Reflections on a summer with WTT

The final installment from Freddy Weaver, reflecting on his internship with WTT

A summer that I will treasure for a long time. 

I feel the above succinctly encapsulates my feelings about the last three months working with the Trust in North Yorkshire. Firstly, I’d like to thank all the individuals and organisations I have worked, walked and talked with, and especially the Prof for being a fantastic mentor and guide through my internship — Jonny’s direct and energised style is infectious! 

This has been an opportunity which has informed and educated me greatly about the natural world, both between and beyond the banks. It has given me insight into not only the challenges facing our waterways, but a more holistic understanding of the working environment that is our countryside. A particularly personal surprise for me has been the key human element involved in conservation and bringing people onside. I found witnessing, and being a part of, the sharing and contributing of ideas and goals for the benefit of waterways (the ethos of the WTT) especially rewarding.

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Freddy, inadvertently centre-stage with practitioners, regulators and land-owners

To choose any stand-out moments is challenging but there were two real heart-warming experiences during the electrofishing surveys of Haw Beck and Flasby Beck. WTT had previously undertaken habitat improvement to help with the annual spawning and survival of the younger fish. Hence, it was brilliant to see the physical impacts on flow diversity, cover and structure, and how when given the tools to recover, these small tributaries can bounce back really quickly. The electrofishing was exhilarating, with incredible numbers of young of year trout recorded, double or triple from previous year’s results (see Jonny’s blog on the TROUT project, here). This was a real validation of the work that the Trust undertakes.

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Not all sites came up smelling of roses though, and I’m so glad Jonny shared the delights of Bradford Beck with me. Despite the presence of what I’ll politely describe as used Thames trout” and other delights from sewer outfalls, thankfully we did find some lovely non-latex-based lifeforms. The species that really made my day during the survey was the discovery of two good-sized eels ~500mm. These enigmatic and endangered beauties are affected by many of the same issues as trout in the UK, especially relating to fish passage. Seeing them was a great reminder of the wider benefits of the Trust’s work. On the topic of conduit-shaped species, I saw my first brook lamprey and promptly corrected my ignorance about lampreys — I had never realised that we have three distinct species in the UK, let alone the individual complexities of their life cycles.

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The practical work we undertook on larger rivers within Yorkshire was appropriately scaled, often involving the splitting and laying of crack willow. This, obviously, is a very different skill set and much more fun than my days pipetting in the lab for my PhD! A day in chest waders is always a good day in my mind. Returning wood to the channel seems key to overcoming the omnipresent historic straightening of our river channels and out-dated views on forever increasing or maintaining conveyance. The Wharfe needs a bit more room than one of its becks to meander! Appreciation for how dynamic a channel should be has been a real takehome message from my time. Spotting a palaeochannel from the car window will bring me a smile hereafter!

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In at the deep end, trying to wiggle the Wharfe

I hope from this post I can impress both how much of an amazing time I’ve had and how much I’ve learnt. The real rush of practical learning by doing was epic and almost daily during my time with the Trust. For any readers who have made it this far (well done) and not taken part in some WTT volunteering, please try to! Not only to do something for your local environment, but to meet engaging, informative individuals who want to pass on their knowledge and passion is a fantastic opportunity. Whether it’s my adopted Aire or my home blue-line, the Medway, I’ll be back out on a bank and volunteering again soon. 

So Long
Freddy and his farewell WTT merch