Unlike most large conurbations Birmingham and the Black Country does not have a major river. It does have four small ones; the Cole, Rea, Tame and Stour. They and their tributaries have though been critically important, for transport, irrigation, wildlife, and driving mills before there was mechanical power. Birmingham of course grew up around a crossing of the Rea.
The Tame and the Stour arise from streams running off the hills of the Black Country which are part of the main watershed of England. As a result, after tours of the Black Country, the Tame flows east to the Trent and the Stour flows south to the Severn.
Once rural rivers with clean waters teeming with wildlife, by the 20 Century both were polluted and smelly, mere open drains with very little plant or animal life able to survive in them. Things have improved a lot in recent decades thanks to environmental legislation and the efforts of conservation groups and the Environment Agency. Now the Worcestershire, and Birmingham and Black Country, Wildlife Trusts have even more ambitious plans to improve the Stour. Their ‘ Salmon in the Stour ’ project aims to return these iconic ocean wanderers to their old headwaters spawning grounds.
Salmon breed in rivers but spend most of their life in the sea (the opposite to eels). They return to the Severn through the Bristol Channel and move upstream. Reaching Stourport they may find their way into the Stour. The project aims to ease their way up the river through Halesowen, Stourbridge and Cradley Heath. If successful they will join the kingfishers, otters and water voles already returning to the river banks.
Improvement activities will include clearing rubbish from the water (recently two dozen supermarket trollies were removed) dealing with invasive plants which clog the river, encouraging people who live near the river to check that their rainwater and sewage outlets are correctly connected (misconnections result in sewage being discharged into natural watercourses) and modifying weirs to ensure fish can move past them.
The Trusts would like you to be involved. You can volunteer to help with habitat improvements, donate to the project, enjoy a pint of Salmon in the Stour beer – Sadler’s brewery will donate 10p for every pint sold – and check your plumbing. Most importantly you can report any problems such as collapsed banks, fly-tipping and pollution.
More details at bbcwildlife.org.co.uk/SalmoninTheStour