Special Report with pictures: Racing ducks help to bring dam project a little closer

Friends of Porter Valley delighted as ninth annual event raises £9,000

“Launch the duck drop,” cried Mike Halliday, and Elisia Salar Russell and George Hoggard from Hunters Bar School pulled a string to unleash a 2,500 tower of plastic ducks into the River Porter to bob and jostle their way past thousands of spectators to the winning post downriver.

Friends of Porter Valley 9th Great Sheffield Duck Race in Endcliffe Park: Leah Fowler and Jack Andrew (both 9) in Easter bonnets with dog Thor

Friends of Porter Valley 9th Great Sheffield Duck Race in Endcliffe Park: Leah Fowler and Jack Andrew (both 9) in Easter bonnets with dog Thor

“Last year there had been torrential rain the night before and the winning duck made it down in just over eight minutes,” said Mike.

Last Sunday’s race was more leisurely, and the river gentle enough for hordes of Endcliffe urchins with sticks to join the waterfowl in the Porter and nudge them on their way.

Each duck was sponsored to raise money for the Friends of the Porter Valley Forge Dam restoration fund. “We’ve had ducks bought in Doncaster, Hull, Walsall and even Sevenoaks,” said online duck merchant Mike. “We feel other duck races are not as good as ours. This is the only elite race in Yorkshire.”

It was certainly well organised - ‘very professional’ said one commentator of the 90 or so Friends of the Porter Valley Pro Duck Team, who sold ducks, rebuilt weirs (temporarily) to regulate river speed, managed crowds, generated sponsors and waded behind the race to ensure there were no drop outs.

Friends of Porter Valley 9th Great Sheffield Duck Race in Endcliffe Park: spectators help the ducks along at the start of the race

Friends of Porter Valley 9th Great Sheffield Duck Race in Endcliffe Park: spectators help the ducks along at the start of the race

The ninth annual Great Sheffield Duck Race generated an estimated £9,000 towards the Forge Dam scheme, said Ann le Sage of Friends of the Porter Valley.

The council has now approved a plan for an underwater ‘training wall’ of rocks in steel gabions which, when installed, will guide the river along the south of Forge Dam rather than meander and thus continue to deposit more silt.

The £370,000 scheme will also remove the silt safely (recent studies have found the deposits include cadmium and hydrocarbons from long-ago industries upriver) and widen tracks to allow machines in to get the work done.

The Friends have already raised £100,000 towards the project, and the council has earmarked £73,000 collected from local developers.

Friends of Porter Valley 9th Great Sheffield Duck Race in Endcliffe Park: Chris Nicholson tries to dislodge a reluctant starter after the official launch

Friends of Porter Valley 9th Great Sheffield Duck Race in Endcliffe Park: Chris Nicholson tries to dislodge a reluctant starter after the official launch

The Friends now intend to make grant applications this year to raise the rest of the money needed.

“The dam was owned by Thomas Boulsover, and is an important part of our heritage,” said Ann le Sage.

“But even if people are not that interested in our local history, they say they want an open span of water. They don’t want to sit on a bench and see a swamp with ducks on it.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE PORTER VALLEY

A new group is coming together at Bingham Park to look at fundraising for improvements.

The Co-op stores at Ecclesall and Fulwood have both donated to FoPV through their Local Community Fund with around £1,800 for improvement work at Forge Dam, and a donation of just under £3,000 to fund volunteers improving Endcliffe Park around the Hunters Bar entrance, including the installation of a new bench to replace a long discarded flower bed beneath the weeping beech, Jarvis Cocker’s favourite Sheffield tree.

“Half a million people visit the Porter Valley every year, and they shouldn’t have to come into the park through such a poor entrance,” said Ann Le Sage.

FLOOD PREVENTION

The Friends of the Porter Valley are helping Sheffield Council garner public opinion about the flood prevention schemes planned for the valley. After initial discussions, the focus is now on Endcliffe Park rather than earlier proposals around Whiteley Woods and the land above Carr Bridge.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s proposed and may not like it, but at the end of the day we will need something,” said Ann le Sage. “We can’t have a repetition of the flooding we had in 2007 with two lives lost and businesses ruined. The council have accepted our original points about clearing the drains, better land management upstream, areas like pocket parks where water can spread, and getting rid of pinch points. Now I just want to see that their proposals have been thought through, and they have proof they’re viable and will last. We’d also like to see some extra money for amelioration, because Endcliffe Park has not been invested in for years.”

Visit Flood Protection Sheffield and Friends of Porter Valley