Nature Connectedness

Young girl smelling sunflowerMany Rivers Trusts offer public engagement activities. This is partly in recognition of the need to involve local people in conservation, for reasons of sustainability, support and equity. It has always been assumed that the more, better contact, the more likely positive outcomes will result.

Recent research is showing what ‘better’ means, in terms of influencing pro-conservation behaviour. There is a growing realisation that a positive, connected relationship with nature leads to pro-environmental attitudes and well-being benefits. Having a positive relationship with nature is an important part of well being, comparable to other established factors such as income and education. The emerging research in this area can influence our approaches to engagement.

Recent academic research makes a compelling case for adopting a “pathways to connection” approach. RSPB, Natural England, the Natural Trust and others have been working with the University of Derby over the past two or three years and the thinking and practice that have emerged is compelling, robust, and cutting-edge.

Many public engagement activities focus on imparting knowledge in a variety of different ways, while others are more focussed on stimulating a creative or emotional response. It turns out that the former approach may be misguided.

A striking statistic coming from the research is that nature connectedness explains 69% of ecological behaviour while nature knowledge explains only 2%. Visit frequency was found to be less good a predictor of pro-conservation behaviours as connectedness. Wandering aimlessly along a riverbank is clearly nothing like as effective as actually getting involved either physically or emotionally.

The research identifies five pathways to nature connectedness:

  • Contact – The act of engaging with nature through the senses
  • Beauty – The perception of aesthetic qualities including shape, colour and form that please the senses
  • Meaning – Using nature or natural symbolism to communicate a concept that is not directly expressed
  • Emotion – An affective state or sensation that occurs as a result of engaging with nature
  • Compassion -Extending the self to include nature, leading to a concern for other natural entities that motivates understanding and helping/co-operation

I, for one, have yet to fully absorb these findings and to understand how they will be incorporated into the Activity Pan for our DNAire project to reinvigorate the Aire. Your thought will be very welcome.

 

Based on original research by Miles Richardson from Derby University, interpreted by me and Kate Measures of Heritage Insider who is helping develop our Activity Plan for DNAire.

Is the Environment Agency fit for purpose?

According to Unearthed, possibly not.

According to the Environment Agency, yes.

According to me, well read on and see…in particular I want to comment on the Unearthed article which, while having a core of truth is guilty of misrepresentation in places.

Staff reductions

Let’s start with the gross misrepresentation of

“nearly 1,000 EA staff – all of which were in corporate services such as finance, HR and IT – have been transferred to the department since July 2016.”

In practice this doesn’t represent a loss to EA field staff (the ones who collect samples, investigate pollution incidents and inspect premises) and doesn’t really represent a loss to the EA as these people are still providing the same services to the EA. What bothers me about this particular aspect of the arrangements is that they may not have the same priorities as directly employed staff. You can bet your bottom dollar that once in Defra any flexibility of movement or interpretation or creativity will quickly get knocked out of them.

A paradox resolved?

The article makes a big play on the number of inspections being reduced. So what? Our drinking water is self-monitored by the privatised water companies and is generally (and correctly in my informed opinion) considered to be amongst the best in Europe. A good self regulation scheme, with strictly controlled sampling regimes, quality assured analysis and routine reporting of results to both the regulator and the public can lead to a massive improvement in quality at negligible cost to the regulator. Maybe, just maybe, this is what lies behind the apparent paradox of reduced inspections yet also reduced non-compliances? I would welcome a comment from the EA (or perhaps some recently departed member of staff) on this proposition.

Enforcement

A big play is made about the reduced number of prosecutions and a shift towards Enforcement Undertakings. (I will overlook, no I will not, the factual error suggesting that the EA imposes fewer fines. The EA does not impose ANY fines, they are matters for the independent court system).

I personally support the concept of Enforcement Undertakings and want to see them used much more extensively. Believe me, from the discussions I have had with the EA they do not regard them as “less-costly and less-risky”, in fact I see the parts of the EA putting obstacles in the way of their use rather than facilitating them. The great advantage of an EU is that the money, which as to be of a similar amount to that which would have been levied as a fine, goes directly to environmental charities to spend improving the environment rather than into the ‘chancellor’s back pocket’. The recent emergence of Environmental Liability Notices is a development that we should follow with interest.

 “Things are (not) getting worse”

The article propagates the oft repeated view that

“Only 14% of the rivers in England are classed as having ‘good ecological status’, down from 27% in 2010.”

I read statements such as this with dismay. Having spent the last 42 years of my life dedicated to improving our rivers, let me tell you that they are better than ever.

When I started on the River Aire in 1974, the prospect of fishing the river in the centre of Leeds was laughable, now we have reliable records of salmon being caught there and we are starting on a major project (DNAire, a partnership project with the EA) to return salmon to the headwaters and hence stimulate a sustainable migratory fish population.

Nearly all of these reported changes are to do with standards so low as to be unachievable (e.g. Phosphate in sewage effluents) or recategorisation of water bodies using rules drawn up to report compliance in line with European Legislation, many of which are much more lax in other countries. If any of the complainers can truly convince me that matters are getting worse, then I promise to pack up tomorrow and consider my life’s work to have been a waste of time. 

Investigations and Sampling

Now let nobody get the idea that I am not critical of the EA, for I am indeed critical of certain aspects of how they go about their work (and not just in the environmental field, as a member of the RFCC I have been a persistent champion of getting more from the FCRM programme). We can quote examples of grossly inadequate incident investigations, damaging riverbank maintenance, inadequate levels of sampling and monitoring of their  own capital schemes and of baseline environmental data (the silence on the long standing Strategic Monitoring Review is worrying) etc. These are to some extent caused by staff and money shortages and need challenging. The prospect of many of these functions being handed over to an even less well resourced Civil Society is worrying. Catchment Hosts are already expected to draw up Integrated Catchment Plans using the grand sum of £15000 per year (yes, thousands of pound not millions!), the funding we might receive to do some of this other work fills me with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

Summary

Yes, by all means criticise the EA for their weaknesses, but the argument is diluted by inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

Your thoughts are welcome, I have opened Comments on this post.

Spawning Season for Trout

A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently
A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently

If you build it, they will come….

The ‘Field of Dreams’ hypothesis often used by conservationists is certainly bearing fruit on our river. According to members of Bradford City Angling Association (http://www.bradfordcityaa.co.uk/fly-fishing/), who have been doing lots of sterling work to improve habitat in both the river and along the banks of the Aire near to Gargrave, brown trout have started to spawn.

The majority of the ‘redds’, the nests where fish lay their eggs, have been created in areas where the anglers have placed woody deflectors (logs) and transplanted water weed to clean up the gravels on the river bed.  This is great news as hopefully it will mean more fish and hence more wildlife like kingfishers and otters that rely on those fish, to be enjoyed by all of us.

A grainy zoom of the picture above, and the two trout are just visible within the white ellipse
A grainy zoom of the picture above, and the two trout are just visible within the white ellipse

It also bodes well for our DNAire project as it shows that if we can get salmon and sea trout back up the river to Skipton and beyond, they too will have good places in the river to spawn.

So, please keep a look out for this amazing spectacle. The photos here demonstrate what to look for; essentially cleaned areas of gravels where the stones have been turned – these may be about 1 metre or more in length. The Wild Trout Trust (https://www.wildtrout.org/) with whom Bradford City anglers have been working closely to improve the habitat, have produced a useful document to identify redds, available on their webpage of the trout lifecycle, here (https://www.wildtrout.org/content/trout-lifecycle).

However, please try not to disturb any fish that are actively spawning – even just standing and pointing from the top of the bank can be off-putting and grayling anglers that might be wading should be especially vigilant. After all, would you like to be interrupted?

A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently
A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently

 

With special thanks to Prof Jon Grey of the Wild Trust Trust who wrote this piece.

River Aire inspires poets

Daltaire
Yes, I know this is actually the canal but it’s such a great shot!

In the lead-up to Saltaire Festival, our River Aire has been inspiring poets.

The competition, with the theme of ‘The World in Saltaire’, attracted entries from across the country and from poets of all ages.

The winning poems have been published in the latest edition of the Saltaire Review and will be on the BBC Big Screen in City Park, Bradford, later in the summer.

The winning poets have been invited to read at the Festival poetry event on 11th September at the Dandelion Café, where Sharena Satti’s poetry will also be featured.

The winner of the Adult class was Mark Batty and I quote his winning poem here with his permission.

The Aire by Mark Taylor Batty

The rain pleads down over sandstone grassy Dales;
Tight stone walls, cudding sheep, sheer open land.
Space pelted sodden, sheeted grey skyfall,
Rained and soaked, wrung and rinsed downstream
Where becks released from stillness skip gleefully
And all shove down, collude to make the Aire.

The eager rush steadies as it heads around Skipton,
Cutting at the turns, rinsing through low leaves,
Splaying into the depth of the valley,
Playing in brief eddies to wait and catch up,
Before gliding under the canal aqueduct
To corner and face the home run to Saltaire.

By the bolted boating hut, shift by Hirst mill,
Swish low, stream bold, thick, deep like soup
To the Boathouse Inn, and nonchalant ducks,
Where the heavy river swells like a distended belly
And bloats sated to claim the summer’s shore
Spilling at the path in the park.

The river would kiss the canal here by the thin green bridge,
Were it not for the pub, a gooseberry in between.
The mill then shouldering the canal away to Shipley
The river veering to roar its claim over the weir,
And farewell down dirty to Otley Road bridge.
Then confidently on to beat that canal to Leeds.

©Mark Taylor-Batty 2018

Coniston Cold weir is no more

Coniston Cold Weir before demolition
Coniston Cold Weir – 2004

Coniston Cold Weir - gone!
Coniston Cold Weir – gone!

With support from the owners of the weir, then months in the planning, demolishing the redundant weir at Coniston took  2 days over 18/19th June 2018. The work was done by Jon Grey of the Wild Trout Trust and his contractors. The Environment Agency and ART also took part in the planning process.

The photos show the weir before and after removal. It was most encouraging to know that a shoal of minnows went through as the demolition was actually taking place.

The short time-lapse video below, courtesy of Prof Jon Grey and The Wild Trout Trust, shows the transformation of the river as the weir comes down. Enjoy!

Good News for our DNAire project as this will allow migratory and other fish to move even further upstream to spawn

Trees, trees and yet more trees…

No, this is not a picture of the River Aire in midsummer, but at last weeks meeting of our Trustees, I did make a very high level reference to the millions of trees likely to be planted in the Aire valley in coming years. This will happen as a consequence of the recent announcement of Northern Forest (of which White Rose Forest is part and which ART supports as a formal partner), YWS’ commitment to plant a million trees, Leeds City Region’s similar commitment to increase the tree cover in the region to 15%(?) which is several million trees, and the many NFM proposals including one for Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Part 2 which proposes to spend several £million on NFM. Some of the Angling Clubs in the valley have already been doing their bit and their contribution will continue to be very welcome and helpful. And of course the Upper Aire Project has been planting trees up there for several years now.

My basic point was that we (me, WRF, EA, LCC and others) are doing our best to get all this possible activity collated. It’s important not to control it all but to help some sense of co-ordination, collaboration and mutual learning.

The landscape implications of all this work may be significant and one of the stakeholder engagement issues currently identified, but yet to be tackled, is the impact on the wider community of this change. Watch this space – as well as the countryside.

Geoff Roberts – Chairman, Aire Rivers Trust

‘Tis the season to be planting….

Lothersdale Tree Planters
One of Bradford City Angling Association’s tree planting work parties

Winter weather may be a good excuse to stoke the fire, contemplate the drinks cabinet closely and turn one’s back to the outdoors. However, that cold weather also causes dormancy in trees which means winter is the ideal time to get out planting, provided the ground is not too water-logged or too frozen!

Trees are increasingly recognised as being a valuable component of natural flood management – see, for instance, this blog . They intercept rain and slow it reaching the ground, even when they are bare. Their roots allow water to penetrate more deeply into the soil. Their physical presence slows flow when rivers overtop banks and their trunks act as natural filters, trapping debris that is carried along in flood water. Their roots within the soil also increase the resilience of river banks by binding them together. They provide a host of other ecosystem benefits too, such as shade for rivers during the summer, and food and nest sites for insects and birds.

The Aire valley is crying out for more trees. Giant strides have been made by the partners of the Upper Aire Project in initiating some quite large scale planting schemes towards the top end of the system. However, every little helps….

Before Christmas, at least three groups were out and about planting. Anglers are the eyes and ears on the river bank, and often true champions of river stewardship. Members of both Bradford City Angling Association  and Skipton Angling Association have been busy on the banks of the Aire where they have riparian rights, and in close partnership with the relevant riparian land owners and the Environment Agency over 1500 trees have been planted near the river at various locations with more to come. Skipton AA are also planting on the becks feeding Embsay Reservoir, with permission from Yorkshire Water.

Lotherdale 1
Lothersdale village residents planting up a track verge to intercept overland flow

Towards the top end of a major Aire tributary, the villagers of Lothersdale have also been identifying areas suitable for planting. They were one of the first recipients of a Woodland Trust Community Woodland Grant to rehabilitate the woodland in the centre of the village and along Lothersdale Beck.

Now they have planted approximately 1000 trees to link established copses, create shelter-belts and interception belts to slow the flow of water reaching the small becks. Word of mouth has spread the news and various local landowners are interested in establishing further planting on their properties.

Lotherdale 2
Planting on the Aire at Eshton Beck confluence

Where have the trees come from? Well, some have been lovingly grown on by interested folk, collecting acorns for example. The majority, however, for these small scale initiatives have come from either the Woodland Trust  or the Trust for Conservation Volunteers , in some cases facilitated by the Wild Trout Trust .

 

 

Community packs of trees in various permutations and combinations are available to groups and schools – see their websites for details.

Planting by Lothersdale village residents alongside the Pennine Way
Planting by Lothersdale village residents alongside the Pennine Way

 

Thanks to (Prof.) Jon Grey, a Lothersdale resident and Research and Conservation Officer for The Wild Trout Trust for this article.

2017 – An important year for River Aire fish passage

 

2017 – An important year for River Aire fish passage

Work has been going on for a number of years to improve fish passage for migratory fish in the Aire below Leeds. This work has provided fish passes at Castleford, Lemonroyd, Fleet, Rothwell Country Park and Thwaite Mills.

Fish passes are required on a further four weirs downstream of Leeds. All the four weirs are owned by the Canal and River Trust and are used for navigational purposes. Three of the four weirs are major ones and are situated at Chapel Haddlesey, Knottingley and Knostrop. The other weir, which is not quite as big a barrier to fish as the others, is at Crown Point in the centre of Leeds.

Major developments are currently taking place which will provide fish passes on all four of the weirs mentioned above. Two of the weirs will be furnished with fish passes as a result of hydro electricity schemes whereas the other two are included as part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme (Leeds FAS) and will receive fish passes as the weirs are rebuilt. The time scale for completion and brief background notes are shown below. The result of these developments will be that migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and eels should be able to reach the centre of Leeds with relative ease by September 2017.

Chapel Haddlesey

This weir is at the tidal limit and was first constructed in 1702. UK Hydro Ltd started work in August 2016 on two Archimedes Screws, a fish pass and a by-wash channel. The screws are already installed and work has begun on the fish pass. The fish pass is expected to be in use by fish at some point in March 2017.

Knottingley

This is the biggest weir on the River Aire being some ten feet high. The weir was reconstructed in the 1970s.

In the summer of 2016, Barn Energy commenced construction of a Kaplan Turbo and fish pass on the weir. Power generation is expected to start in the late summer of 2017 and the fish pass should be in use by the end of September 2017.

Knostrop (Leeds)

Knostrop Weir, substantially rebuilt in 1905, has already been removed and replaced by a temporary weir. The weir is being rebuilt as a moveable weir as part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme and the new weir will include a fish pass. The work is expected to be complete by May 2017.

Crown Point (Leeds)

The weir at Crown Point has already been substantially demolished under the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme. The weir is being rebuilt as a moveable weir and will include a fish pass. Work should be complete by July 2017.

In the longer term we continue to develop and seek funds for our DNAire project to remove all barriers to passage on the main spine of the river and enable a sustainable population of migratory fish.

Thanks to Kevin Sunderland for writing this article and his undying enthusiasm and passion for getting salmon back to Skipton and beyond – his dream is beginning to look real,