When the river Rother was at its worst

The ‘Daily Telegraph weekend magazine of 24 June 1989’ told of the river Rother’s plight. The photograph is of the Orgreave coking works – then a massive polluter of the Rother. The illustration to the right, by Mikki Rain, shows some of the major polluters.

Thinking about potential ‘missing’ parts of the Brimington story perhaps reminds us about when the river Rother was amongst, if not the worst, of the polluted rivers in Europe. The Rother comprises a fair part of the parish boundary.

The degradation of the river would have started in the industrial revolution. By the 1980s the situation was so bad that a piece in the ‘Daily Telegraph weekend magazine’ (24 June 1989) acknowledged it was ‘Britain’s dirtiest river’, finding effluent discharges from the Avenue smokeless fuel (carbonisation) plant at Wingerworth as just a starter.

Literally just across from the Brimington parish boundary the author – Graham Coster – found discharges from the Old Whittington sewage treatment works were ‘a brown bubbling flow that curled away downstream in white flocks, an olive stain just under the surface.’ Here the sewage treatment works were then adding to the already poor state of the Rother, so much so that downstream from there the river changed into Class 4 – the worst level of polluted water course, according to the National Rivers Authority. The sewage work’s discharge outflows were fairly regularly breaching consents.  Downstream there was the nearby (to Brimington) outflows from Staveley Chemicals to add to the pollution and there were more, as the Rother went on its way to join the river Don.

But the river was at a turning point. Investment was promised. In 1990 there was a ‘Strategy for the restoration of the river Rother’ seminar in Chesterfield. This effectively launched a joint approach by various partners to improve the Rother’s lot. Since that time things have dramatically improved. There have been important improvements in sewage treatment works and the closure of local industry has aided enhancement of the Rother’s water quality.  

Sometimes it’s easy to think that things don’t get better, but in the case of the Rother, this is certainly not true. What was once a grossly polluted water course is now supporting fish again and a variety of wildlife.

For further information on efforts that are still being made to improve the Rother’s lot please visit the the home of Don Catchment Rivers Trust (DCRT). They have ‘been established to help protect and restore the rivers in the River Don catchment area, this includes not just the River Don but also the River Dearne, River Rother and other rivers such as the Sheaf, Went, Ea Beck and many others.’

Rother catchment area water quality in 1990. This graphic was included as part of the November 1990 ‘Strategy for the restoration of the river Rother’ information pack, by the National Rivers Authority.
A seminal moment? Booking leaflet for the 1990 river Rother seminar. The county council took an increasing lead on environmental matters through Martin Doughty, who was later elected as leader the of the council. Locally Brimington Parish Council arranged a presentation of the ‘Clean rivers campaign’ which saw Cllr Doughty and High Ellis taking part.
In 1994 the ‘River Rother wildlife strategy’ was launched by partner local authorities. Things were looking up for the Rother.

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