In search of salmon: Bradford refugees witness a different kind of migration

By Colin Petch

At this time of year, millions of salmon are making their way back up our rivers and streams – to the place they were born – ready to spawn the next generation of fish.

In our part of the world, environmental charity is running a series of events to (hopefully) give community groups and members of the public, the chance to see these magnificent animals as they negotiate weirs and waterfalls.

On a blustery but beautiful day in Ribblesdale, I meet a group – that like me – is very excited at the prospect of seeing leaping salmon.

Unlike me, the members of the group have their own stories of migration that are likely to leave any fish feeling second-rate.

Judy, a community worker with the Trust explains: “Our group today are all refugees or asylum seekers – we work in partnership with Leeds City of Sanctuary. This is the second time they’ve been to the Dales.”

The City of Sanctuary initiative is growing nationwide – and is centred around welcoming anyone seeking asylum in the UK. “Our People and the Dales project is all about empowering people who wouldn’t normally get the chance to visit the National Park,” continues Judy.

Cassie from Southern Africa (information about personal circumstances is deliberately vague), tells me she has never seen a swimming fish. “How big will they be?” She asks with a genuine look of wonderment on her face. I can only imagine what crisis has brought her to be standing next to this Yorkshire beck, but the opportunity is clearly succeeding in giving her and her friends a new sense of ‘place’.

I watch and listen as the group chat and walk – in two’s and three’s – towards Stainforth Falls. “Getting past these Falls is one of the biggest challenges any salmon will have, even though it’s travelled thousands of miles to get here,” explains Rodney, a volunteer, whose passion for anything and everything Yorkshire, is infectious.

He goes on: “Everybody crouch down and be very quiet. Watch the water just in front of the first fall.” We all look, our eyes straining for we’re not sure what. The roar of the water, the blue of the sky and the positivity of the group members, could induce an emotional episode – but I keep it together, because I’m not sure how Rodney would take it.

For minutes we sit, motionless. I think about the salmon’s journey. I think about Cassie’s journey.

Then – without warning – one of the most amazing things happens. A majestic, lean fish – perhaps 2 foot long – hurls itself from the foaming water and attempts to scale the waterfall. It fails and disappears again into the peaty rapids. It’s over in a moment. Once more it tries – its powerful tail thrashing. This time success – it’s over and it’s gone.

The younger group members scream and whoop. A woman wipes a tear from her eye. Rodney looks relieved and proud. Job done.

Three more fish successfully negotiate the limestone obstacle before we head back to the car park.

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