The River Aire is 148km long flowing from its source in the Yorkshire Dales near Malham to its confluence with the River Ouse at Airmyn (‘myn’ is an old English word for ‘river mouth’) near Goole. To find maps of our river and data about it click here.
The River Aire runs through some of the most joyous and impressive countryside in the UK. Below Skipton, the valley becomes increasingly urban bringing the river to the doorstep of 100,000s of people. Then, below Castleford, the river valley is intensively used for agriculture.
It passes through an UNESCO World Heritage Site at Saltaire and a number of scheduled ancient monuments including Kirkstall Abbey. The river catchment is home to twenty two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), four Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and two Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
You can fish for everything from native Brown Trout to stocked rainbows, Barbel and the usual range of coarse fish. There are even salmon in the lower reaches, although they cannot reach the headwaters because of old weirs too high for the salmon to jump – an issue that the DNAire project is addressing.
You can row and canoe on the river.
You can walk its banks, watching for kingfishers and dippers. You might even be lucky enough to catch sight of otters and water voles.
It’s a river to be proud of, a river to love.
The Environment Agency constantly monitor river levels, these live level gauges show key points along the river. You can find many more at Gaugemap.
The River Aire was subject to gross pollution along most of its length from the mid 1800's until the 1970's. Direct discharges from a range of industries combined with sewer overflows and discharges from sewage works produced a river too polluted for most fish life. With no fish, much of the associated wildlife was lost and little recreational activity took place there. Even upstream of where Bradford Beck joined the river in Shipley, the water quality of much of the river tended to be poor.
Things started to improve when The Yorkshire Water Authority was formed in 1974. The Water Act 1973 encouraged a more holistic view of the river and poorly performing small sewage treatment works were closed. Instead the effluent directed to the larger works where large investment took place. Any industries still discharging direct to river were ‘encouraged’ to connect to sewer or treat to a very high standard. Now there is only a handful of significant direct industrial discharges along the whole length of the river and they are nearly all cooling water discharges.
In recent times, the Freshwater Fisheries Directive ensured that the major sewage treatment works were improved. Key sites included Esholt (Bradford) and Knostrop (Leeds). The river now has fish populations along its full length. With these we have seen the return of otters and other wildlife.
Another piece of European legislation (transcribed into UK law post=Brexit), the Water Framework Directive, is now leading the way in improving the ecology of the river and its tributaries. Through this the river is set to improve to a standard which could not have previously been considered possible. The Aire Rivers Trust intends to play its part in the process of improvement. We want to ensure that the public recognise the improvements which are taking place and are able to enjoy their improved river.
One of our Trustees, Kevin Sunderland, has a keen interest in the changing fish populations of our river. In 2012 he published an excellent article on the History of the fish populations of the River Aire. It is well worth a read as both an angler and a naturalist. An edited version of this report appeared in The Naturalist No 138 (2013).