Decline of wildlife on Knottingley canal is 'an environmental disaster waiting to happen', fisherman warns

A local beauty spot more than 30 years in the making could be destroyed in a ‘matter of weeks’, it has been claimed, thanks to the reintroduction of barges on the district’s canals.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 4:45 pm

The barges, which are being used to transport freight along canals in Knottingley, are generally considered as an eco-friendly way of transporting cargo, making use of existing waterways as an alternative to lorries and freight trains.

But a group of fishermen in Knottingley say the barges are causing untold damage to the local ecosystem, and want measures to be put into place to protect wildlife.

Brian Cunningham, who fishes on the canal in the town, said he had come across dozens of dead fish in the river since the barges began passing through, many of which appear to have been damaged and torn apart by the boats.

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A local beauty spot more than 30 years in the making could be destroyed in a ‘matter of weeks’, it has been claimed, thanks to the reintroduction of barges on the district’s canals. Knottingley's canal is pictured in 2017.

He said: “It’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

“Anglers are the eyes of the waterway, and there are fish showing up dead in front of us.

“Since the advent of these new green barges everybody is saying how good it is, how it’s brilliant. But it’s killing the fish.

“The canal is an absolute natural goldmine, with kingfishers, otters and herons. It’s a jewel in the crown of Knottingley.

Avid fisherman Brian Cunningham claims that a new type of barge is resulting in the deaths of hundreds of fish in the canal in Knottingley. Picture Scott Merrylees

“But the fish are the beating heart of the food chain and if they all die so will everything else.”

A spokesperson for the Canal and River Trust, which is responsible for managing the waterways, said they were aware of reports of dead fish in the area, and would be taking “preventative steps” to avoid any further damage.

A retired house builder, Brian says it has taken decades for the local ecosystem to recover from contaminants from the area’s mining heritage.

He wants new measures to be implemented with immediate effect.

He said: “I grew up in Knottingley, when the canals and rivers were black and toxic.

“It’s taken us 31 years to get it this way and it’s going to be destroyed in a matter of weeks.

“The barges have got a massive section of water coming in and then spitting it back out. We think it’s sucking the fish in and blowing them out and killing them.

“The canals were made for the barges. We don’t dispute that. But it has to go hand in hand with the environment.”

A spokesperson for the Canal and River Trust said: “Our fisheries and angling team has recorded a small number of dead fish in recent days, particularly around the Ferrybridge and Knottingley area.

“Our ecology, fisheries and angling teams are working together to find any preventative steps that can be taken to protect fish along this stretch of the waterway.

“We are also working with the Environment Agency and boat operators.

“Canal & River Trust takes all reports of harm to wildlife seriously on our waters, and we welcome any additional evidence from the public to aid our investigation.”

The Canal and River Trust can be contacted at [email protected] or on 0303 040 4040.