I have been reminded that it’s been too long since I wrote anything about the group's current situation, and I consider my knuckles rapped, but there has been good reason as so many changes have been under way that it was difficult to know what to say that wouldn’t have changed by the time it had been published.
The Don Gorge Community Group does, however, still exist and our conservation volunteers are proof of that if nothing else. They continue to do a great job in the gorge, albeit now under a different framework and with Ken Green, one of the long-serving members of the team taking on the admin/liaison role.
The cuts have made a great impact on many voluntary groups and we have not been the exception. In May 2012, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) told us about the Lower Don Partnership (LDP) and we were invited to join. Many of the agencies represented on the Don Gorge Strategic Partnership (DGSP) were already on this Steering Group so, after considering all the options, we agreed and the DGSP was disbanded. We had already lost the DGSP co-ordinator and felt we had no real choice.
The LDP is now called REVIVAL and consists of two sub-groups: one for biodiversity issues and one relating to communities, now known as the ‘People’ Sub-group, of which we are a member. The aim of this group is to increase access to the river Don by way of extending footpaths and increasing awareness of places of interest along its length.
There is currently a list of 26 projects up for consideration, but only 7 are in development and 4 of these are in the Don Gorge: the fish pass; parking on Nursery Lane; creation of a heritage trail, incorporating the Copley Pump; and towpath maintenance. The remaining 3 are: creation of an Arksey History Trail; creation of Bentley Park Community Garden; and a public rights of way (PROW) study. However, Revival is basically an information exchange group and not one which involves itself directly in the work of its members. The result has been that, if the community group wants anything to change, it has to be more proactive and use its own human resources which is not always easily done.
The next thing to hit us was the loss of support from DMBC’s countryside warden, as our conservation volunteers have worked with Dennis Roe since the group was first formed. Fortunately, YWT (which now manages much of the woodland in the Don Gorge) and the Canal & Rivers Trust (C&RT), (previously British Waterways, which has now become a charity), have agreed to organise and oversee the volunteers’ work in future.
From the Revival projects listed above, I can report that work on the fish pass, minus the hydro power plant, has now commenced and should be completed sometime in the new year; the proposal to have a car park at the top of Nursery Lane, to stop people parking on and spoiling the grass verges, is at an impasse as the owners of the land do not feel that we as a group can fulfil the legal requirements considered necessary; the heritage trail is a longer-term aim, into which the Copley Pump will be incorporated; and the erosion of the river bank is not our responsibility, except for reminding the C&RT that it is getting worse. Beyond these, we are still investigating the possibility of a visitor centre at The Boat Inn and a possible ‘Right Up Our Street’ art project. Enough to be going on with I think.
Many of these needs have recently been discussed with councillors and officers of DMBC and we are hopeful of their support as a result.
In the meantime, the work on the disappearing footpath near the landing stage has been completed, as has the work on the river bridge which necessitated traffic lights for a few weeks.
An advanced notice: the lock gates are being replaced in the new year and an Open Day is planned for Sunday 16th February 2014 when access into the lock itself should be possible. Put this date in your diary now, as it will be a very rare event; more publicity will be available in due course.
Lastly, just a reminder that new volunteers are always needed and will be made very welcome. See our noticeboard at the landing stage or contact me for details of dates, etc.