Duffield Paddle Peaker John Leyland reports from his latest splash down the Derwent below Milford.
I had planned a summer evening paddle on the Derwent after work yesterday, even the thunderstorms didn’t put me off. I was paddling a section I haven’t run yet this year from Milford to Duffield, and I was soon reminded of all the debris that was washed into and down the river during the floods toward the end of 2019. Just after my get-in was a particularly prominent item, a ~10m long ribbon of silver plastic entwined in a tree. It had been visible during my daily commute until March and I had planned to get on the water with a group from PaddlePeak to remove it and the rest but then “all this” happened.
I didn’t have any waste collection stuff with me, but I thought “ok I can just grab this bit and then get on downstream”. I managed to pull the silver ribbon from the branches of the tree, now a couple of metres above the summer water level, bundle it up and secure it under my boards deck bungees. Onward! But then I saw more, this time close to the water line and trailing downstream “I can grab that bit, the folks whose garden that is probably don’t even know that it's there”. It soon became clear there was a lot of this stuff, but I was here now with a growing bundle on my board and it clearly wasn’t a day for speed records or sunny drifting so why not? “I’ll just recover all of the silver stuff in the 3 km section to Duffield, there can’t be that much” I decided not to worry about the other waste which is often too fiddly in the case of wet wipes in trees or to cumbersome for a paddle board in the case of traffic cones and patio furniture. Between the bridge and the double horseshoe weir there was more, a lot more. Tangled in trees, wrapped around branches, trailing in the water in lengths many metres long, this stuff must come by the roll. I tugged, pulled, cut and bundled being extra careful with the river knife around my inflatable SUP! One particularly stubborn piece just wasn’t coming out, I could see it was really knotted around something, not a branch or root, something else. I lay down on the board to get closer and to reduce instability, what’s that it’s snagged on? Oh! it’s a desk top PC! So much for the just the silver stuff rule. I couldn’t leave it for later, it was black and would have sunk irretrievably given half the chance. On to the board it went, heavy mind, probably 10 kgs with the saturated microchips, just what you want loosely lashed to your board with a growing mountain of silver stuff.
Did I mention the double horseshoe weir? It’s an inconvenience at the best of times but in a rainstorm with a SUP masquerading as a fully laden waste barge the 1.2 m high top step was ‘interesting’ as was the second smaller step into wave train. This is normally the fun section of the run, or at least the fastest, with the waters momentum from the weir runout carrying you on for the next few hundred metres. But today with seemingly every tree on river right bedecked in the dreaded silver stuff I struggled with the PC weighted board to stop where I could to clamber about pulling, cutting and bundling. The mound on the board grew and the speed of the currents eased but I was realising that “all the silver stuff” was an ambitious goal. I resigned myself to the revised target of the silver stuff as far as here, a PC, the battered keep net that had been so tangled in silver stuff it had had-to come , a Donald Duck cuddly toy who was drifting ominously just below surface in mid-flow and a really fun looking dog ball (perks of the task ;)). I also resolved to comeback soon with at least a couple of Canadian canoes and a few pairs of hands to get the various, chairs, kegs, cones, window frames and the remainder of the ever-present silver stuff.
It’s a real shame that this section of the river is even more rarely frequented than others. It’s beautiful even when litter strewn, and you get a whole different perspective of the valley from water level. Today was no different and I spotted 5 kingfishers (or was it the same kingfisher 5 times) darting along the river. There were also mallard ducklings on the water and buzzards circled above once the rain had cleared.
The summer river flow was swelled by the afternoon rain so once focused on travelling rather than tree cleaning the distance to Duffield soon dissolved. I had planned to take-out at the church, collapse my board and the walk/run the shuttle but my ‘collection’ had changed things slightly. As I was contemplating the best way to deal with the waste, my board and doing the shuttle I saw a large white object billowing just below this surface. The white plastic “manta ray” circling in the eddy was definitely active in its inevitable journey to the sea, so became my final target. Fortuitously, closer investigation revealed that this was a one cube bulk bag in near perfect condition, the ideal means by which to transport my river booty home for disposal. I broke out below the remnants of a scaffold fishing platform that had been ripped from its position upstream by flood waters and deposited against a tree, upturned with poles sticking this way and that. Here I bagged up the silver stuff in my newly acquired bulk bag and dragged it up to the meadow where I added the fishing net, PC and Donald. Hauling the waste bag and my deflated board in paddling kit across the meadow past the footballers, dog walkers and the Nissan Micra Enthusiasts of Great Britain (Derwent Valley South Chapter) certainly generated some funny looks! I left the waste bag here so as to get on with the shuttle as quickly as possible, once my car was retrieved from Glo-worm I was able to pick up the bag and investigate its contents.
The silver stuff showed it to be marked up as “Fayrefoods Blackcurrant Jam” presumably tis is the feedstock material for packaging of said jam either as sachets or the peel away lids for those horrible single portion jam servings seen around the toast racks of the nation’s hotels. I guess that a factory in the valley must either manufacture the packaging or be involved in the packaging of the jam itself. Anyone got any ideas?
The PC has a sticker with “MILLHOUSE (Milford) on it so presumably was thrown over the wall from what is now Soi Kitchen either following a burglary or before a tax inspection. I suspect given the ownership has changed there is no point in returning it to make a point.
The keep net was in a pretty terrible state presumably forgotten after a hard days fishing, seems weird I rarely forget my paddling gear in the river but perhaps it was poorly secured and got away mid fish. Let’s hope non of the piscine participants in the past-time perished in the adrift net.
The Donald Duck Toy who knows? I could probably develop a backstory about a child inconsolable without there anthropomorphic-duck comforter but who would benefit from that?
Unfortunately, none of the items recovered are recyclable so I’ll have to book a slot to take it to the tip. With the exception the dog ball, this has already been re-homed!
The other un-retrieved items I saw in this section of river included:
A window frame with rubber gasket and fittings
Beer keg - contents unknown
Large steel tank frame
Sheet of corrugated metal (modern)
Hazard marker bouy (with weights)
Silver stuff (at least the same amount again)
Two timber and scaffolding fishing platforms (anyone know about the legality of the construction of these?)
I haven’t bothered mentioning the usual cans, bottles, packaging, sanitary products etc that we are used to seeing during every river clean, but they are definitely there. I understand that the floods in 2019 will have mobilised material stored or used on the flood plains, pulling it into the river as is likely the case with the silver stuff, road cones and furniture but that doesn’t mean it cannot be prevented. Better storage practices around rivers is surely a no brainer? Other items like the PC were almost certainly deliberately dumped into the river.
I’d definitely like to get back through this stretch in the next couple of weeks as this stuff will all just break down further and wend its way seaward the longer it is left. This time a bigger boat might be in order and may be a few more hands on the water.
John Leyland. Duffield Paddle Peaker