Salmon set for return to River Don in Sheffield after 200 years

Salmon could soon return to the River Don in Sheffield for the first time in some 200 years as an ambitious project nears completion.

Monday, 9th October 2017, 09:54 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 09:54 am
A salmon fights its way upstream (pic: Gerard Binks)

The river once teemed with the fish until weirs built to power the mills springing up along the Don began blocking their path during the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Factories spewing out pollution then made the river too dirty to support salmon, before environmental regulations introduced in the 1970s led to a dramatic improvement in water quality.

Vast sums have been spent creating salmon passes along the Don so they can navigate the weirs and once again complete their epic journey across the Atlantic to their traditional spawning ground in Sheffield, via the Humber and Ouse.

All but one of 16 passes are now finished and it is hoped work on the final hurdle - at the Masbrough weir in Rotherham - can start early next year.

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The Don Catchment Rivers Trust (DCRT) has been working with organisations including the Environment Agency, the Canal & River Trust, Sheffield City Council and Yorkshire Water to build the passes and improve the habitat so salmon can return.

It has spent around £550,000 building five passes as part of its £1.4 million Living Heritage of the Rover Don project, bankrolled by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The three-year project, which began around 18 months ago, was last Wednesday commended in the 'natural environment' category of the Canal & River Trust's Living Waterways Awards.

Project manager Rachel Walker said: "We think it's at least 200 years since there was a really good population of migratory salmon on the River Don and we're delighted to have played a part in hopefully enabling them to once again reach their traditional spawning grounds in Sheffield.

"Having this beautiful species that many associate with wild and clean rivers will send a powerful message that the River Don is no longer grossly polluted and is in fact healthy and full of life."

The project is far from over, with the trust continuing to work with its dedicated team of volunteers to clear rubbish from the river, run school visits and introduce new walking routes complete with audio trails explaining the river's rich heritage.

The return of salmon to the Don, where they have already been spotted as far upstream as Aldwarke weir in Rotherham, would be a further sign of the river's renaissance after a major survey recently revealed otters are again populating the river.