Fog on the Tyne and other catchment challenges
We take a catchment based approach to our work, but what does that mean in practises and what challenges do we face ‘Tyne and Tyne again’?
If you’ll excuse the terrible pun, the Fog on the Tyne isn’t the only challenge we face when carrying out our vital work to protect and preserve the Tyne river and its tributaries. Spanning 2,733miles (4,399km) of waterways in total, the Tyne catchment is all of the land which runs downhill from the source of the Tyne into burns, streams, rivers and drainage systems (including road drains and sewers) and ends up flowing into the sea at Tynemouth (the Mouth of the Tyne).
A catchment based approach is a fair, common sense and consistent way of splitting up land on which various rivers may run across and alongside one another. It’s also a community-led approach that engages people and groups from across society to help improve our precious water environments. We are a small environmental charity and recognise we can’t do everything alone, and so partnership working is vital to our work and helping solve some of the challenges we face.
At the risk of sounding like a bore complaining about the weather, indulge us a moment to do just that. Weather is crucial to us being able to carry out our work safely and in a timely manner, but more broadly, contributes positively or negatively to a rivers’ health and ecosystems within them.
At the time of writing, storm Ciarán is lashing its way through the Tyne catchment following on from Storm Babet only a fortnight previously. Fields and other permeable surfaces are waterlogged and saturated, increasing the chance of agricultural run off and pollutants from roads and construction being washed into rivers, along with sediment erosion and flooding which damages delicate ecosystems. Stormy weather also heavily impacts our Victorian drainage systems, risking combined sewerage overflows becoming too full and leading to the release of raw sewage into waterways so it doesn’t back up into people’s homes.
With a rise in water temperatures, rivers are being greatly impacted by climate change and increasing storms, which is why our work to reduce its effects is vital.
Tree planting season takes place from November – March and is crucial in fighting against climate change. As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global heating. Trust staff and volunteers will plant thousands of trees this season, checking in on them regularly throughout their early growth stages to monitor success/failure rates and replanting where necessary. Areas of land most in need and suitable are identified early on, and a partnership between ourselves, the land owner and organisations such as The Woodland Trust and the Great Northumberland Forest are integral to helping us make this change happen.
We use natural materials to help slow the flow of water and sediment into the river to reduce the risk of flooding during heavy rainfall and extreme weather conditions. A great example you might have seen us shout about is our natural flood management intervention in Acomb, Northumberland. Simple, but incredibly effective, this low impact defence barrier is constructed using a series of interlocked wooden structures based on the popular game of Kerplunk and is designed to slow the flow of water while allowing fish to move through them. You can read more about this project here.
Education is also key. With a catchment spanning over 2,000 miles, skills, knowledge and experience will vary from the rural uplands to urban areas nearer the coast. To address this, our River School project gives children the chance to connect with the outdoors and understand why we need to look after it. Bringing the river and its plight to life with our interactive river model, hands-on (or should that be feet wet?) activities and plenty of engaging conversations with children of all ages, we strive to work with as many schools and community groups in the catchment as we can.
Barriers to fish passage
The Tyne provides an excellent habitat for a wide range of fish, most notably salmon and sea trout. Angling tourism brings in millions to the local economy reflecting the financial gain of looking after the river, but more so the importance of protecting the delicate ecosystems beneath the water whose impact reaches far wider. Every year, salmon and sea trout return from the sea to the ‘Mouth of the Tyne’ and swim upstream to lay their eggs where they were hatched. The journey is known as fish migration. However, there are many obstructions which stop them from doing this and it is our goal to maximise both the production of migratory salmonids and the opportunity for them to do so since our inception in 2004.
As water temperatures rise fish need to eat more food. The river can only provide so much food so we need to ensure that the population can spread out and access all of the river. Fish Passes ensure that fish can get over man-made obstacles such as weirs to move up-river and so we build and create innovative solutions right across the catchment where possible. You might recognise one or two we’ve worked on…
Reducing pollution from farming
As climate change causes more extreme weather conditions, there’s more run-off from farms which washes pollutants into the watercourse. We work with farmers and land owners to slow the flow of water into the river system and improve water quality. The Ouseburn countryside stewardship fund run by Tyne Rivers Trust focuses on the urban farms and rivers around Newcastle which have a huge bearing on localised flooding. As part of the project the Trust works with more than 70 farmers to reduce the amount of agricultural pollution that washes into the Ouseburn.
Identifying locations, assessing need and priority and finding funding to do this work as a small charity is always a challenge, but with 20 years’ experience under our belt we take each day as a new learning opportunity and feel as strong as ever about our mission – even with all of its challenges.