Understated rivers are the living arteries of city

Ian Rotherham is Professor of Environmental Geography at Sheffield Hallam University, having moved there in the mid-1990s after running Sheffield City Council’s ecological advisory service and also working at Sheffield University.

Friday, 5th April 2019, 10:04 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th April 2019, 13:45 pm
Pictured in the garden of his home on School Lane, Norton, Sheffield is wildlife expert Ian Rotherham.

Born in south Sheffield, in Norton Lees above Meersbrook Park, Ian has spent most of his life in the city and today is a regional ambassador for Sheffield. He is active with many environmental groups across the region, brings conferences and events to Sheffield, and promotes the city at meetings around the world. He also writes for the Sheffield newspapers.

Sheffield sport - Sheffield UnitedFrom above Meersbrook Park, as a child, you could hear the Bramall Lane roar and even tell if it was us, or them, and a goal or a near miss. I grew up at a time when United were easily the top dogs with the likes of my heroes Tony Currie, Alan Woodward, and Trevor Hockey bossed the midfields if the old First Division. Eddie Colquhoun, Ted Hemsley, and Len Badger took few prisoners in a watertight defence. We didn’t win any titles but for my generation those were the glory days! Hopefully they will soon be back.

The River Don at Summer Pastures has it runs through Sheffield's Industrial East End.....Pic Steve Ellis

Woods, parks and open spacesWith air pollution and dead rivers, in the 1960s and 1970s, Sheffield was truly the dirty city in a golden frame. However, despite the dirt and grime we could still escape into the woods and parks. Our playgrounds were Meersbrook Park, Graves Park, and the Cat Lane Woods of the Gleadless Valley. Beyond these we might adventure as far as Beauchief, Ecclesall Woods, and south into the Moss Valley. The latter involved hide-and-seek with local farmers and gamekeepers! Even as youngsters we could be gone most of the day and if we didn’t return on time then a search-party would be sent out and a telling-off was in store.

Lodge Moors, Redmires, and RivelinIn northwest Sheffield the city boasts some of the finest countryside in England and from being young and into my teens we spent many happy days exploring the Rivelin Valley and up onto the moors from my Aunt Di’s bungalow at Lodge Moor. Rivelin Dams and Redmires Reservoirs later became regular stamping grounds in search of rare birds with my friend Paul Ardron. With cheap (and regular) buses we could set out at 8 am in the morning and return after a great day’s birding, maybe as late as 9 pm. Looking back, I suspect that the ease of bus travel sat equally as important as the proximity to the moors in allowing us that amazing experience.

The Grouse Inn, FroggattSally, the landlady of the Grouse Inn, claims that I was her very first customer for food, and also that she tried to poison me. I don’t think it was a deliberate act but more the legitimate testing of a new recipe! That was back in the late 1980s, and despite her efforts, I survived and just kept coming back and I still love the place. Of course my dream is to get ‘snowed in’ but so far that has never happened; I can dream though.

The River DonSheffield’s rivers are all understated and in some places really not at all pretty. However, these are the living arteries of the city and the Don is the Queen of them all. Virtually completely dead by the 1970s, the river has self-rewilded to a point where we have otters, trout and even salmon back. Walk along the river and you can expect to see herons, kingfishers, and that rare urban denizen, the fly fisherman. At night you can watch out for the red deer. This is a remarkable recovery by any standards and provides some degree of hope that nature has the power to bounce back if only we lend a hand. The upper reaches of the Don are least known but you really could be in the Highlands of Scotland - it is wonderful to find this secret paradise so close to an urban centre.

Sheffield folkBut Sheffield would be nothing without the people, and they are the best you can find. In Sheffield we have two of the most popular universities in the country and furthermore, we have the highest rates of students staying here after graduation or returning later in their working careers. The city is famed as a friendly place and somewhere that welcomes people in from around the world – and long may that continue. The modern city is a greener, cleaner place than it was in my childhood, but the people remain unchanged in terms of being proud Sheffielders and at the same time open, honest, and friendly. I have been amazed how many of my former school-friends from King Edward VII Grammar School have ultimately come back home. Sheffield is like that!