A dam fine effort to rejuvenate water idyll

Boating at Forge Dam.
Boating at Forge Dam.

AT one time, there was enough water for boats.

But over the years, the island in Forge Dam has become increasingly overgrown and sprawling, which has meant that the ducks and moorhens can go about their business undisturbed.

Now the voluntary group that digs in - literally - to help improve the whole of the Porter Valley in the south west of Sheffield is preparing to apply for grants so that 25 years’ worth of silt deposits can be shifted.

The dam would not be totally cleared. The aim is to leave a small island as habitat for wildlife, as suggested by most people in a consultation exercise.

Members have set themselves the target of £360,000 for the first phase of a strategy to clean up the area, mainly for removing silt and trees that are damaging the weir and dam walls.

If that sounds a lot of money, the Friends of the Porter Valley have an excellent track record.

They steered a three year project to bring back to life Shepherd Wheel, an ancient water-powered knife grinding mill, further along the valley, which is a reminder of how Sheffield became world famous.

Funds were secured from a number of sources, including a £500,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the wheel’s subsequent opening at weekends and bank holidays has produced visitor figures significantly higher than estimated in the lottery business plan.

A bid for £100,000 is due to be made from the same source towards the Forge Dam clean-up, as the volunteers aim to improve its appearance, make it safer (the mud can be deceptively deep) and try to ensure that the place where Thomas Boulsover, the inventor of Sheffield Plate, worked in the mid-18th century, is given due respect.

Grant applications are also envisaged to environmental companies Veolia and Viridor. Meanwhile, the Friends will continue generating funds themselves, and they have so far come up with £15,000, including £1,750 as a result of Christmas activities and a tree planting attended by local musician and singer Richard Hawley.

The next big occasion is the Endcliffe Park duck race on April 1, an event which usually raises £6,000 to £7,000.

A technical assessment of how to tackle the improvements is being financed primarily from £40,000 from housing developers as part of planning agreements.

The Friends, who number about 500, have been busy clearing overgrown trees and other vegetation to open up the area around Forge Dam cafe, and one of their hopes is to open up the Victorian garden at the back of the premises for use by cafe customers.

At the same time, they are under no illusion about the difficulties in the current financial climate, with council coffers virtually empty and massive competition among charities for grants.

The key is in the hands of the big grant-givers, said chairwoman Ann le Sage. “We’ll keep plugging away with the fundraising - we haven’t done badly raising £15,000 in a year from the public - and the conservation work. We are very determined. It is a bit of Sheffield’s heritage.

“Half a million people a year visit it and it shouldn’t look the way it does. Thomas Boulsover is just as much a part of our history as Shepherd Wheel.”

Neither is it an ambition that will only benefit people who live nearby, she said.

“It is not just about S10. When we do surveys about 25% to 30% of people are from outside the area.”

So the wheels are starting to turn for the Forge Dam project, although boat enthusiasts should not build up their hopes.

“People keep saying we would like to have the boats back. The decision hasn’t been taken, but I imagine there may be questions about health and safety because of the depth of the dam.”

Shepherd Wheel is open at weekends and bank holidays.