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2.0 Historical background

The river Dun (Don) at the time of the Roman Empire was once an unpolluted, wide, gravel-bed river with deep pools indespensed by low rocky outcrops and fast flowing sections. On either side there would have been large flooded areas of reed beds, willow carrs and small pools used by fish and other creatures as breeding and nursery areas and these, in turn, provided a rich larder for water birds such as herons, kingfishers, ospreys and mammals such as otters.

A ford existed at Strafforth Sands immediately west of the Earth Centre and was the lowest easy crossing point between what are now Sheffield and Hull and consequently the area was strategically important for the pre-Saxon Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans, all of whom had a strong influence on the history of the area. The ferry at Conisbrough was also key in the defence of the area as is witnessed by the castle towering above it.

At the time of the first millennium, the river Don enjoyed a reputation for being a great fishery with large stocks of salmon, sturgeon and eels. In AD1004 Wulfric Spot, Minister to King Ethelred, was recorded as having bequeathed to AElfred certain lands and fisheries of Cunuzesbury (sic), including the esteemed eel fisheries of the Soke of Hatfield (located 15 kms. downstream). At this period the river would have been harvested by 'fishgarths' consisting of a wooden weir superstructure with a basket or net located in the centre to trap the fish.

The Seventeenth Century saw large scale drainage and reconstruction of the Don/Dearne catchment by the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden and the development of a canalised network to transport goods by barge from Sheffield via Conisbrough to the Humber estuary.

Further works where carried out in the Nineteenth Century by strengthening floodbanks and changing the overall riverine ecology to that of a sluggish waterway, with large volumes of water flushing much aquatic life downstream at times of heavy rainfall or snowmelt. Also at this time the advent of the Industrial Revolution inaugurated a period of 150 years of environmental abuse with steel works and collieries discharging large quantities of industrial effluent into the river. It was not until the early 1990's that heavy industry declined and a dramatic increase in water quality occurred, when the river and its nearby wetlands have shown a remarkable ecological recovery, though the original richness is unlikely ever to return.

The river Don is now classified as a thriving coarse fishery. The National Coal Board undertook the straightening of the Earth Centre section of the river Don (along with its river Dearne tributary) in the 1960's, dispensing with the infamous 'Devils Elbow' bend at the outfall of Cadeby Brook, in roughly the area that will be occupied by the new children's play area at the Earth Centre.

Quite by chance the fish farm location is positioned approximately 700 metres south-east from the site of a series of 18th Century fish ponds at the village of Skitholme now buried under the large coal waste area adjoining the west bank of the River Dearne.


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