There are easier ways to celebrate a birthday. But next Saturday, Susan Mackirdy will set off on a 204-mile bike ride over three days.
She will be cycling from Tynemouth, following the River Tyne.
Then she will track the North Tyne to Kielder, and return to follow the South Tyne to Alston before heading back to Tynemouth.
The idea of the Tyne Trial is Susan’s way of marking the 10th anniversary of the conservation body of which she is director.
The Tyne Rivers Trust was set up in 2004 when the second Tyne Tunnel project was being developed. There was concern that building the tunnel would have a significant impact on the river’s ecosystem, particularly migratory fish.
In mitigation the Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority set aside £250,000 to fund river habitat improvements in the rest of the catchment.
The trust seeks to continue the conservation and regeneration of the Tyne as stretches recover from their industrial past, and safeguard the river for the future.
Susan hopes to raise £2,500 from the ride for the trust and the charity Fishing for Heroes, which provides fly fishing courses and instruction as therapy for veterans and serving personnel suffering from problems due to active service.
She has mapped out the cycle trail and hopes that it will become a permanent feature.
She said: “I’ve created this challenge because the Tyne is a fantastic river to follow, and its route through Newcastle Gateshead and Northumberland is beautiful and memorable.”
Susan, who describes herself as “an unfit 41-year-old who has sworn more than once that she would never get on a bike again”.
But she says: “I’ve been training for the past four months, but three days of more than 65 miles a day in some hilly, difficult terrain is going to take all that training and more.”
Training has included the 34-mile round trip commutes from her home at Henshaw, near Bardon Mill, to the trust’s base in Corbridge.
Contributions can be sent via Susan’s fundraising page at www.virginmoneygiving.org
Trust chairman Hugo Remnant has already raised £2,000 with a 28-mile, 15-hour sponsored walk of the River Rede in Northumberland, starting at the Scottish Border to where the Rede joins the North Tyne. Another anniversary event will be the Tyne Tidal Challenge on June 21, when people can choose between walking three distances to Tynemouth – 23 miles from Wylam, 13 miles from Newcastle Quayside or four miles from South Shields.
Entry is £15 for adults who will receive an anniversary T-shirt. If entrants raise more than £100 in sponsorship the entry fee will be refunded on request. Register by June 8. In the last 10 years, the trust has organised 412 River Watch events attended by around 2,000 supporters.
The trust has helped set up River Watch community groups which tackle issues in their locality.
It has also trained 76 Riverfly invertebrate monitors for the Tyne catchment and 87 for neighbouring catchments.
This involves volunteers taking net samples from river gravel on a regular basis, and identifying aquatic life to provide a picture of the health of the stretch of waterway. The trust has also: • Surveyed 135 km of river bank for invasive non-native plants, organised hundreds of volunteers to remove millions of Himalayan balsam seeds, and trained volunteers in pesticide application and stem injection to tackle Japanese knotweed.
• Worked with 24 schools on river activities and reported 42 pollution incidents, working with the Environment Agency and landowners to resolve 28 of these.
• Built nine passes to improve access for fish along over 80 km of upstream watercourses.
• Planted 5,920 trees throughout the catchment, creating 1.8 hectares of new cover and stabilising and shading 4.2 km of riverbank.
• 28 km of fencing has been erected and used green engineering such as living willow weaving to assist natural recovery along river banks.
Looking to the future, Susan believes that the impact of changing weather patterns will be one of the challenges which lie ahead.
She says: “Anyone who knows the Tyne, particularly those who have witnessed its vast improvement in quality over the last 60 years, would be forgiven for thinking that it is ‘fixed’.
“Within living memory it was a heavily polluted river, particularly in its tidal reaches. While industry thrived on its banks, the salmon fishery, always a good indicator of river health, died away.
“The huge improvements to the Tyne and its tributaries over recent years are a big reasons to celebrate.
”Millions of people now enjoy the Tyne, from its regenerated quaysides to its wild open spaces.
“The greatest positive changes to the Tyne have come about as a result of more stringent environmental laws. But legislation doesn’t tackle all of the problems.
“Few habitats and species can fully recover from the damage done in the past without a helping hand and the threat of climate change in the future makes this an even bigger ask.”
* Tyne Rivers Trust is the first winner of a national award for river restoration.
The England River Prize is a new national competition organised by the Environment Agency, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the River Restoration Centre.
The trust won the partnerships category for a project at Haltwhistle Burn, Northumberland.
The project covers an area of 42sq km which suffers from many historic and current pressures. The trust brought together 15 organisations and several residents, to work on what needed to be done .
As a result, the previously obstructed flow at the mouth of the burn has been corrected, there is improved riverbank habitat and reduced sediment load from collapsing banks, easier fish passage, increased climate resilience in the catchment, and reduced agricultural and forest track run off pollution.