Getting stuck in

Freddy Weaver started his placement with the WTT and Prof Jonny Grey in July. Following on from his first blog post, just one week in, here is his second update: 

Hey everyone, it’s Freddy again! At the time of writing, I am halfway through my three-month placement with the Prof on projects across God’s own county of Yorkshire. The work has been diverse, and I have met some remarkable characters, all driven by the same desire to improve our watery environments. It has truly been a wonderful time that I will treasure and seemingly completely fuelled by pork pies! In this post I will give a flavour of the work we have been up to.

Much of the practical stuff has involved collaborating with local angling clubs and, as a keen angler myself, it has been uplifting to see how many clubs are looking to improve their stretches. The generous guesting offers have been a lovely and appreciated benefit! As an example, Jonny led a workshop hosted by Gilling West Fly Fishers with volunteers from Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and the Angling Trust. Like many of the becks I have seen with new eyes’, Gilling Beck had been straightened resulting in a lack of habitat diversity, especially spawning gravel, and little protection for fish during high flows. Our initial work began with a baseline electrofishing survey. This is a great way to motivate the work party as it reveals the hidden gems (or lack thereof) that they are working to protect.

Freddy GW1
Freddy GW2
Freddy GW3

It was wonderful to see that, unlike many of the waterways we visited, there was a reasonable spread of trout size-classes, and dominated by young of year, but there should have been greater numbers. To aid spawning and emergent fry nursery areas, we installed numerous flow deflectors comprising large logs kindly donated by the Gilling Estate. Substituting for natural inputs of woody material (the beck has been cleared and sufficiently large trees are thin on the ground), the logs were drilled and then pinned in place using rebar in various permutations and combinations to diversify flow and sort gravel from silt and cobble.

On a much larger scale we have been documenting and managing the removal of Scotton Weir on the River Nidd. The removal not only benefits all fish species and life-stages wishing to move unimpeded but also the movement of substrate down the channel, which is great to watch unfold. Despite the use of heavy plant machinery, trout were seen regularly rising immediately adjacent to the works and a kingfisher took a particular liking to some of our sediment curtains by using them as a fishing perch!

FW scotton
Removal underway at Scotton Weir on the R Nidd

Engagement with the wider community, but also within the conservation community, is critical to helping the Trust to achieve its goals. I have noticed that in the conservation community, there is still a need to stress the importance of riverine habitats as these crucial corridors can sometimes be overlooked when considering feathered and furred species of conservation concern. I joined Jonny on a morning of explanation and discussion with a group of National Parks’ ecologists from across the UK. 

Using project sites on the River Skirfare in Littondale as an example, we discussed our goals and approaches including the reach of the ecosystem goods and services felt far downstream, beyond the dale. It was great to see the engagement and questions from the ecologists surrounding common issues across many of the National Parks and how to work through these for the benefit of all nature. With the afternoon free’, Jonny decided in his infinite wisdom to target a plastic culvert for removal on a nearby beck. Great idea. A cheap and easy win. Why not? This was, however, the hottest day of the year… Fortunately, a fantastic pub called The Queen’s Arms, complete with superb microbrewery, was nearby to retreat to after and rehydrate with a cold pint.

FW bedale
FW chillin

On a slightly less trouty note but giving me further insight into Jonny’s wide-ranging passion for the natural world, I helped ring a clutch of barn owl chicks in Jonny’s garage. This was a truly special moment as having witnessed these majestic birds whilst fishing, the opportunity to handle and see them up close was incredible. It was slightly surreal as the five chicks were bundled, hissing, into a gym bag! It is likely the only time I’ll ever witness a bag of owls and on a note of caution, despite being young, a peck from one of them can be quite painful!

FW owl
And now for something completely different...

Looking to the future, an exciting possible collaboration arose with an estate adjacent to the Wharfe. We were invited for a walk around the estate with the new owner, along with Prof Rick Battarbee of Addingham Environment Group and Charlotte Simons of the Yorks Dales RT to assess the various streams and lakes and we discussed how simple land management changes could improve everything from ephemeral channels to beck confluences with the River Wharfe. This also gave the opportunity to take a holistic approach from the moors down to the valley bottom. It was brilliant to see such positive intent and drive from the estate towards working with the natural processes.

This placement has been a learning curve and one memorable moment was my first fly-caught trout. I have always enjoyed my trout fishing although mostly by ultralight lure, so Jonny decided it was time I added another string to my bow. We tagged on a couple of hours near the top end of the Wharfe at Hubberhome where at first, I caught many trees! However, I ended the day catching two wonderful wild brownies on the dry. The finesse of the presentation also struck me, although I’ll always be a plastic chucker at heart, I think… sorry Jonny!

FW owlcrew

All in all, the last six weeks have been incredible, and I hope the next six follow suit. It has been a real privilege to do this placement. I have learned so much from an educational perspective, from better understanding the natural world and man’s interaction with it, to soft transferable skills. I would like to say thank you to all of those who have worked with me thus far and made it so much fun. It has been brilliant.