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Recreated river route to restore wildlife

Pioneering work in South Yorkshire is aiming to reinvigorate wildlife in a section of the River Dearne catchment by using clever engineering to transform the water’s flow.

The innovative scheme will transform a stagnant, straight section of the stream that passes through Rabbit Ings Nature Reserve into a faster moving S-shaped channel. It is hoped that introducing this movement will clear away sediment and make the water cleaner for local wildlife.

And the members of the group behind its creation met today (January 15) to officially get work underway. The project is thought to be one of the first in the country to investigate whether restoring river habitat directly impacts water quality and the results will be reported in 2017.

The project group, headed up by Yorkshire Water, includes members from the Environment Agency, Dearne Valley Greenheart Nature Improvement Area, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB and Rivers Trust, in addition to landowners The Land Trust and Barnsley Council and managing agents Groundwork in South Yorkshire.

If the project is successful, it could revolutionise the way the water industry approaches meeting river water quality standards close to waste water treatment works.

An expert delivery partnership of Willowbank Services, Peter Brett Associates and Hull International Fisheries Institute will be carrying out the work, which involves a new meandering route for the stream to increase the flow and improve oxygenation.

It is hoped the scheme will remove the sorts of sediment deposits that have built up and impaired local wildlife since as far back as the industrial revolution.

The new stream route has also been designed to take key detours to ensure it doesn’t damage the existing water vole population or any of the local inhabitants.

Once finished, it is hoped the restoration will create a visible increase in indicators of good water quality, such as plants and invertebrates, as well as encouraging Yorkshire freshwater species such as shrimps, mayflies and brown trout to return. Yorkshire Water is collecting four years’ worth of data, both before and after the scheme, in a bid to assess its impact.

Yorkshire Water Project Manager Sarah Gledhill said: “Looking after the environment is important to us and we are keen to understand if habitat restoration can help streams like Sandybridge dyke recover from their industrial heritage to be more resilient in the future.

“This project could help shape the way in which we invest in the region in future and even revolutionise how we attempt to improve water quality.”

The habitat restoration is being trialled at the dyke largely due to its history. The stream runs through land formerly used to store waste from the nearby coal mine and a closed municipal landfill site. The stream is mostly man made, in poor condition and the perfect case study for the research.

Mick Birkinshaw, Rabbit Ings Country Park Ranger, said: “Since Rabbit Ings Country Park opened three years ago, the wildlife diversity has continually increased and this latest scheme will benefit the habitat even further. This exciting new project is another step forward that will extend and improve existing wetland habitats where we have water vole, water shrew, kingfisher and harvest mouse. This in turn will make it a more attractive site for visitors and our schools education programme.”

Ian Kendall, Estates Manager of The Land Trust said: “At Rabbit Ings The Land Trust and our managing partner Groundwork in South Yorkshire are dedicated to providing a place where people can enjoy a wide variety of our native wildlife. Therefore we are delighted to be involved in this ground breaking project and are very grateful for the massive investment that Yorkshire Water are making to improve such an important habitat.”

Project Manager Pete Wall said: “Rabbit Ings falls into the boundary of the Dearne Valley Green Heart Nature Improvement Area, one of only twelve in the country designated by DEFRA in 2012. We are delighted to be a part of the project, helping Yorkshire Water to improve the local environment for wildlife, creating a better place for people to live and work.”

Dearne Valley NIA Riparian Advisor Ailsa Henderson said: "Yorkshire Wildlife Trust staff have been providing expert guidance throughout the project’s development, particularly regarding water voles which is Britain's fastest declining wild mammal along with other mammals that live within waterside habitats. As the project moves into its delivery phase we shall continue to advise the contractors working on site and look forward to seeing how this improved and extended habitat benefits the wildlife here."

Anthony Downing, Environment Officer for Don and Rother Water and Land Team, said: "The design of this particular scheme works with natural processes to both address water quality problems and create greater diversity of river habitat which will be of benefit to plant and animal species.

“We have been delighted to be part of this project, which not only has provided a good model for partnership working and water quality improvements, but hopefully it will also provide a sound evidence base to support future projects addressing water quality problems around water company discharges."

Barnsley Council’s Biodiversity Officer, Trevor Mayne, said this was a significant step forward for the catchment:

“For decades the whole Cudworth Dyke system, of which this stream is a part, has suffered from a multitude of abuses. We are delighted to be involved in this project which should improve things for our native wildlife and habitats.”

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