Yorkshire Water river specialist celebrates the work done to reconnect the River Don after 200 years and make it a place fish can thrive

Today is World Fish Migration Day, a global event to raise awareness of the importance of free-flowing rivers and migratory fish to assure river health.

Dr Ben Gillespie has lead on the project to reconnect the River Don after 200 years.
Dr Ben Gillespie has lead on the project to reconnect the River Don after 200 years.

While the celebration is global, there’s a lot to be proud of here in Yorkshire, where fish migration has been an increasing focus for Yorkshire Water and our partners.

For many years, Yorkshire’s rivers were vital to industry and instrumental in the success of towns and cities across the region, but unfortunately these working rivers were left in a poor state for fish.

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Pollution and barriers, such as weirs, made it impossible for many species to migrate up river, which is essential for their survival.

At Yorkshire Water, we’re in a position to do something about these historic issues. Many obstacles have transferred into our ownership and, alongside our partners, we’re working hard to reconnect Yorkshire’s rivers.

We’re committed to delivering excellent land and habitats for our wildlife but also for our customers and the residents of Yorkshire.

We’re midway through our journey to reconnect Yorkshire’s rivers and have developed and implemented 13 fish passage projects, with at least ten more to come over the next five years.

A prime example of the work being carried out in recent years is the project to return salmon to the Don by reconnecting the river for the first time in 200 years.

Weirs built in the 18th century for industry prevented salmon, lamprey and eels from migrating, as well as trapping coarse fish like barbel that are washed over a weir during high waters.

Pollution during the 19th and 20th centuries then made the river uninhabitable for most wildlife.

However, collaboration between Yorkshire Water, the Don Catchment Rivers Trust, Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and several local councils made a 20-year vision to return salmon to the River Don possible. The project included the development and installation of a series of fish passages, including at Jordans Dam, Masbrough and Forge Island, to allow fish to migrate to traditional breeding grounds.

All the work carried out on the Don is not just for the benefit of wildlife, there’s also an important community element to it. The Don Catchment Rivers Trust is working hard through its Living Heritage programme to reconnect people, communities and key decision makers back to the River Don and its natural, cultural, built and industrial heritage.

Ongoing projects involving Yorkshire Water include the National Heritage Lottery-funded DNAire project, which will deliver four fish passes on the River Aire but also provide opportunities for people to better understand the importance it has in the area through the Aire Rivers Trust.

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