The Sheffield rivers run free

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ONCE they were tainted with the spoils of heavy industry over many generations.

But now Sheffield’s city rivers - which have had mercury, materials and even offal dumped in them - are becoming home to increasing numbers of clean-water fish.

Trout and grayling are among the species anglers can now find in the Don, Loxley, Sheaf and Rivelin waterways.

Sheffield Partnership for Rivers in Town Environment is working hard to help river recovery. Acting chairman Paul Gaskell said there had been an ‘invisible revolution’ in rivers.

He said: “They’ve changed beyond all recognition really.

“Some places upstream you would have had to hold your nose, and in the 1970s they said parts of the Don were classed as biologically dead. To go from that to holding really good amounts of trout and grayling is a massive leap.”

The Don, Loxley, Sheaf and Rivelin waterways all feature in a new book about rivers that are in towns and cities - yet are full of clean-water fish.

Book Trout in Dirty Places, by Theo Pike, tells of how large parts of the Don were described as ‘absolutely unfishable’ by 1894.

Paper mills dumped bleach and pulp into the channel and sewage from primitive drains also used to pour in. Coal solids and mercury discharges were made. Offal was also apparently dumped in the Sheaf from city slaughterhouses.

Jim Baxter - The Star’s angling expert - said: “Historically anglers had to travel to Lincolnshire to find good fishing. For a long time when I was growing up we would make 70-mile round trips.

“The River Rother was one of most polluted in Europe at one time and I don’t think the Don was far behind. They were heavily polluted. Now we can get fishing on the doorstep, which is great.”

Much work has been done to improve Sheffield’s rivers over the years. And the book highlights the work of passionate campaigners like Stuart Crofts who forced factories to clean up, the Environment Agency and many volunteers who have restored rivers to their former glory.

Mr Gaskell, of Hillsborough, said changing people’s perceptions was one of the biggest challenges as work continues.

He added: “People are surprised to learn there are fish in there! The challenge is to make people believe things have changed. In the past they might have been told by their parents to stay away from the river.

“It’s going to take a while to filter through the message. A lot of stuff going on under the water can’t be seen - it’s like an invisible revolution.”