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.
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.
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.
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.
OF 1854 ORDNANCE SURVEY SHOWING SKITHOLME
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