1952-1970: amid stiff competition the Rother of my boyhood and youth was the filthiest river in South Yorkshire. While the Don was home, below its oil slicks and sludge yellows, to a hardy stickleback or two, the Rother was officially described as biologically dead; devoid of all life. Clean Air legislation in the early seventies had actually made things worse, creating a market for coking plants near Chesterfield and at Orgreave that poured sulphurous effluent into once sparkling brooks feeding the river.
Tighter regulation of our waterways and the decline of smokestack industries changed all that. Now pleasant walks are to be had where once were factories, collieries and slag heaps. The river teems with fish and just yesterday I spied from the steep bank of Woodhouse Washlands a chub the length of my arm, while swallows soared and swooped over its sunlit, wind-rippled surface. On previous visits I’ve seen kingfishers, herons and grebe, with rabbits aplenty; some bearing the residual markings of non native ancestors once caged – doubtless for the pot – on sooty allotments tended by miners.
Yesterday I was looking to snap a lens on the elusive grass snake – last seen swimming lazily, on a baking and windless June afternoon, across the oxbow lake that bears sole witness to the river’s diversion in a flood management scheme before I was born – but no joy. I had to settle for florals. Slides auto advance; hover to pause: