Day 11 – still in Nottingham

Today was a day off from walking. Woohoo! Much as we like walking (we’d be really stupid to be doing this otherwise, eh?), it’s good to get a chance to rest your legs occasionally. But as we’d got two gigs in Nottingham, we didn’t need to walk anywhere today.

We woke up on the sofa cushions on Matt’s sitting room floor, being snuffled by a friendly dog. After a fortifying cup of tea, we set off into town on the 28 bus. We marvelled at the efficiency and value of Nottingham’s bus services, compared to Bristol’s (have I mentioned how much I despise FirstBus?).

We ran round Nottingham doing errands. This is my home town and it was nice to be surrounded by familiar accents. And after a fortnight peering at maps all day long, it was also a joy to be doing errands somewhere you know where everything is.

Paul Reeves from the Environment Agency has been following our progress online, and invited us for a cup of tea, from their cafeteria machine. So, we headed back down to Trent Bridge. Our arrival in walking boots and backpacks amazed one of his colleagues. She’d thought he was joking when he said he was getting a visit from two people who were walking the length of the River Trent.

Paul works on several tributaries of the Trent (the Erewash and the Derwent, among others), improving the quality of the rivers. He advised us to eschew the tea in favour of a latte (which was acceptable) and he told us about his work.

You may have heard of the Water Framework Directive. It’s basically a scoring system for rivers. Rivers get scores in lots of categories (phosphates in the water, fish numbers, etc) and they need to get the right scores in all categories to pass muster. Someone like Paul’s job is to try to get their rivers up to scratch.

It made me feel a bit sad that these days even rivers are set tests and told they’re failing. Although realistically, of course I think we should try to improve rivers and look after them. I just wonder what in the big picture gets missed when you focus on specific, individual targets.

Do you know what weirs are for? It came up in conversation with Paul and I was kind of surprised to realise I had no idea. I asked everyone at the event that night, and they didn’t know either. Listen to the audio below to find out the answer…

Unfortunately weirs stop fish going upstream to spawn. Which means no fish. Which means no otters, herons, anything that lives on fish. One of the things Paul and his colleagues are doing is getting weirs taken out of rivers where possible. Or where that’s not possible, putting in bypasses fish can swim up.

What I find fascinating is the tensions between different ideas of what ‘improving the river’ means. This has come up several times in conversation with professionals working with rivers. For example shopping trolleys are actually really good fish shelters. Taking them out improves the navigation, and the look of the river, but it’s not the best thing to do for the ecosystem…

After saying goodbye to Paul, and arranging to meet up with some of his colleagues down river, we headed up to the University for a gig as part of a conference there. The conference theme was interdisciplinarity and we were there to show a bit of interdisciplinary public engagement in action.

This went brilliantly (imho). You can hear a snippet of it, and us discussing it, in the audio below. We did our show, and then got the delegates swapping their stories about rivers. We really enjoyed it, and James, one of the organisers said it was one of the highlights of the conference. Yay!

We then headed down to Lady Bay to meet Laurel, our hostess for the evening. It turned out that Laurel used to be a science teacher and had heard about the project from a science communication mailing list. I immediately felt at home – among my fellow geeks at last!;-)

It was a great evening – Laurel and her sister were very welcoming and fed us wine, an excellent coq au vin and even cheesecake. Ross then entertained us all on the ukelele while Laurel did her physio exercises. Then, when Laurel’s husband Leigh got home, I told everyone a story.

This was singing for our supper, troubadour-style, just as we’d envisaged it. They even had a super-comfortable bed in the spare room, and sheets that smelt of lavender. And a massage chair!

We felt like this was the day everything went right. I was glad it was in Nottingham, Queen of the Midlands:-)

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