Landmark reservoir turns 40 this year

Environment Editor Tony Henderson joins in the 40th birthday of one of the region’s biggest reservoirs.

Environment Editor Tony Henderson joins in the 40th birthday of one of the region’s biggest reservoirs.

FORTY thousand trout will – of course – not be aware of the fact that they are part of a 40th birthday celebration next week.

Unfortunately, for the trout, their role in the 40th anniversary of the official opening of the Derwent Reservoir will be limited to ending up on an angler’s dinner plate.

And, there are a lot of anglers at the Derwent Reservoir. The Northumbrian Water-run reservoir is the best attended still water trout fishery not only in the UK but also Northern Europe.

There were more than 15,000 angler visits last year, and the accent at the reservoir’s visitor centre is on fishing.

To mark the 40th anniversary, 40,000 rainbow and blue trout will be released into the reservoir over the season from March to November.

Last week, 11 giant trout of up to 24lb were put in the water, with the hope that the anniversary will be marked by one angler breaking the reservoir record of 19lb 6oz.

The reservoir is popular not only with anglers. There is also a thriving sailing and windsurfing club, and the scenic location attracts walkers and day visitors. It is estimated that around 100,000 people a year visit the Derwent Reservoir and the key is its location.

The north shore is in Northumberland and the south shore in County Durham.

It is only five miles from Consett, and within an easy drive of the Tyneside and Wearside conurbations. What must be one of the most picturesque villages in the region – Blanchland – is also nearby, as is pretty Edmundbyers.

The Derwent Reservoir was opened by Princess Alexandra on July 18, 1967.

In the following 40 years, its has softened into the landscape, helped by the fact that its earth dam is planted up.

The setting is impressive, as one and a half miles to the west and one mile to the south, the land rises to more than 1,200ft.

Visitors can walk along the dam top, with extensive views over the rolling countryside behind them to a distant railway viaduct.

Derwent is part of Northumbrian Water’s family of 22 reservoirs and, at 404 hectares, is the second biggest.

It is three-and-a-half miles long, with a perimeter of seven miles, a mile wide, up to 100ft deep and has a capacity of 11 million gallons, supplying most of the coastal area from the south of the Tyne to the fringe of Hartlepool.

But as well as the fundamental economics of water supply, the reservoir has significant leisure and plant and wildlife value.

On its shores are Pow Hill Country Park and Carrick’s and Millshield picnic sites. There are footpaths to Blanchland and Edmundbyers, and a shoreline path of around four miles, plus names like the Bay of Plenty – a fruitful area for fishermen – and Paradise.

Don Coe is Northumbrian Water’s leisure operations manager, who describes how anglers will return to the water brown trout from a population which was isolated when the reservoir was built.

“Derwent is a big reservoir and you can get 350 anglers at a weekend without the place seeming crowded,” he says.

The reservoir is stocked every week, and such abundance means there is a resident cormorant colony of about 20 birds.

Elsewhere, they could be controlled under licence, but not at Derwent.

“My view is that there are plenty of fish to go around.”

Don says: “In times past at reservoirs, it was often a case of Keep Out, but the message at Derwent is come and enjoy it.

“The fishing, sailing and walking is all about encouraging a healthy lifestyle.”

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Derwent has range of wildlife, habitat types THE Derwent Reservoir not only straddles Northumberland and County Durham, it is also at the juncture between upland and lowland areas.

And that makes it an important site for biodiversity.

It is in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and includes three county wildlife sites.

A survey has identified 27 distinctive habitat types at the reservoir.

These include grasslands which have not been subject to artificial fertilisers and are home to meadow flowers and plants such as adder’s tongue fern, which grows a single oval “leaf” every year, encasing a tongue-like spike.

Other flowers include bird’s foot trefoil, known as eggs and bacon because of its orange and yellow flowers. Another name for the plant, from its claw-like seed pods, is granny’s toe nails. The western end of the reservoir, where the River Derwent enters, is a designated nature reserve.

This features artificial otter holts and an osprey nesting platform built on top of an old telegraph pole in the hope of eventually attracting birds which pass through the area and sometimes feed at the reservoir.

Derwent is also a roosting and feeding site for wildfowl such as mallard, teal, coot, moorhen, tufted duck, pochard, goldeneye, goosander and greylag geese.

Andy McLay, wetlands reserves officer for Durham Wildlife Trust, looks after the nature reserve. This year he has watched waders such as curlew, lapwing, redshank, common sandpiper, oystercatcher and little ringed plover breed at the reserve.

“The reservoir is a superb wildlife site,” said Andy.

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Country park is popular venue

POW Hill Country Park on the shores of the Derwent Reservoir is the most popular venue for visitors.

Pow comes from the Old English word for slow moving stream, and a valley bog at the western end of the site is a site of special scientific interest.

It is thought that the bog began to form 10,000 years ago.

The park is run by Durham County Council, which in 1970 bought almost 14 hectares of land from Ruffside Estates and 4.3 hectares from Lambton Estates to create the park.

The planting of 24,000 trees took place over five years.

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Prayers for rain

IT was 50 years ago that planning began for the Derwent Reservoir.

In 1957, the Derwent Water Order was promoted by the Sunderland and South Shields Water Company.

Founded in 1852, the company had relied for its supplies on groundwater from the limestone layers in the coastal areas of what is now Tyne and Wear and County Durham.

As the population grew, the company had to look elsewhere, and with the Durham County Water Board, it built the Burnhope Reservoir.

But the need for another reservoir was brought home by a severe drought in 1955, which saw public prayers being offered for rain in Carlisle.

Work on the Derwent Reservoir began in 1960, and it was built, owned and managed by the Sunderland and South Shields company.

The work involved building the 3,000ft dam, a system to capture the Burnhope Burn and a treatment works.

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