Eco Comment – The Wonders of Water

20 October 2023

I saw a brilliant photo this week of salmon leaping at Stainforth Force in Ribblesdale. To me, it’s one of nature’s mysteries, a bit like bird migration. How do they do it?

The photo was a leader into some writing about the barriers the salmon have to overcome in order to reach their spawning grounds. Needless to say most of them were not natural barriers but made by humans. Some like weirs and flood defences are created with good reason but some are down to poor management and possibly the worst is pollution.

The Rivers Trust states that ‘water is arguably our most precious resource yet pollution of our freshwater habitats runs rampant. In 2020, no river in England or Wales was classed as being in good overall health.’ Surfers Against Sewage report that ‘In 2022 there were over 389,000 discharges of untreated sewage into UK rivers, totalling over 2.4 million hours of pollution. (Sadly) the UK is consistently ranked as one of the worst countries in Europe for water quality.’

In March of this year the ‘i’ newspaper reported that the ‘River Calder is officially the second most sewage polluted in England with sewage flowing into the river and tributaries for 27,901 hours in 2021. Yet, like most of Britain’s rivers, the West Yorkshire watercourse is being further blighted by unrecorded sewage spills and leaks due to aging infrastructure.’ March 20.2023.

Yorkshire Water are ‘in the process of installing 40,000 monitors to spot problems before they arise… and are planning to investigate 250 kms of sewers in 2023/24 and action will be taken to resolve (any) defects’ that they discover. In their defence they state that they ‘are currently investing £180m to reduce the number of releases’.

The water companies can’t take all the blame though. The number of fertiliser seepages from farmers also need to be taken into account alongside the number of problems down to the public’s use or rather misuse of drains plus the issues around climate change. The Calder Rivers Trust is involved in educating the public and promoting rivers across our region. Despite many government advertisements and local posters etc people still put unsuitable items down toilets. Remember ‘Bin wet wipes, they block the pipes. And only paper, pee and poo go in the loo’ not to mention other nasties that plumbers or other sanitary workers have to remove when pipes are blocked! But, back to the river …

Until the 19th century the Calder was home to large numbers of salmon but pollution from the textile and chemistry industry led to the last salmon on record being caught at Wakefield in 1850. So, this issue with pollution is not new but possibly we thought that, given our scientific knowledge and new technologies, the problems would have been addressed by now? All is not lost, however. Wakefield Angling Club hold the fishing rights on several lengths of the River Calder and the Aire and Calder Navigation Canal. The main species of fish currently caught are: perch, chub, grayling, pike, roach, bream and brown trout. The best news though is that if you go up stream to a tributary of the Calder above Todmorden you might just be lucky enough to see young Atlantic salmon where they were spotted in December 2022 for the first time in 250 years!

This gives us hope that nature finds a way of getting around us humans. As Ezekiel says in Chapter 47 verse 9 “ Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.”

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

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