By GEMMA BROWN
Published at 06:14, Friday, 26 February 2010

AERIAL mapping, balsam bashing, habitat monitoring and educating the public are among the main achievements of a Hexham-based charity tasked with managing and improving the River Tyne. Five years on from its inception, the Tyne Rivers Trust (TRT) addressed a packed meeting at Hexham Racecourse this week to update landowners, farmers, anglers and volunteers on its progress in safeguarding the best salmon river in England and the vision for the future.

Now among 25 rivers trusts operating up and down the country, the TRT set a precedent in 2006 by signing a memorandum of understanding, entitled River Revolution, with the Environment Agency. The first of its kind in the country, the document made it the shared responsibility of the agency and the TRT to safeguard the future of the Tyne. Since then it has taken on three full-time scientists, a fisheries expert and managerial support, to help deliver on key projects including a survey of the entire Tyne catchment area, including extensive salmon habitat surveys, leading to the identification of obstructions to migrating fish at 18 sites.

A focus on the monitoring and improvement of the habitat of the rare pearl mussel, which is abundant in parts of the North Tyne and Rede rivers, has also been undertaken. The trusts aerial photography has been a key part of this work. Rivers officer Paul Atkinson told the meeting: “We now have the whole catchment area recorded with high res and low res photography and that has allowed us to identify water depths, gravel sizes and where siltation might be an issue.

“This in turn has enabled us to predict the salmon quality and quality of the spawning grounds in certain areas, as well as whether an area is likely to be able to support a pearl mussel population.”

Mr Atkinson said that in areas such as East Woodburn, livestock-created erosion on the banks of Lisle’s Burn had been controlled with the installation of fencing, while working with farmers in Tynedale on livestock management, pesticide use and manure storage had also reduced the diffuse pollution of rivers in the area. River Watch officer, Ceri Gibson, said 68 events reaching over 1,000 people had been organised by the trust to date. Volunteer River Watch groups, aimed at encouraging the public to get involved in safeguarding the future of the River Tyne, are well established in Haydon Bridge, Corbridge and Stocksfield, and tackling issues such as river bank erosion and the control of invasive plants such as Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed.

Dr Gibson said: “From ‘try it’ fishing days to river dipping events and guided river walks, people really have come out in support of us and got their feet wet over the last few years.”

But despite the progress the £1.4 million scheme has made to date, director Malcolm Newson said there was much more still to be done. He said: “Among the things I remain very passionate about is opening up the river and making it more accessible and fun for everyone. “I know of five people personally who swim in the South Tyne and that is something we should be embracing with this new sport of wild swimming emerging.”

Prof. Newson also spoke of his hopes that the trust could begin to do some of its work in the River Derwent in the coming year, involve more schools and youth groups, and help with some of the physical challenges that rivers pose.
He added: “We are in a period where floods are occurring more frequently and viciously and I believe the trust should be engaged in the setting of the balance between the natural ability of a river to breach its banks and the challenge of climate change.

“And we will do this through continuing to involve people in what we do as I think our policy of community engagement sets us apart from other regulatory organisations.”

Published by Hexham Courant | Home