Impacts of anthropogenic activities on the fisheries of the Don, Rother and Dearne catchments
Human uses and abuses of rivers have grown and diversified over the last few centuries with increasing urban development. With increasing population growth, there has been increasing demand for the use of rivers to satisfy a diverse range of human needs including solid waste disposal and the discharge of industrial, sewage and mining effluents. Rivers have been abstracted for agricultural and potable water supply and river channels have been modified for navigation, flood defences and hydro-electric power generation. These modifications to the river system disrupt the fabric of the aquatic ecosystem and diminish its integrity, affecting equally the capacity of fish and other organisms to survive. Fish depend on undamaged interactive pathways to enhance their survival, growth and recruitment.The Don, Rother and Dearne catchment in South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire has suffered from a legacy of pollution and land contamination that dates back to the Industrial Revolution. These rivers have been grossly polluted from industrial, sewage, and mining effluents and from the disposal of solid wastes in the catchment. Much of the lengths of these rivers were fishless into the mid 1980s.Fish populations in the catchment remain low and species diversity is poor at most locations in the Don sub-catchment. Brown trout and coarse fish species are present in the Don catchment, with the salmonid populations confined to the upper reaches. Most tributaries of the River Don provide brown trout recruits to the main rivers but poor water quality and degraded habitats have prevented the successful colonisation of the waters by the species. Coarse fish, where present, were found at the middle and lower reaches of the river.Fish populations and species diversity in the River Dearne are generally poor due to serious water quality problems. Limited numbers of brown trout and coarse fish were found at few locations in the catchment, reflecting the widespread nature of poor water and habitat quality. The sub-catchment receives diverse discharges from sewage, industry and abandoned mines. This is exacerbated by various pollution incidents, the causes of some of which remain unidentified.The River Rother has low fish population densities, and many stretches of the river are fishless due mainly to poor water quality and lack of suitable habitats. Some tributaries of the River Rother, particularly the River Hipper, Redleadmill Brook and Brookside Beck hold considerable numbers of brown trout. The Rother sub-catchment also receives sewage, industrial and mine effluents which impact on the water quality.The benthic macroinvertebrate fauna of the sites studied were mainly pollution-tolerant taxa with low species diversity reflecting poor water quality. Heavy metal levels were generally low and declining which, possibly, relate to the decline in steel and coal industry in the catchment.A concerted programme to improve effluent discharges from major sewage treatment works and industries serving the catchment area coupled with a decline in the coal, steel and manufacturing industries has resulted in marked improvements in water quality of the rivers. Reductions in ammonia and BOD levels have been achieved since 1991 due mainly to improvements to sewage treatment works. As a consequence the fisheries of the rivers have shown some evidence of recovery. Unfortunately these improvements are localised and the fish populations suffer periodic setbacks because of isolated pollution incidents.Despite considerable efforts by the Environment Agency and its predecessors (the National Rivers Authority and Yorkshire Water), to improve the fish populations through stocking and some habitat improvement measures, the general status of the fisheries remains poor particularly in the Rivers Dearne and Rother. A strategic Aquatic Resources Management Plan (ARMP) targeting the bottlenecks to recovery and improvement in the water quality and fisheries habitat is proposed for the long-term sustainable improvement of the fisheries. Project Concept Notes and Logical Project Frameworks have been developed to address the water quality, habitat and fisheries rehabilitation problem. These constitute draft proposals for which additional information would be needed before projects can be progressed.