The big read: Sheffield rivers conservation group's mission to 'put the Sheaf back in Sheffield'

A conservation group is working to clean up, deculvert and develop Sheffield’s rivers, making them a place for wildlife as well as leisure.

Friday, 21st January 2022, 7:48 am

The Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust is focused on rejuvenating the two rivers in a way that encourages wildlife and also enables residents to connect with nature.

Much of their work is focused around Castlegate and the site of the former Castle Market, which was demolished in 2015. A 100 meter section of the Sheaf culvert here is in a state of decay, and the trust has proposed deculverting rather than replacing it.

A culvert is a tunnel that encloses a river, and can make an inhospitable environment for fish and wildlife. Deculverting removes the roof of the culvert, opening it to the air, and generally increasing wildlife diversity.

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Left to right: Stephen Ward, member of Friends of Porter Valley, Simon Ogden, Chair of Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust, Joe Dreiymann, and Andy Buck, supporters of the trust.

Simon Ogden, founder trustee and chair of the Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust, said: “This is where the Sheaf meets the Don, it is where Sheffield began as a historic town.

"We have secured £16 million through the levelling up fund and we have been campaigning for putting the Sheaf back in Sheffield. It is an exciting opportunity that we are looking forward to working with the council on.”

Roughly £5 million of the funding is earmarked for the Sheaf Field Park project – a plan established by Sheffield council to establish a part at the Castle Market site, deculvert the river there and landscape the area.

Simon explained that because there is a rare colony of bats in the culvert, part of it will be retained to protect them, but in most cases, deculverting is advantageous for wildlife.

The ‘Megatron’ with failed concrete culvert beyond now due for removal.

He added: “We are doing this now because we have the opportunity. There has been a massive loss of habitat across the whole of Europe. Renaturalising rivers is one of the best ways to attract wildlife.

“More people are living in the city centre, we need spaces people can enjoy for their mental and physical health. All these sites along the river were coming up for grabs. We are very keen to see the public involved in how this park is shaped.

"The council has started the city centre vision consultation - Castlegate is part of that, as are plans to culvert the river. What’s great about the castle site is the stories that it can tell.”

Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner at Sheffield Castle, and in the 17th century the castle was taken by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War.

The site of the Castle Market, which closed in 2013, and where the Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust have bid redevelopment plans.

Simon added: “This is just the start - our ambition is to reclaim the whole of the river Sheaf and Porter. This would mean deculverting where possible, for instance along Ponds Forge. But there are certain places where we can’t culvert, for instance at the station, and in those places we are looking to make the culvert as passable as possible for fish and wildlife.

“There are plans for a light well at platform five in Sheffield station. The idea is to put in a whole chain of light wells along the river and deal with other obstacles to fish and mammal passage.

The trust submitted an application for funding of between £20,000-£100,000 to Yorkshire Water on January 13 and are awaiting confirmation on whether that will be granted.

Tours of Megatron, a large part of the River Sheaf culvert, are run by the trust in summer and are very popular, which Simon thinks is ironic considering that they the trust is working principally to deculvert the river wherever possible.

Painted river on Exchange St - Castlegate Festival 2018

Andy Buck, a member of Voluntary Action Sheffield, has been involved with cleanup operations along the River Sheaf. In autumn 2021, he and a group of roughly 25 volunteers worked on sites at Broadfield Road and Duchess Road.

He said: “We removed an extraordinary range of fly tipping. This included three mattresses, a two meter length of wire fencing, a double buggy, two children’s bicycles, and of course the ubiquitous shopping trolley.

“Over a couple of hours you can make a huge difference. We are hoping to be funding of around £8,000 to extend this work, but that has not been agreed yet.

"We believe we would be able to clean up most of the Porter and a good stretch of the Sheaf. Volunteers really enjoy doing it but it needs some professional expertise and equipment.

“It needs to be done little and often for flood protection. When debris collects in a river it can make a dam. That was part of why the 2007 flood was so serious.”

The Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust also work with some companies to ensure that new planning proposals take into account the importance of Sheffield’s rivers.

Hidden Rivers Tour at Pond Hill

Simon said: “Originally the Costa Coffee developer’s plan for a new site on Queens Road didn’t show any access to the Sheaf. They have now sent us a drawing showing access.

"It is an important thing because it opens up an entire riverside path that already exists and was built about 12 years ago but was never opened up. The Costa site would allow it to be opened up and unlocks about 0.5km of riverside walk that most people don’t know about.

"We are also pleased that Waitrose are putting a riverside terrace on London Road. It’s only a tiny section but in terms of fish passage it is important. Fish that can’t move up and down rivers are very vulnerable to disease and pollution events.”