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.

Sometimes the cost is too high – refusing a grant

Refusing money
Sometimes the cost is too high

I have just done something rather unusual for a charity. I have turned down the offer of a £23,766 grant.

Why would I do that? Firstly because the grant awarding body was not prepared to pay the cost of the work required. Secondly because they would not contribute to our corporate overheads (Full Cost Recovery). Thirdly because the contractual conditions were such as to expose a small charity to unacceptable risk.

For months now we have been working in partnership with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and The Wild Trout Trust to develop a bid to the Water Environment Grant (I won’t link there because you really do not want to know about it!). We have spent days, probably weeks, working out the finest detail of the scheme in order to satisfy the somewhat onerous requirements of the submission. Anyone familiar with the Rural PaymentsAgency (who ultimately ‘own’ this fund), or who has heard tales from farmers of the inefficiency, nitpicking and intransigence of RPA, may know how difficult a process it has been. Anyway, we put together our partnership project valued at ca. £170,000 and sent it off. Detailed queries were responded to and we waited, then waited, then waited some more. Indeed, we waited over three months after the decisions were expected and were delighted when we got an offer. Until we opened the letter that is, when we found that we had been offered only £100,000 between us. One partner, us, were offered only 35% of our bid with a requirement to deliver 75% of the required outputs!

To say that I am outraged, annoyed and frustrated is being polite. VERY polite!

So why am I upset?

Part, £250, of our bid was rejected because we did not have competitive quotations for refreshments for volunteers.

Part, £8,500, was intended to provide for social media and other advertising, promotion to aid volunteer recruitment and recognise the contribution of the funder. ZIP. We don’t need to do this apparently ,even though volunteers were core to our bid and they WERE prepared to pay for brand development (but where would we then use the brand?)!

Some of the contractual terms were outrageous:

  1. You will accept unlimited liability in perpetuity for your work
  2. If we run out of money we do not have to pay you
  3. You must do exactly what you said you would and any variation, even in an emergency, needs approval in advance.

Would you accept such an offer? Do these people have any understanding of the impact of their decisions on small charities? Who hold them to account for the consequences of their action?

I would like to pay tribute to the several colleagues in YWT, WTT and the EA who helped us through a challenging time. I won’t name them because this is my rant not theirs, they know who they are and they know how much I value their help.

The only upside – we now have some well developed projects in respect of which we can apply for funding elsewhere.

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.

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

‘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.

Walks around Bradford’s Becks

Friends of Bradford’s Becks have just published a (FREE!) guide to a series of walks around Bradford’s Becks. The booklet contains detailed guides to several walks around the area as well as background information on the becks, the wildlife to be found, the history of the beck and how to keep our watercourses clean. You ccan download a copy by clicking on the image to the left or by sending your name and address along with a 56p stamp to:

Friends of Bradford’s Becks
c/o Kirkgate Centre
39A Kirkgate,
Shipley BD18 3EH

 

Catchment Improvement Lead – an opportunity

The Aire and Calder Catchment Partnership, which is hosted by The Aire Rivers Trust, is  advertising a role to help lead the Partnership to the next stage of our development.
With funding from Defra we are now looking to issue a contract for someone to lead the initial stages of delivering our Actionable Plan and for extending that plan to include the views of additional stakeholders. The successful candidate will lay the foundations of the Plan ensuring that partners and others are fully engaged with the process and, in a better position to deliver ACCP goals.
Details can be found here and applications/expressions of interest are requested urgently.

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,

 

Upper Aire Project – another award!

Upper Aire Project TeamThe team running the Upper Aire Project have picked up yet another award for this great scheme. Here is what the Environment Agency, who have devoted considerable funding to the scheme,  had to say upon hearing the announcement:

A pioneering scheme that is leading the way in improving some of Yorkshire’s best countryside has won a prestigious national award.

The Upper Aire Project won the Green Apple award for its work on improving the environment and wildlife, particularly fish, in the River Aire and its surrounding catchment area.

The project is run by the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership, with the support of local businesses and landowners.

Having competed against more than 500 nominations, members of the partnership were presented with the Green Apple award for Environmental Best Practice at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament.

Environment Agency fisheries officer Pete Turner, who leads the project and collected the award, said:

I’m really proud of this project and I’m over the moon we won this award, especially as the award is for partnership working, which is a major reason it is such a success.

Over the last five years the Environment Agency has spent £368,000 on the project, with a further £90,000 over the next three years just committed. This has been matched by £356,000 from partners, private organisations, landowners and environmental charities. There has also been more than £100,000 worth of manpower contributed, thanks to volunteers working the equivalent of about 2,000 days.

Mr Turner continues:

The Upper Aire Catchment is beautiful. Picturesque streams feeding into the burbling River Aire as it flows through the Yorkshire Dales and down into more urbanised areas such as Bradford and Leeds, eventually joining the River Ouse at Goole.

But that beauty belies a series of issues which meant that wildlife, and fish particularly, were struggling to get a foothold in some areas, which is why we put the project together.

To be successful the project needed to capture the hearts and minds of landowners and farmers, but they were quick to lend their support once the project demonstrated the benefits.

Landowner taking part in the scheme, Philip Metcalfe, said:

The Upper Aire Project team made a really compelling case for converting some marginal land at the top end of Otterburn Beck to wet woodland. Soil is my most precious resource, so any extra ways of keeping it on the land instead of seeing it washed into local becks are really welcome. Doing that successfully means everyone wins – I keep my soil and the water quality will improve.

Alan Thwaite, who also runs a farm in the area, said:

The Upper Aire Project installed 13 leaky dams in the gullies which drain water from the land above my farm. At Christmas we had record-breaking rainfall but our farmhouse didn’t flood, despite this being a fairly regular occurrence until then. There’s no question in my mind that the two things are related.

Mr Turner added:

It will be a long road before we see fish numbers increasing, but we’re confident our work has not only changed the health of the upper River Aire, but the mindsets of many landowners too.

In addition to the environmental benefits the project team used only local contractors and supported the economy by having all meetings at local farm shops.

The format of the project is already being scrutinised by new partner, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with a view to implementation on their land in North Yorkshire.

The Green Apple Awards began in 1994 and have become established as the country’s major recognition for environmental endeavour among companies, councils, communities and countries.

The awards are organised by The Green Organisation, an international, independent, non-political, non-profit environment group dedicated to recognising, rewarding and promoting environmental best practice around the world.

The honour comes after the project won the Large-Scale Habitat Enhancement Scheme award at the Wild Trout Trust Conservation Awards last year.

The Water Framework Directive prompted an assessment of every catchment, rating it on a scale of poor to good ecological status

The Environment Agency undertook the huge task of gathering information and making the assessments, and was left with a brilliant picture of not only the health of our rivers and streams, but what was impacting this.

Before starting any work, YWT volunteers walked the majority of the catchment, mapping sediment sources and collecting information such as land use, vegetation and presence of non-native species. This allowed us to rank the sources and identify priority landowners.

In the headwaters of the River Aire and its tributaries, sediment is the main issue for fish, impacting on their ability to spawn. Working with willing farmers we focused on installing fencing to exclude their stock from the river, targeted riverbank restoration and planting trees to absorb rainwater as it flows down the hilly catchment.

Working with YWT and Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership a demonstration site in Gargrave was established to show the difference buffer strip fencing and selected planting would make. At the demonstration site we: rebuilt the bank along the river, which had been poached for years by 300 dairy cattle; installed fencing to create a buffer strip to allow grass to re-establish; and reinstated fencing and installed a new gate which meant the cows took a route away from the river to be milked.

This site has since been used at engagement days to show local landowners what’s possible and to help recruit more to the project.

We can only add our congratulations and promises of future support to this scheme which has delivered both quality and flood risk improvements. Well done to all concerned, to Pete Turner, Don Vine and Phil Lyth, and perhaps most of all to the farmers and landowners who collaborated so willingly.