Andrew Griffiths introduces one of our newest Trout in the Town chapters…
“For quite a while we’ve just been pulling rubbish out of the river, really!”
So says Chris Tribe, member of the River Worth Friends, no doubt echoing a sentiment ruefully expressed by urban river workers everywhere.
Chris joined the Friends group four years ago now, soon after it was formed, its purpose being to take care of the River Worth and its tributaries. As it runs through the Yorkshire town of Keighley it experiences many of the problems that will be familiar to urban river enthusiasts everywhere, so most of the Friends’ activities tend to be concentrated there.
The River Worth Friends signed up for the Trout in the Town initiative soon after forming, and has just received Bronze level accreditation, only missing out on the Silver by a sliver. This means that the group has achieved project milestones such as a committee structure, has begun to form relationships with local agencies such as the EA, and has a band of willing volunteer workers in place.
The River Worth Friends is such an active group that a plan to tackle invasive non-native species (INNS) — a spot of well-orchestrated balsam bashing — should soon get them over the line for Silver. These awards come with a shiny new logo to put on the group’s website, which probably matters more than it should when it comes to applying for funding, for example.
The group formed because the river was clearly unloved by the town, with people often using it as little more than a dumping ground. With the Friends, a few inspired people tried to restore some pride in the river by drawing attention to the part it had played in the town’s industrial development, starting to tell the story through public arts projects and signage.
Now, volunteers have pulled an astonishing amount of rubbish from the town’s beat: in 2021 for instance, they filled a total of 1018 bags of rubbish and collected 204 needles from the banks. (Yes, I have seen the spreadsheets!)
Clearing up after fly tipping and littering takes up 95% of their time, Chris estimates. This is a depressing tale and one to which many who look after their local river will be able to identify — it is a problem the Wild Trout Trust sees groups struggling to control all over the country.
“The phenomenal efforts of the River Worth Friends in controlling the litter problem is having an immeasurably positive impact on the amenity value of their urban river corridor,” says Dr Paul Gaskell, who looks after Trout in the Town in the north. “But at the same time, it highlights the environmental pressures associated with a society that has normalised single-use and disposable culture.
“A significant proportion of wellbeing benefits arising from urban green space appears to depend on being surrounded by the beauty of nature. Chronic litter problems rob us of those benefits,” says Paul.
This year’s partnership with the Aire Rivers Trust on the River Worth Restoration Project has brought a step-change to the Friends activities. They are now putting into action projects suggested in Paul’s Advisory Visit report back in 2017 as well as some of the original plans for public art and signage, such as: “Improving access along the river, riverside footpaths and linkage with other routes as well as instream works such as putting in flow deflectors,” says Chris.
Funding for the project has come from the Keighley Town’s Fund and also Keighley Big Local.
The project began with a series of walks to gauge public opinion about how the perception of the river could be changed. The local history society is involved and is helping to produce QR code plaques at key locations to tell the story of the site.
“It’s so people know how important the river is — it’s not just somewhere to chuck your rubbish!” says Chris.
The interest generated by the guided walks has led to an increase in the number of volunteers joining the litter picks as well as the other benefits.
Six years ago Chris took up fly fishing and is a member of that hotbed of river restoration insurrectionists: Bradford City Angling Association. While there is no angling club interest on the River Worth, there are fish in the river now and Chris is wanting to show other fly fishers the delights of urban river angling.
“I could offer to be a guide for someone, if they wanted to find out where the good spots were,” says Chris.
Watch this space for developments, as they say.