River Stewardship Company remove giant 'trashberg' on River Rother

An unsightly ‘trashberg’, formulated on the River Rother has been successfully cleared as the result of positive action taken between the River Stewardship Company and landowners in a step to resolve a growing environmental concern for the local community and beyond.

The River Stewardship Company responded to a call for action from local anglers and river rangers who earlier this year highlighted the negative impact to wildlife of a large, floating collection of plastic litter, waste and debris causing a major blockage on the River Rother near Waverley, Orgreave, Rotherham.

Bringing together the riparian landowners, Harworth Group and Network Rail, the RSC instigated a collaborative effort between stakeholders to raise the substantial amount of funding and resources needed to plan, manage and implement the maintenance works, to both clear the blockage from the river and considerately restore its surrounding natural habitat.

Contributing its expertise in waterway management, the RSC team began work on the necessary site preparation in mid-June. First creating an access point for the clean-up to begin by boat, then clearing the rubbish by hand over a number of days, work culminated with habitat restoration taking place on the river banks. Initial signs show the flow of the river is returning to its natural state, an astonishing achievement all within a short two-week period.

The RSC team needed to clear the area and recycle timber in preparation for accessing the river and restoring the natural riverbank habitat
The river is already showing signs of returning to it's natural state

The immense blockage, weighing in at around 20 tonnes and covering approximately 600m2 of the river channel located alongside a public footpath, had been forming at the site over a long period of time. It was completely clogging the river to choking point by acting as a magnet attracting an array of debris, the source of which cannot be ascertained. Although extreme examples such as this type of obstruction are rare, it sadly only emphasises the problems faced by the river stewards working on our rivers and waterways on a daily basis, where every small piece of rubbish dumped eventually accumulates into a larger issue and escalates the problem.

As always, a ‘trashberg’ reveals only the tip of what is happening underneath the water’s surface. Unfortunately, plastic pollution is a constant issue for our rivers, with many plastics having being washed, blown or thrown into our watercourses, where they cause much harm before even reaching our oceans. Not only are they unsightly to us, blockages of this size endanger our delicate river ecosystems and negatively affect native wildlife in the area.

Plastic can cause serious harm or death to wildlife, through entanglement or when mistaken for food. It can affect the entire river ecosystem disrupting its natural balance, by acting as a physical barrier and through the impact of the pollutants and microplastics entering the water from this waste. At a site of a fish passage, such as here on the River Rother, ‘trashbergs’ of debris can impact on the feeding patterns and migration of course and salmonid fish. There is also a direct impact on invertebrates within the ecosystem which in turn harm the fish who rely on them for food. The overall issue causes water quality to decrease and can lead to the loss of life for fish when the problem is extreme, hence the concern here at Waverley being first highlighted by the local fishing community.

Ryan Plant, River Stewardship Company Project Manager, brought together the collaboration between the RSC and site landowners to make this exciting project happen:

“This project has been a real challenge and was thankfully met with a positive response from both riparian landowners, the Harworth Group and Network Rail. Both parties do not plan for this type of work and it has taken some sacrifices to find the money to undertake the works. The Lands Trust, who are the management company for the Harworth Estate, have been brilliant in understanding the issue and contributing to the speed of enabling the works to take place.
Logistically, this type of work requires careful planning and co-ordination and the expert knowledge of how the river functions to ensure the staff undertaking the removal are safe throughout. We have used a number of boats, floating platforms and ropes to compliment the plant to help mechanically remove the blockage. Considerations are also taken of how to recycle the timber and trees, with all the municipal waste being taken off to a recycling facility for onward recovery.
I can say it is one of the best completed jobs I have witnessed since I started at RSC, the detail and finish with the soil and habitat piles makes it all the more impressive. The achievement here is testament to the hard work of everyone involved and it is an honour to see the river flowing freely once again.”

Brendon Wittram, RSC managing director explains why addressing the escalating issue of plastic pollution and litter is so important:

“Plastic pollution is a constant issue across all rivers worked on by the River Stewardship Company and ‘trashbergs’ like this show what a devastating impact litter can have to the river ecosystem. Not the case here at Waverley, but in more urban areas, blockages like this can be a real flood risk and this is why the ‘little and often’ approach to maintenance that the River Stewardship Company offers helps to prevent the build-up of litter from reaching this size, making the river a more enjoyable place for everyone and helping us to make better waterways for people places and wildlife.
We strive to improve all the rivers we work on across Yorkshire and we were pleased we could help out here where the team have exceeded expectations – it’s a fantastic result for both the wildlife of the river and its users.”
River Ranger John Blewitt at the scene of the trashberg.

John Blewitt, River Ranger, activist and member of ‘Anglers’ Against Pollution’ who first drew attention to the issue on the River Rother praises the work the RSC has achieved here:

"I’m so glad the River Stewardship Company are involved in this project. I have always been impressed in what they do and how they are sympathetic to the needs of the river and its inhabitants and more importantly how they address those needs. Be it flood control, rewilding, bank retention and a host of others.”

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