World Rewilding Day – River Don Rewilding Project

20.03.2024 4 min read

On this day, 20th March we celebrate World Rewilding Day. I think many of us have become very pessimistic about nature and find it hard to see the success stories hidden in all the news of global warming and deforestation. However, there are thousands of dedicated volunteers working on rewilding projects across the UK today. If you have a second, I would love to tell you about one that’s very close to my heart and a success story from my city, Sheffield. This is the story of the river Don, its tributaries, and its dramatic turnaround from a toxic industrial wasteland to a wildlife sanctuary, rich in flora and fauna.

As some of you may remember, Sheffield wasn’t always the green wildlife rich city it is today, a city with more trees than people and access to nature everywhere. No, Sheffield was once a grey, smog filled city at the heart of the industrial revolution. Air and water pollution filled the streets as Sheffield utilised the fast-flowing current of the river Don to boost its industry. Sheffield used these natural assets to become the iron and steel capital of the world. At its height, Sheffield produced over 85% of the UK’s steel output, however, with this huge industry demand, came environmental destruction and extreme levels of pollution. Heavy metals, sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxides made their way into the rivers turning them bright yellow. The Don became toxic, and wildlife deserted the city in search of refuge in the peak district. By the 1960s the Don was declared biologically dead and was more of a polluted drain rather than an ecological highway.

However, thanks to the hard work of many conservation groups, and the decline of heavy industry, Don today has made a staggering recovery. The meticulous planning by groups such as The Don, Dearne and Rother Network has reduced pollution to a manageable level, and reintroduction programs have claimed back the river for wildlife. These groups have secured vital funding from Natural England and have campaigned for better regulations to support Sheffield’s wildlife. The Network has worked hard to bring local farmers onboard as stewards of the river Don and provide protection to habitats and species which have been created through the scheme. Hands-on projects to develop the riparian zone for wildlife have seen the reintroduction of otters and salmon in many areas of the river. The success stories keep on coming with 3 species of deer often found navigating the river at night and into the city centre. Although a cause for concern when considering wildlife commuting into a busy city centre, this shows how effective the project has become.

I love Sheffield, I moved here in 2013 for university and have never left. The wildlife and access to nature is what drew me here over 10 years ago and is the reason I love the city more and more every day. This is largely thanks to the hard work of community groups and conservation projects across the region. Their dedication to improving the city for plants, animals, and people allows us to live in harmony with nature, not against it.

I hope this short article has given you a reason to be optimistic about wildlife and you feel like you can celebrate this day as a way to give thanks to our hard-working volunteers. If you would like to get involved in a rewilding scheme yourself, Nature Volunteers is a great place to start ( The site matches your skills and needs to a local wildlife project to help people connect with the right organisation. Alternatively, you can always find conservation groups on Facebook or by searching Google.

Here at Temple, we love wildlife and believe every step should be a step in the right direction. We help developers design projects that live in harmony with nature and improve it where possible. With our highly skilled experts, we can help you satisfy the mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain regulations of +10%, and beyond if needed. Please write to us at

Key Contacts

Harry Jarvis Ecologist