TWO conservationists will be kayaking through the Keighley district this weekend as part of an initiative spotlighting the challenges faced by migratory fish on their journeys to spawn.

Professor Jonathan Grey and Dr Tim Jacklin, both of The Wild Trout Trust, are paddling along a 35-mile stretch of the River Aire from Gargrave to Leeds.

They are due to set off at about 9.30am on Saturday and aim to arrive in the centre of Leeds between 3pm and 4pm the following day.

Their challenge is in support of World Fish Migration Day and is highlighting the £1.6m Developing the Natural Aire (DNAire) project, which will see the last four major weirs on the river made passable for fish.

The installation of fish passes will enable river-resident species, as well as salmon and sea trout, to find their way up to the gravel-bed spawning grounds of the upper Aire and its tributaries.

Work is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.

DNAire, a partnership between the Environment Agency and the Aire Rivers Trust, also aims to create a heritage trail and there will be volunteering opportunities in river stewardship and citizen science.

Prof Grey said: "The River Aire has been shackled and harnessed for industry in the past but many of the weirs associated with former mills – which currently fragment the system and block fish passage – are now redundant.

"The tag line of DNAire is 'returning salmon to Skipton' and focuses on the upstream migration, but free movement downstream is just as important.

"We are putting ourselves in the shoes – or fins – of the young salmon as they journey to the sea and will encounter some of the obstacles they face in the river.

"It is crucial to have our rivers as unobstructed as possible to allow all fish to move freely both up and downstream to breed, feed and shelter, and hence maintain healthy, sustainable populations."

The weekend's journey will be recorded using time-lapse photography from the prow of the boat, to give as close to a fish-eye perspective as possible, as well as with drone footage if weather permits.

Records will be made of habitat quality, and any detrimental issues will be noted for future action.

Various angling clubs with rights along the river will be supporting the event from the banks and at strategic bridge crossings.

Keith Davie, the Environment Agency's DNAire project manager said: "It's not widely appreciated that our rivers are in a healthy condition again and can support the return of migratory fish.

"It's great that Prof Grey and Dr Jacklin are tackling this challenge to raise awareness of fish migration on the River Aire, to coincide with World Fish Migration Day.

"We're working with the Aire Rivers Trust and have the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable the return of migratory fish to the Aire.

"Salmon once again spawning in the upper Aire will be great news for people and wildlife along this great Yorkshire river."

Simon Watts, of the Aire Rivers Trust, said the project was "an exciting opportunity".

He added: "Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will enable the trust and the Environment Agency to help the public explore the natural, built and cultural heritage of our much-loved river."

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People can follow the progress of the kayak challenge on Twitter, via @ProfJGrey.