progress has exceeded expectations, there’s still work to do. For example at Chapel Haddlesey, the tidal limit of the Aire, and Armley Mills, next to Leeds Industrial Museum, the building of fish passes has stalled due to interest in hydro energy projects.

The Environment Agency has already produced a design for a fish pass at Armley Mills, but the scheme is on hold while Leeds City Council evaluates the site. There is no completion date for the project yet, and currently no schedule for construction.

However, at Armley, Chapel Haddlesey and elsewhere, developers of hydro projects are obliged to build fish passage into their plans.

Knottingley Weir remains one of the biggest barriers to fish passage on the Aire and Calder river system. Migratory fish are able to ascend the weir when it floods in periods of heavy rainfall, but their progress upstream can be delayed for months in dry summers. A new fish pass has been mooted.

More work on our waterways can be expected. Under the Water Framework Directive, the Government is committed to a self-sustaining population of migratory fish in the Aire and other Yorkshire rivers by 2021.

Kevin Sunderland, chairman of the Aire Rivers Trust, says it is on track to beat that target. “The river’s set to improve to a standard which couldn’t have previously been considered possible.”