One of the UKs most dangerous plants is currently being forced out of Yorkshire, thanks to the efforts of the River Stewardship Company.
Giant Hogweed is a highly dangerous Non-Native Invasive Species which is traditionally found along riverbanks and canals. However it is slowly colonising habitats away from the water’s edge; such as along footpaths and urban areas.
This invasive weed can grow up to 6m (20ft) high, with its leaves spanning 1.5m (5ft); seeing it towering over our native plants. But despite its size, it is its sap which renders this plant one of the countryside’s most dangerous species; causing severe burns and blisters to the skin. Burns can last for many months, and sufferers can remain sensitive to light for years afterwards. As such, it poses a huge threat to the safety of cyclists, dog walkers and families alike.
In spring 2015 the River Stewardship Company, a social enterprise specialising in the management of riparian habitats, decided to change this. Working on sites across the Aire and Calder catchments in West Yorkshire, their team of operatives have been working tirelessly to eradicate the species from the area, successfully using a combination of cutting and spraying techniques to control its growth and spread.
Working for local riverside landowners, such as homeowners, regional businesses and national organisations, patches of all scales and sizes have been treated in order to restore safety to the public alongside enhancing local biodiversity. Their successful management method has even drawn media coverage across TV and Radio alike, and seen them become a regular sub-contractor for England’s largest government waterways organisation, The Environment Agency.
Further information about controlling Giant Hogweed, as well as other Invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsalm, can be located on the River Stewardship Company’s website. Members of the public can also report the spread of invasive plants through the plant tracker app.
The RSC worked as subcontractors for the Environment Agency over the summer 2014 period treating invasive non native species (such as Japanese knotweed and Giant hogweed) and in the winter 2014/2015 season helping with the busy Yorkshire-wide tree management programme. The latter work provided a valuable opportunity to help the team develop and improve their base of knowledge and experience carrying out such work, adding to an ever expanding portfolio and allowing investment in training such as winching and Forestry First Aid.
The Sheffield Lower Don Valley Flood Defence Scheme (LDV FDP) is a highly innovative project comprising the capital construction of flood defence structures and long-term river maintenance, with the latter element being delivered by the RSC. The scheme – managed by Sheffield City Council in conjunction with Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and the Environment Agency, commenced in July 2014 and is delivering a five year programme of river channel maintenance to reduce the risk of flooding in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley, a business and industrial area of national and international importance.
Private sector investment has been secured by means of the first Business Improvement District (BID) in the UK associated with flood protection, and the river management contract is being delivered by the River Stewardship Company.
The specification for the programme of channel maintenance has been developed with the involvement of the Sheffield Waterways Strategy Group members over the past few years to deliver environmental and social benefits as well as flood risk management and these include the eradication of invasive plant species, the improvement of marginal habitats and the engagement of volunteers.
The project not only delivers a nationally significant model for sustainable river management investment, but also a step change in the management of the River Don for flood risk to also deliver benefits for water quality, ecosystems and local communities.
We completed in September 2013 a three year partnership with the Environment Agency to implement river stewardship on the Don in Sheffield to help the river perform as well as it can in the event of a flood.
We helped create and work to a model of riparian vegetation management towards flood risk management, biodiversity, community engagement and amenity based outcomes. As part of our ongoing partnership with the Environment Agency, the national organisation championed the benefits of river stewardship to local steelmakers Sheffield Forgemasters, who contracted us to deliver a 4-year programme of channel maintenance using the model described above.
Both projects have now been enveloped and superseded by the Sheffield Lower Don Valley Flood Defence Scheme – currently being delivered by the River Stewardship Company (as described below/link to the case study).
We are currently working with partners including the Environment Agency, their framework contractors and other social enterprises to support more collaboration to generate more social and environmental outcomes from the EA’s spend on projects delivered through their contract frameworks. To this end we have set up the River Stewardship Practitioners Network to support Members to share knowledge and collaborate to improve access to contracts and funding and generate more benefits for waterways and local communities.
The Blue Loop is a continuous loop of waterways and riverside walkways in the heart of Sheffield, made up of The River Don and Tinsley Canal. It travels for 8 miles from the city centre and flows close by the communities of Burngreave, Attercliffe, Darnall and Tinsley.
After suffering years of pollution and neglect, action was required to restore this stretch of Sheffield waterways into a haven for wildlife. After consultations with local community groups, the RSC devised and delivered a programme of events and activities to get local people interacting with the waterways, and following a positive response in June 2010 the Friends of the Blue Loop group (also known as “The Blue Loop Troop”) was launched, made up of members from the local community.
Working alongside the RSC and the Canal & Rivers Trust, The Blue Loop Troop volunteers work hard to continue this waterway renaissance by keeping the area free from harmful litter, tackling overgrowing greenery and ensuring that the waterways are clean, green, attractive places for watery wildlife to thrive and local people to enjoy.
The Blue Loop project has successfully engaged local schools, community groups and volunteers, and has helped to raise the profile of the waterways as valuable recreation spaces .In one year alone, volunteers contributed almost 450 hours of their time; the equivalent of over £30,000 in labour.
Held every Wednesday, the Blue Loop Troop volunteer sessions have proved extremely popular, regularly attracting a large group of volunteers willing to help conduct a range of practical tasks to help maintain the waterways, such as vegetation management, tree planting and footpath repairs. Currently up to 100 people are registered as volunteers with the project, including retirees, Burmese Karen refugees, university students and jobseekers.
The group are always keen for new people to join the team, and will provide you with training, a welcoming atmosphere and plenty of hot drinks and biscuits to keep you going through the day too!
In 2014 Pupils at Tinsley Juniors, Brightside Nursery & Infant and Whiteways Primary School’s learnt first-hand about raising Brown Trout and the Sheffield’s waterways, as part of the “Trout in Tanks” project; funded by the Equitable Charitable Trust and delivered by the River Stewardship Company.
The project runs from November/December to the following March and serves as ‘curriculum enrichment’ as it supports the delivery of a number of subjects (English, mathematics, geography, history, art and ICT) and links directly to science KS1 &2; bringing the national curriculum to life.
The “Trout in Tanks” project engages children with river wildlife management issues and solutions, and highlights the value of Sheffield’s rivers. All of the sessions are made to be as hands on as possible and have a strong visual emphasis to assist the children who have English as a second language. The project provides long-term impacts on children in terms of:
As part of the project, children are responsible for rearing Brown trout in tanks housed in their classroom (from eggs to small trout fry), which are then released into local waterways. Pupils are taught how to monitor the aquarium conditions, feed the fish and remove any dead eggs. Further sessions include workshops on food chains, food webs, habitats and fish migration.
Danny Williamson from Byron Wood Primary School said “Excellent project, children enjoyed ‘hands on’ aspect and were fascinated by the river and wildlife. They learnt lots about caring for, and looking after living things. Very engaging activities on food chains and growth, the kids learnt through games and could explain and talk about food chains afterwards. Children thoroughly enjoyed it all.”
Hellen Hornby, Community Team Manager at the River Stewardship Company, commented: “This project has been really successful in getting children involved and excited about the environment. They have taken ownership of nurturing the fish in their classrooms and have learnt how important it is that we protect the wildlife in our towns and cities.”
Kyle joined us the RSC an Apprentice River Steward on January 2012, aged just 16yrs. Kyle joined us by chance, as another young person who had been due to start unexpectedly dropped out and Kyle stepped in at the last minute.
He completed a 15 month full time apprenticeship, attending college one day a week and working with our landscape team for the remaining four days. He impressed us with his outstanding work ethic and reliability, and he soon built up his skills and industry licenses in addition to his qualification.
On completion of his NVQ Level 2 in Environmental Conservation apprenticeship we were delighted to be able to offer him a full-time position as an Assistant River Steward. He has continued to build his portfolio of licenses, having recently acquired his Chainsaw, Woodchipper and Winching Operations licences in addition to certificates in Pesticide Application, Brushcutter Operations, First Aid at Work, IOSH Working Safely, and working in water and boat handling accreditations. He has also achieved a level 2 qualification in Team Leader Knowledge.
“It is an absolute joy to see a young person like Kyle flourish. I am extremely proud of him for making such a success of this opportunity, and proud of the business for creating a new job.” Helen Batt, RSC Chief Executive
The Community Riverlution Project was launched in 2011 using funding provided from a range of organisations, including the Environment Agency (EA), Police Crime Commissioner, Shiregreen and Brightside Community First. The aim of the project was to support the progression of NEET young people in their journey towards employment through the delivery of both environmental and social outcomes around community resilience to flooding.
The project was delivered by the RSC over a period of 48 volunteer days in areas at risk of flooding and on water bodies where mitigation measures had been identified by the Environment Agency as having specific failures under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).
In partnership with the project, Sheffield Wildlife Trust (SWT) provided a mentoring service for the young people involved as well as supporting them with progressing towards nationally-recognised AQA or ASDAN accreditations. Youth Justice Service/Remedi also assisted in the referral of young offenders that match the NEET requirements onto programme and provided supervision and transport during the project.
Thanks to Big Lottery Awards For All funding, the RSC transformed a disused area of land at Hinde House Primary School into a wildlife garden and growing area (‘The Cabbage Patch’). The physical works involved constructing and planting raised beds and planters; a raised pond; a seating and potting area and a network of paths.
Hinde House children also benefitted from weekly growing sessions in the wider school area as part of the funding, and the Cabbage Patch now provides a focus for continuing this activity.
Groundwork Project Manager Kate Beaumont said “The new school garden means that every year group will have the space to get involved in growing projects as part of their lessons and in after school gardening clubs. Seeing the garden finally completed is fantastic – it looks amazing. The school have been planning this for such a long time and thanks to this Lottery funding it has meant its now a reality.
Photos can be found here – R:\Client & Supplier Correspondence\H\Hinde House School\Photos\Garden Creation – Hinde House – Dec11-Jan12
River Stewardship Company is a company limited by guarantee and registered in England.
Company registration number: 6759419. VAT registration number: 975669843