Thursday, 24 July 2014

Water stocks still strong in scorching summer

Yorkshire’s water resources are still looking healthy despite two months of scorching weather but warnings are once again being sounded about the dangers of swimming in reservoirs as the school holidays begin.

The latest figures from Yorkshire Water show that reservoir levels are reassuringly standing at almost 80% full, 11% higher than they were at the same time last summer.

Those strong levels mean, despite the thermometer creeping towards 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the region this week, Yorkshire Water can reassure customers that there will be no hosepipe ban in the region for the 18th year running.

Neil Dewis, Yorkshire Water Head of Operations, said: “We are currently in the middle of another great summer and we know that long spells of warm weather can cause people to worry about the threat of a hosepipe ban.

“We’re proud not to have had a hosepipe ban in the region since 1996 and don’t see that changing this year. Although reservoir levels may be higher than last year thanks to a little more rain we’re not complacent. We would still urge customers to use their water wisely and we’ll be going around the region explaining our water efficiency campaign in the coming weeks.”

The sweltering summer across Britain – June was the hottest since 1910 and the current heatwave is forecast to stay for at least a fortnight – has also prompted Yorkshire Water to join forces with two of the region’s emergency services to sound another warning on swimming in its reservoirs.

Neil continued: “Despite the hot weather we would also like to once again ask people across the region to stay out of our reservoirs. They may look inviting but the temperatures and currents within them can be deadly and we’d hate to have another tragedy on one of our sites this year.”

West Yorkshire Fire Station Manager Ian Thompson, a Technical Rescue Officer, said: “Too often in the past people have been drawn to the cooling waters on a hot day, only to find that they are simply not capable of functioning in the low temperatures encountered in the deeper water.

“Often this results in a call to the emergency services and in some instances with a fatal outcome. Time is crucial when it comes to helping someone in trouble, if you see someone in distress in the water dial 999 immediately."

Inspector Dave Murray of Northallerton police, said: “Even during warm weather, water temperatures can be dangerously low. The water can also conceal rubbish, rocks, shallow areas, plants which can wrap around you, strong currents and diseases. If you want to go for swim, it’s best to use a swimming pool or lifeguard patrolled beach.

“If you get into difficulty in an isolated location it is unlikely that the emergency services will reach you in time. It’s not worth the risk.”

Reservoirs are very deep, extremely cold and can have strong undercurrents caused by the fact that water is being continually drawn from them through large submerged pipes.

The shock of cold water surrounding a swimmer can result in hyperventilation and, if the water is not exited, the body will gradually started to shut down to protect the vital organs and muscles will begin to cramp.
In June, a 38-year-old man died after swimming in Snailsden reservoir in South Yorkshire, the latest in a series of deaths at the company’s sites. Signs have subsequently been erected around all of Yorkshire Water’s reservoirs warning people about the dangers.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Yorkshire fish pass project helps native species thrive

A £3 million project is taking place across Yorkshire to help native fish thrive in the region’s reservoirs.
Yorkshire Water has worked with the Environment Agency to identify structures that are potentially blocking fish movements and is now investing to remove or modify weirs upstream of its reservoirs.
The project will be rolled out over the next five years and will see fish gain access to river reaches that have historically been inaccessible for up to 100 years but have ideal conditions for their spawning and survival.
Broomhead Reservoir near Ewden in Sheffield is the focus for the first stage of the project, following an investigation that drew on the expertise of Hull International Fisheries Institute (HIFI), Arup, The Don Catchment Rivers Trust and the Wild Trout Trust.
The presence of wild brown trout in the reservoir was confirmed and fish were tagged and radio tracked to see if they could access Ewden Beck which flows into the reservoir.
A low rock weir was found to block their progress, so Environment Agency officers created low flow channels through the rocks to allow fish to swim up it more readily. This ‘soft engineering’ solution fits in with the natural environment and opens up a spawning beck that has been isolated for a century.
Mark Tinsdeall, Environmental Assessment Team Leader at Yorkshire Water, said: “Reservoirs play a  vital role in protecting the wildlife of our rivers. They provide the river flows, which are the lifeblood of our rivers and the reservoirs themselves are home to nationally important species such as wild brown trout and native crayfish.
 “Our work at Broomhead is just the first step in a wider project which will have a positive  impact on the area’s wildlife. We’d like to thank all the partners who have helped us to get it off the ground.”
Jerome Masters, Fisheries Technical Officer with the Environment Agency, said: “We were pleased to be able to help Yorkshire Water remove this barrier to fish migration and look forward to working with them as they turn their attention to other weirs across the region.
“Many of Yorkshire’s reservoirs offer great fishing and our work is helping to maintain this popular amenity whilst improving the environment to benefit fish and other wildlife.”
Further fish passes near Strines and Morehall reservoirs on the River Don are planned for later this summer, with larger more complex fish passes across the region to follow.
Watch a video about the project here

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Barn owl chicks boost struggling East Yorkshire numbers

Barn owl numbers in East Yorkshire have been given a boost after three chicks were hatched at Tophill Low Nature Reserve.

The news could hardly arrive at a better time, following recent warnings from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust that numbers of the much-loved birds across the whole county were thought to be at an all-time low after one of the worst breeding seasons in 2013.

Tophill Low’s latest arrivals came thanks to an 11-year dedicated effort to encourage numbers of the birds at the site, which has now seen 50 chicks raised since 2003.

Recent extreme winters make that feat even more remarkable and it is testament to the land management at the Yorkshire Water-owned site and the volunteers that pitch in there.

Richard Hampshire, Warden at Tophill Low, said: “We’re delighted to have another group of barn owl chicks coming through at the site, particularly given the challenges being faced by the birds.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can to help one of Britain’s best-loved birds thrive at our site and throughout the region.”

Robin Arundale from the Wolds Barn Owl Group said: "The barn owl breeding season started early this year and we're pleased to say that the chicks at Tophill Low are doing really well. The site has a good number of breeding pairs which seem to be bouncing back from a really tough season last year. The picture is looking good for East Yorkshire as a whole and we've already ringed four times the number that we did last year."

Rob Stoneman, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said: “The cold winters and wet springs of recent years had a big impact on our barn owl numbers here in Yorkshire. Therefore it is extremely promising to see them bouncing back this year, following the mild spring and current warm summer.

“The breeding success at Tophill Low is excellent news and adds to a number of other reports we’ve received from members of public and on other nature reserves, including our own North Cave Wetlands. It is heartening to see companies like Yorkshire Water doing their bit to help this magnificent bird and I hope that they continue to be successful in attracting breeding pairs to their site in years to come.”

There are several reasons for the struggles experienced by barn owls in Yorkshire, namely the colder temperatures experienced in the north. As relatively delicate animals, they are susceptible to the cold temperatures experienced in the county.

Cold weather in recent years has subsequently hit owl numbers, as has loss of habitat due to the disappearance of natural grassland and nesting sites.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Endangered water voles on the up in East Yorkshire

One of Britain’s most endangered species is booming in East Yorkshire thanks to work at Tophill Low Nature Reserve.

The water vole has been marked out as one of the species most under threat in the UK, with numbers dropping by 500,000 in the past 30 years largely because of invasive mink eating them.

But staff and volunteers at the reserve near Driffield have been encouraging the little mammals to thrive at the Yorkshire Water-owned site by constructing six new ‘mink rafts’ to trap the predator so they can be removed, allowing the voles to thrive.

Two years ago, work was completed on the new Hempholme Meadows wet grassland project which included over 1km of restored ditch. This patch alone is now home to over 10 water vole territories, in addition to threatened water shrew, otter, skylark and grey partridge.

And the results are extremely encouraging – despite being almost extinct at Tophill Low a decade ago, water voles can now be found in every water body in the reserve. Dozens of ‘gardens’ can also be seen - closely mown lawns found outside water vole burrows, making the area the top spot in East Yorkshire to spot the endearing mammals.

Richard Hampshire, Warden at Tophill Low, said: “Water vole numbers nationally have dropped alarmingly in recent years and I still read predictions of extinction within five years for the species. It’s important that we do everything we can to help them recover.

“It’s really pleasing to see numbers here starting to climb back up already but we know there’s still more work to do to help this native breed thrive not only at Tophill Low but also in East Yorkshire.”

Staff at the site are now attempting to attract the mink to traps using guinea pig droppings, as the mammals locate their prey by sniffing them out.

Mink were introduced for the fur trade from America and escaped and released individuals breed feral around waterways across the UK. They are a major problem for water voles as a female mink is small enough to pursue them in burrows, which a native otter cannot and she can also outswim them on water where a native stoat cannot. This means no escape for our native ‘ratty’ against this alien super predator.

As well as mink eating water voles, habitat loss and variations in water levels caused by floods and droughts has affected the ability of the mammals to nest and breed.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Awards boost for Yorkshire beaches

Beach-goers across Yorkshire have received even more good news about the state of the region’s beaches following the publication of the latest Blue Flag and Seaside awards.

Another beach in the area has received the acclaimed Blue Flag status from Keep Britain Tidy, with Hornsea joining Scarborough North and Whitby in the list of 56 across the UK. A further 112 have secured Seaside Awards nationally, 15 of which are in Yorkshire.

On the back of the UK’s first prolonged spell of warm weather this year, the timing of the news could hardly be better and also comes hot on the heels of two other welcome announcements about the state of Yorkshire’s coastline.

In mid-April the Good Beach Guide recommended more than three quarters of Yorkshire’s 20 designated beaches for its top bathing water rating. Equally importantly, none of the beaches failed the guide’s rankings – compared to last year when three of the locations didn’t pass.

And at the end of April Yorkshire Water’s £110m investment to help improve bathing water on the east coast became operational, meaning bathing water in the region will be cleaner than ever.

The good news is another boost for the Yorkshire Bathing Water Partnership, which comprises the Environment Agency, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, North Yorkshire County Council, Scarborough Borough Council, Yorkshire Water and Welcome to Yorkshire.  Working together since 2010 the group has already made significant improvements to beaches along the coast.

Peter Stevenson, Environment Management Team Leader at the Environment Agency, said "We are delighted to see that the long-term trend in bathing water quality continues to improve, as reflected in the number of Blue Flags and Seaside Awards for Yorkshire's bathing waters this year. Since coming together in 2010, the partnership has worked hard to ensure the highest level of water quality possible for our beaches and remains committed to doing so for all Yorkshire's bathing waters."

Yorkshire Water’s Bathing Water Manager Lindsay Page said: “This is more fantastic news for bathers across Yorkshire and shows that our beaches already have great quality bathing water. With our £110m investment now up and running, we’re confident that many of the region’s bathing waters will benefit from even higher water quality in the future.”

Councillor Richard Burton, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Civic Wellbeing and Culture at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: “We are delighted by the news that Hornsea has regained the coveted Blue Flag Award. This is excellent news for the town and for the wider East Riding and will help boost tourism to the coast.

“The council is fully aware of how important our beaches are in attracting visitors to the East Riding and we will continue to work closely with our partners in the Yorkshire Bathing Water Partnership to ensure that Blue Flags are flying again at our other resort beaches in Bridlington and Withernsea in the not too distant future.

“We are also really pleased to have secured seven Seaside Awards, which are also widely acclaimed in the tourism industry and are an important accolade in promoting the Yorkshire coast as a must-visit destination.”

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire said: "Clean sea water and good beaches play an important part in attracting visitors to the Yorkshire coast and we're supporting an ambitious programme of work to make sure we meet the stricter guidelines.  This won't happen overnight but the work taking place over the next few years will mean that  we have some of the best beaches not just in the UK but in Europe."

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Otters caught on camera committing reservoir theft

A pair of cheeky otters have been caught red-pawed at the scene of a crime after stealing fish from their own personal paradise in the shape of a 170 million gallon reservoir.

The furry culprits were captured on motion-activated video cameras set up at Yorkshire Water-owned Tophill Low reservoir in East Yorkshire after a visitor spotted one creeping towards the reservoir steps.

And staff at the reserve were amazed to have their suspicions proven to be correct after videos were recorded of the sneaky couple slinking their way up the stairs and into the water.

The curious mammals made their way from the River Hull 200 metres away, across a marsh, over a footpath, up and down two flights of stairs and into the huge expanse of water.

It’s thought they were attracted by the array of coarse fish that call the reservoir home, including rudd, pike and perch.

Richard Hampshire, warden at Tophill Low, said: “This reservoir is an ideal playground for otters, tranquil and full of fish, and I bet this pair couldn’t believe their luck when they found it.

“We’ve no idea how many times they might have been in to pinch some fish from the reservoir before we finally caught them on film but you’ve got to admire their ingenuity and it’s great to see a species that’s native to East Yorkshire continuing to thrive in the wild.”

Tophill Low recently completed work on purpose-built otter accommodation which has everything in it that the mammals might want. It’s hoped that the ‘CCTV stars’ might decide to make the 5-star accommodation their home.

Otters can be elusive animals to spot; a single female requires 4-6 miles of river habitat to breed within, and a male will hold a 10 mile territory, meaning visitors can find it a fruitless task to try and catch a glimpse of the animal.

Tophill Low is currently undergoing an £8 million investment by Yorkshire Water in a  treatment plant which will remove nitrates from the raw river water which supplies the site.  Material from the excavations is being used to create new breeding islands for avocets and terns saving costs on landfill and helping wildlife.

See the video footage captured of the otters at Tophill Low here -

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

It’s official – Yorkshire’s bathing waters are better than ever

A major £110 million investment to improve bathing water quality on Yorkshire’s coasts takes effect from today after five years of hard work.

The new top of the range hi-tech waste water equipment will be turned on from today, ensuring that the waste water being discharged back into East Yorkshire’s coast is cleaner than ever, benefitting half of the designated beaches (10) in the region.

Yorkshire Water’s investment is part of a massive multi-agency effort to raise the standard of all designated bathing waters along Yorkshire’s 150 mile coastline. The Yorkshire Bathing Water Partnership was formed in 2010, with Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency, local Councils and Welcome to Yorkshire grouping together to tackle a wide range of issues affecting bathing water quality.

Yorkshire Water’s investment has been a big part of the partnership’s work and, now operational, the new facilities provides the best possible way of dealing with excess waste water at times of heavy or prolonged rainfall.

The nine-figure investment is primarily focussed on Scarborough and Bridlington and includes new storm water storage tanks, pumps and UV treatment which zaps bugs out of the water before it is discharged back into the sea.

Tony Willey, Yorkshire Water’s Chief Engineer, said: “We’re extremely pleased to announce that our investment is now up and running. This has been the most ambitious engineering project we’ve undertaken in a decade and it’s a credit to all those involved from our contract partners to the local communities that we’ve been able to contribute to a legacy for the region - creating a coast everyone can boast about.

“In total we can now provide storage for 19 million additional litres of storm water. We’ve installed an additional seven kilometres of pipework along with two state of the art ultraviolet treatment facilities to provide an extra boost to water quality.

“We’ve made great strides with our improvements at Bridlington and the installation of a new coastal pipe later this year will only improve the town’s bathing waters even further.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the involvement and interest from the local community over the past five years and we would like to thank them for their support.”

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire said; "We believe Yorkshire has some of the best coastline and beaches in the country and this huge amount of work will mean we are safeguarding the future of this fantastic asset - not just for visitors coming here now but for future generations."

Councillor Stephen Parnaby OBE, leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: “Clean beaches are an important part of the East Riding’s tourism offer and regaining Blue Flag status is high on the council’s list of priorities.

“The switching on of Yorkshire Water’s new assets is a major milestone in the partnership’s efforts to raise the quality of bathing water along the East Coast and will go a long way in achieving the aim of having some of the best bathing beaches in the UK.

“The council will continue to play its part in the Yorkshire Bathing Water Partnership to ensure that blue flags are flying over the resort beaches of Bridlington, Withernsea and Hornsea again soon.”

Mark Scott, Environment Agency comments: “This marks a milestone in the work of the partnership and a real step forward in the quality of Scarborough’s bathing water. The completion of this scheme will help to ensure Scarborough is well equipped to meet the requirements of the revised Bathing Water Directive when it comes into force next year”.