A FISH pass allowing salmon to move upstream is now complete and an interpretation board has gone up telling people about it.

Sited in Roberts Park and built by the Environment Agency and the Aire Rivers Trust, the pass is a concrete channel constructed on the face of the previously impassable weir that used to serve Salts Mill.

Removing this barrier, along with three more in Leeds - at Armley Mills, Kirkstall Abbey and Newlay Bridge - means that Atlantic salmon can once more swim from the North Sea up the Aire to breed in the river’s headwaters at Gargrave in the Yorkshire Dales.

The work forms a major part of the £2.35million DNAire - Developing the Natural Aire – project, which has has turned the clock back to a time before industrial pollution - and the construction of weirs - when the river was rich in salmon.

“Covid has posed us some challenges but the contractors and our partners have made a marvellous job of continuing the job under challenging circumstances,” says Simon Watts, DNAire Community Engagement Manager with the Aire Rivers Trust. “It took eight months to build the fish pass at Saltaire.

“We have not had an official opening for the fish pass because of Covid restrictions but the temporary barriers were removed in early November and it was opened to fish.”

The fish passes, which reconnect 60km of the river’s habitat, will also allow coarse fish, such as dace, chub and barbel to move freely up and down the river to find the best places to feed, spawn and shelter.

Metal ‘baffles’ break up the flow of water, meaning large fish can swim through this slower water safe from the watchful eye of herons that sit on the weir. Smaller fish rest behind each baffle before jumping over to the next one.

Salmon are not the only creatures who will benefit from the new fish pass. Monitoring has already shown fish species like brown trout using the pass and enabling them to thrive is just as vital for the river’s ecology.

Otters have already been sighted near the pass and it has been such a success that a new interpretation board has been installed allowing visitors to read about the fish pass and the wildlife that inhabits the river.

Members of Saltaire History Club contributed information about the history of the weir and volunteers from the Aire Rivers Trust have written a walk along the river in Saltaire to help local people explore it during lockdown.

The fish passes in Kirkstall and Armley have recently been completed. Work is still ongoing downstream at Newlay, although that weir is now passable for salmon.

DNAire is a joint venture by The Aire Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency using funding from the Environment Agency, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Yorkshire Water and Craven Council.

Said Simon: “The reconnection of our rivers creates means fish can reach the spaces they need to feed, breed and shelter.

“The work to clean up the River Aire over the past 30 years means that the river once again supports recreational coarse and trout fishing.

“We know that a healthy fish population supports the return of more wildlife. I recently noticed otter footprints in the sandy banks in Saltaire on a visit. It’s great to see such nature in the heart of our cities and to have these places to walk and enjoy.”

He added: “The return of otters and fish species that need clean water, like grayling, is proof of what a remarkable journey the River Aire has been on.

“The improvements in water quality have been in part due to the decline of heavy industry but also huge investment by Yorkshire Water in improving sewage treatment along the river. Our river has a bright future ahead of it. We’re excited as we look forward to the return of Atlantic salmon.”

Prior to the project salmon had been caught by Environment Agency fishery staff at Knottingley weir in Leeds and photographed by one of DNAire’s trustees leaping - unsuccessfully - at Newlay weir.

Said Simon: “We are confident there are both fish wanting to get up the river, and suitable breeding grounds. We’re hoping that soon people will share stories with us or we’ll find them in future monitoring.”

A similar project in Sheffield was deemed to have been successful when a walker reported seeing a salmon eaten by an otter upstream of Sheffield on the River Don - a river that was once heavily polluted.

The DNAire Project also includes an extensive programme of community engagements including volunteers, young people, and the public.

Over the three-year-project the Aire Rivers Trust will:

*Introduce over 1000 children to their local river and the STEM careers that help protect and enhance it.

*Run more than 150 volunteer days cleaning and improving the river for people and wildlife.

*Train volunteers from organisations along the river in wildlife identification and conservation skills.

*Launch ten self-guided walks along the river.

*Provide training placements for college and university students alongside an environmental conservation apprenticeship.

More details about the weir, the fish pass and the walk along the river can be found at dnaire.org.uk Watch: Our Rivers: Recovery and Renewal - The story of our project.