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Burley in Wharfedale Walkers are Welcome joins the iWharfe campaign for a cleaner river

The recent joining of Burley Walkers are Welcome in West Yorkshire to the iWharfe campaign, which aims to improve water quality along the whole of the length of the River Wharfe, links the group full circle back to its formation in 2014. The original proposal for Burley to become a Walkers are Welcome village came from the Burley Bridge Association, initiated by Ramblers UK and local walkers in 1996 to campaign for a safe crossing of the river. A public right of way across stepping stones and a nearby bridleway ford have enabled people to cross the river, said to be one of the fastest rising in the country, for decades and probably hundreds of years. On the other bank to the village lies the enticing Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with many miles of footpaths through gorgeous moorland and valley scenery. So near, but more often than not, so far! Although Walkers are Welcome have encouraged awareness of the area by leading guided walks, publishing routes in three walks leaflets and the development of a long distance path, the Welcome Way, in conjunction with neighbouring WaW groups, the stepping stones remain impassable and unsafe for many months of the year. Nevertheless in the summer the north bank, when accessible, provides an attractive spot for walkers, village residents, and others to stop off to admire the views, or paddle or take a swim. However, sewage outflows from the nearby sewage works upstream in Ilkley are now known to pose a significant risk to health for people entering the water in Burley. Thanks to the investigative work by the Ilkley Clean River Campaign, they have found in Burley that the level of faecal coliform bacteria (E.Coli) is 40 times the recommended Environment Agency (EA) levels during dry weather, and 50 times following heavy rainfall. Having received widespread media coverage for their attempts to get the EA and Yorkshire Water to take responsibility for improving water quality, they have now turned their attention to improving the whole 65 miles of the river by forming the iWharfe Campaign.
On Monday 24 August, water quality sampling took place at 60 locations from its source above Oughtershaw to the confluence with the River Ouse at Cawood by volunteer citizen scientists drawn from 80 or so community organisations such as Burley. There was great media coverage on local television that evening, and an item on BBC’s Countryfile will follow shortly. Burley Walkers are Welcome are pleased to be partners in the project and look forward to the time when walkers can take a safe well-earned paddle or dip in the river at the end of a walk without risk of taking home more than just a pleasant memory! We are also exploring the possibility of devising a walking route between Cawood and Ilkley to complement the iWharfe project, linking the Yorkshire Ouse walk and the Dales Way. Now if only there was a bridge in Burley…………!
David Asher, Chair of Burley in Wharfedale Walkers are Welcome and Secretary of the Burley Bridge Association.
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