Open Aireways

Open Aireways is designed to help improve the fisheries along our river, by removing barriers to fish passage.

We have hundreds of such barriers in our catchment, ranging from sills perhaps 10 cm high (they can inhibit passage of smaller fish and fry), to several metres high which act as barriers to migratory and larger fish.

So far, this project has explored around 80 of these barriers, as identified by the Environment Agency as high priority, and prioritised them for action. In due course we will be seeking funding for further solutions.

Have a look at some of the barriers our fish have to face ...

Restoring our fisheries

Before the Industrial Revolution, the River Aire was home to a large population of migratory Atlantic salmon. However, heavy industrial pollution from Yorkshire’s textile industry and the construction of hundreds of weirs to power the mills in the 1800s resulted in a river that was biologically dead for over one hundred years. Weirs act as barriers to migration, stopping fish from moving to the top reaches of the catchment where they can spawn in the small gravels.

A dramatic reduction in the amount of pollution spilling into our rivers from industry and our homes has seen wildlife flooding back into our rivers over the last thirty years. Atlantic salmon can once again be found in the river below Leeds and the return of otters throughout our valley shows how much life our river now supports.

The Open Aireways project is inspired by our Developing the Natural Aire project between 2019 and 2023, which reconnected 60km of the river by installing four fish passes at Saltaire and in the Kirkstall Valley, Leeds. Developing the Natural Aire means that a route is now open for the iconic Atlantic salmon from the sea to the source of the river where they once laid their eggs.

Initially, this new project aims to make three additional weirs in the catchment passable to fish - more will follow as funding allows. Our focus is on opening up valuable tributaries for fish to feed, breed and shelter in, and on opening up the main river for fish species that are poorer swimmers.

We used data publicly available data on the lengths and quality of river habitat cut off by around 80 weirs in the catchment and detailed analysis from the Environment Agency to prioritise the top twenty weirs. These have all been visited by staff from our Trust. Following the site visits, our expert team have chosen three to progress to the landowner engagement phase of the project. Within the next few months, we will employ technical experts to produce feasibility studies and options appraisals for each site.

Find out more about some of the weirs we explored in more detail...

Having done desk studies and site visits, we have prepared a 'story map' illustrating those weirs we considered to be most likely candidates for remediation. Click on this link, or the button below to open a new webpage that allows you to see some of the details we recorded.

Story map exploring some weirs we prioritised

Nature first

The natural way is the best and we will always seek ways to renaturalise the river when restoring fish passage. Although technical fish passes have been widely installed throughout the UK over the past half a decade, we now want to focus on improving river naturalness whilst improving fish passage. Technical fish passes are less efficient, expensive and are not suitable for all species. We hope that this project will identify opportunities to return the river to a more natural state, such as full weir removal or the installation of a rock ramp.

The example here shows a rock ramp created to enable passage over a collapsing weir that needed to be retained in order that the rowing club that relied on the pool upstream of the weir could continue to exist.

Rock ramp at Hirst Weir, near Saltaire

Community support

Whatever solutions we identify we will need community support and will respect the heritage of the river. We are committed to raising the funds to deliver it.

If you have a weir and you would like to improve fish passage, please get in touch so we can approach you with future projects. Improving fish passage across weirs can also be an opportunity to reduce flood risk, cut future maintenance costs, improve public safety and safeguard crumbing heritage assets

This project is generously supported by Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency.

It forms part of the development work of the Great Yorkshire Rivers project. This is an ambitious partnership between Yorkshire Water, Environment Agency and The Rivers Trust to deliver a vision that:

“By 2043 this leading and innovative partnership approach will have addressed all artificial barriers negatively impacting fish populations in Yorkshire, allowing recovery of our native fish species; helping rivers and their communities to thrive.”

© Copyright Aire Rivers Trust 2020
The Aire Rivers Trust is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales No: 07464227 and a Registered Charity No: 1145609
Registered Office at: 38 Morton Lane, East Morton, Keighley BD20 5RS
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