Friday, 5 September 2014

Barn owl baby boom in East Yorkshire

An ideal year of weather has resulted in an East Yorkshire nature reserve recording its highest ever number of barn owl chicks in a single season.
The kind spell of weather resulted in Tophill Low Nature Reserve witnessing the extremely unusual sight of two separate sets of chicks being produced by the same parents in the same season.

That resulted in the Yorkshire Water-owned site celebrating nine of the cute birds being born in the same little bird box in the past few months.

It’s more positive news for the region, after a disastrous breeding season in 2013 prompted Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to sound a warning all-time low numbers of the birds in Yorkshire.

Richard Hampshire said: “We’ve never seen the same pair of owls produce two sets of chicks in the same season so we’re absolutely delighted to get this unexpected second set.

“The mild winter last year and warm temperatures over spring and summer have meant there’s lots of mice and voles around, which the owls love to eat, so the mating pairs will be having a good time of things.

“We think that’s why this year has been such a good one for barn owls and it really is the sort of season our region, and the bird-lovers within it, has been crying out for.”

Joanna Richards, spokesperson for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said: “The success of barn owls at Tophill Low Nature Reserve is really something to celebrate and fits with the pattern that has been seen across Yorkshire this summer. Numbers had reached a concerning low in 2013, but the better weather has been kind to them, and numbers of voles, a key food item, have been high. Vole populations are cyclical in nature and this year was a boom year, which has aided the population growth.

“Places for barn owls to nest and roost had also created problems in recent years, with barn conversions and the removal of old trees reducing the number of nesting places traditionally used. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has been able to put up a large number of barn owl boxes across Yorkshire, including along the River Hull valley, thanks to the support of members of public. This will hopefully provide sites for this year’s young to utilise next year, including those born at Tophill Low this summer.”
The combination of a harsh winter in 2013, which left only the strongest owls alive, and the ideal conditions over the past 12 months is thought to have resulted in the barn owl boom.

It’s hoped this winter may bring further good news for the area’s bird spotters, with a potential visit from the spectacular short-eared owl, which commonly lives in Scandinavia.
The beautiful birds tend to visit Tophill Low every other year and, after no sightings last year, the team at the site have their fingers crossed for an appearance in the coming months.

Monday, 18 August 2014

National accreditation for water firm’s education centres

Yorkshire Water’s three interactive education centres have received a national accreditation for the quality of teaching and learning experiences.
The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, which aims to help provide young people with opportunities to experience learning away from the classroom environment, awards suitable organisations with a quality badge to enable teachers to find locations where their children can learn away from school.
Children visiting both the company’s clean water education centres in Sheffield and Headingley and the waste water education centre in Bradford gain hands-on learning experiences.
Trained education guides walk pupils through the water cycle from source to tap, seeing how the water coming in from reservoirs in the area is treated, sent out to taps all across the region and after use returned safely back to the environment.
The education centres, which have been developed with the help of teachers to include key curriculum, help to bring learning to life for pupils. Taking time out of the classroom to see how tap water is made, the impact that it has on daily life and finding out how to use it wisely provides a great hands-on learning experience.

Anne Reed, education programme manager, said: “People always say that one of the best ways to help children learn about important topics is to bring the subject alive and a free visit to one of our education centres allows teachers to achieve this.
“We are proud to gain the quality badge for Learning Outside the Classroom and hope that this will encourage more schools in the region to book a free visit to one of our centres.”
Beth Gardner, Chief Executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom said: “Educational visits are among the most memorable experiences in a child’s school life. The LOtC Quality Badge offers teachers a guarantee that not only is a venue providing the sort of educational value that they can build on in class long after the visit but they also have the appropriate risk management structures in place.
"Learning outside the classroom has many proven educational benefits and I congratulate Yorkshire Water on being awarded the LOtC Quality Badge.”
Since opening the three sites a decade ago, almost 90,000 school children have taken the tour to learn about the water cycle.
Interactive tours of the Ewden Water Treatment Works in Sheffield are available to pupils aged between 9 and 11 from September to December and Yorkshire Water urges schools to sign up quickly as only 750 places are now available.
The FREE education sessions for the next few terms are booking up fast so any schools wishing to register should visit or call the education team on 01274 692515.

Yorkshire Water also offers FREE educational resources to schools - its Green Classroom workbooks and teachers lesson plans provide lots of ideas on how schools can engage pupils around the water cycle and using water wisely. To request a Green Classroom pack and see all the resources available visit

For more information on the education centres or to book a visit contact Yorkshire Water's education team on 01274 692515 or visit

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rachel Reeves MP opens Yorkshire Water's new £4m service reservoir in Bramley

On Thursday 24 July, Rachel Reeves MP marked the end of the construction of one of the largest underground reservoirs in Yorkshire by turning on the water supplies to almost 30,000 properties.

Yorkshire Water’s contractors and engineering specialists, Mott MacDonald Bentley, have replaced an ageing underground storage facility in Bramley with a new structure which is capable of holding up to 16 million litres of treated drinking water - equivalent to the volume contained within six Olympic sized swimming pools.

The new tank, which is a £4m investment, took over a year to construct and is made out of pre-cast concrete. The new tank measures approximately 69 metres in length and six metres in depth

The old tank was constructed in 1880 and had weakened with age.

The new tank, located off Broad Lane in Bramley, is supplying high quality drinking water to customers and has been grassed over and landscaped.

Rachel Reeves comments: “‘It was really interesting to visit the Broad Lane Yorkshire Water reservoir site and hear about this project - one of the largest underground reservoirs in Yorkshire. I was thrilled to be able to officially open the new reservoir and meet the staff involved. It’s brilliant that Yorkshire Water managed to switch from the old supply to the new supply without any disruption to local residents.”

Yorkshire Water operates hundreds of supply reservoirs - most of which are underground - across the region.  Varying in size, these underground tanks are used to store treated drinking water before it's fed through to customers' taps.  Many have been in operation between 25 and 100 years and whilst they are regularly maintained, they don't last forever, with the oldest currently being replaced to make way for newer, stronger structures, which have the added bonus of further improving the quality of drinking water sent to taps.

Dave Ellis, Project Manager for Yorkshire Water, comments: "This new tank will boost the reliability of our vast water supply network and ensure that customers in West Yorkshire continue to receive some of the best drinking water in the world.

“It’s an amazing achievement; we managed to take the old reservoir offline and bring the brand new one into service without any interruption our customer’s water supply.

“The sheer size of this tank has meant it has been a lengthy project and we’d like to thank local residents for their continued patience throughout.”

This work is part of a £23 million investment Yorkshire Water is making between 2010 and 2015 to replace 16 supply reservoirs across the region. 

For more information on what Yorkshire Water is doing across the region, visit

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.