Salmon, sea trout and eels will soon be able to swim up the River Derwent (tributary of the River Tyne) for the first time in hundreds of years when work to build a fish pass has been completed.

Funding has been secured by the Environment Agency and Gateshead Council to build a new fish pass at Derwenthaugh weir, also known as Lady’s Steps, about one mile away from where the River Derwent joins the River Tyne near the Metro Centre.

The large weir was built in the 18th century and has stopped fish from reaching spawning grounds up the Derwent ever since.

The work will also benefit species like brown trout, grayling and dace that become stranded below the weir after floods.

The fish pass will be a sloping channel built into the weir with two resting pools which provide areas for fish to rest as they go upstream. This will also help to reduce the flow of the water.

Work on the fish pass is set to start in January 2012 and should be finished by spring 2012.

Jon Shelley, project manager at the Environment Agency, said: “By building a fish pass we’ll be allowing salmon and sea trout to move freely into the River Derwent for the first time since the 18th century.

“We try to help fish along rivers wherever we can, and are always looking for ways we can increase the opportunity for affordable salmon and sea trout angling. This project will open up access to a salmon and sea trout fishery on the Tyne that everyone can enjoy.

“We’re delighted that local communities are taking a keen interest in the return of the Derwent salmon.”

Special precautions
The whole area near the weir was formerly a coke works. The site was the subject of a large clean-up project by Gateshead Borough Council in the 1990's, but some historic contamination from the coking industry still remains below the weir. Special precautions will be taken to prevent any pollution damaging the environment.

A dam will also be built around the works to keep the river out and minimise the potential risks. Any water entering the working area will be treated to remove any pollution before being returned to the river.

Gateshead Council cabinet member for transport and environment Cllr John McElroy said:

“The River Derwent was once at the heart of an industrial and heavily polluted landscape, but the transformation since is nothing short of amazing. This fish pass represents the latest major improvement for wildlife in the Derwent Valley, an area now known more for its wildlife than its industrial past. I’m sure that the newly accessible upstream stretches of the Derwent will provide a fantastic home for a variety of new fish species too.”

Water framework directive
The project is partly funded by money from the Water Framework Directive. The Environment Agency receives money from the government to implement this directive, which is European legislation designed to improve and protect all waters – on the surface and underground.

The River Tyne upstream of Derwenthaugh weir currently achieves ‘moderate’ ecological status and it is hoped that by building the fish pass and encouraging more fish upstream, the river will soon be classed as ‘good’.

The Environment Agency is also currently working in partnership with Durham County Council to improve fish passage further up the River Derwent at Ebchester Weir.

It is hoped that the work will result in the Derwent boasting a healthy salmon and sea trout fishery in the near future.