Officials have been urged by a large group of Bedlington residents to protect the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Humford Country Park.
Concerns over the future of Humford Dam on the River Blyth were raised by the group at a council meeting after a document from the Northumberland Rivers Trust (NRT), dated January 2017, was leaked to them in April.
Although it said consultations would take place, the document said ‘some indicative Environment Agency funding has been allocated for the summer of 2017’ for potential works to remove the significant concrete weir.
The agency has since said that it has asked the NRT to start looking at options to reconnect the river system at the dam site, but the views of local residents ‘will be central to discussions’.
According to the organisations, the dam disrupts the migration of the endangered European eel, trout, sea trout and possibly salmon, making it difficult for them to thrive.
A statement has been issued to the Leader by Ann Pattison, Keith Miller, Bill Marley and Tony Rugman-Jones on behalf of residents who do not wish the dam to be removed.
They said there was almost total opposition to such action from those present at the meeting of West Bedlington Town Council and NRT director Pete Kerr told residents that ‘if you don’t want it, it won’t happen’.
Since that meeting, a petition set up in opposition to the demolition has so far obtained 1,454 online and 306 written signatures against.
The statement includes the following: ‘Humford Dam on the River Blyth is the jewel in the crown of Humford Country Park, a designated local nature reserve.
‘The magnificent sight and sound of the dam has been enjoyed by numerous generations over many decades. It is one of few physical reminders of a Bedlington long since gone.
‘Neither NRT nor the Environment Agency have made a convincing case for its removal. The people of Bedlington are at least as concerned as NRT and the agency about the well-being of their river.
‘Alternatives exist to allow the passage of fish and eels, thus minimising the use of public money at a time of austerity without losing the dam and without causing widescale damage and disturbance in this beautiful valley.
‘The people of Bedlington and district have spoken and we therefore call upon both NRT and the agency to honour their promise and drop this unwanted, unnecessary proposal.
‘We will then be happy to discuss constructively with NRT and the agency any other ideas they may have to further help the progress upstream of both fish and eels.’
Environment Agency fisheries officer Robbie Stevenson said: “It’s important we make the most of the potential the river holds. That applies not only for this site and section of river, but the whole river upstream too.
“We are committed to ensuring the most appropriate solution and will only go ahead with plans as a partnership if a suitable option can be found.”
He added: “Any solution will enhance the natural environment while minimising the impact on local residents. I’d like to reassure people that the community plays an important role in our discussions.
“In recent years, ourselves and our partners have made significant investment to improve the rivers Pont and Blyth, including resolving barriers to fish passage and reducing pollution.
“There is somewhere between 50km and 75km of potential habitat upstream which fish could have access to, which will lead to ecological benefits and hopefully a more natural river system for people to enjoy now and into the future.
“But developing a preferred solution involves gathering as much knowledge, thoughts and considerations as possible and will play a key part in the project’s success.”