Sunday, 29 November 2009

Bridge to Bridge

Bridge to Bridge

Thursday 14th May saw the official opening event of the Infinity Bridge over the River Tees at Stockton.
The programme of sound, light, big screens and fireworks was spectacular and already videos and photos are on the internet. Why is it called the Infinity Bridge?
When lit up the shape of the bridge and its reflection in the water make up the infinity sign.
Next day as part of the Infinity Spring Festival there was a series of talks entitled ‘Bridge to Bridge’ at Stockton Central Library.
Beth Andrews, River Tees Natural Heritage Officer, traced the development of the river over the last 10,000 years from the last Ice Age to the present day. Teesside has been noted for many years its major chemical plants. Not everyone understood that these are built of land reclaimed since the straightening of the river in the early 19th century.
In a second talk Beth spoke about the bridges over the Tees including the oldest built at Yarm by Bishop Skirlaw in the early 1400s. This bridge widened and repaired still stands and carries the 21st century road traffic.
Yarm Bridge with the railway viaduct behind.
With the advent of the Stockton Darlington Railway and the need to ship coal from the Tees, Stockton was the site for the first railway suspension bridge in the world. Insufficient iron was used in its construction and wooden trestles had to be put in to support the railway with a limit put on the number of trucks on the bridge at one time.
Middlesbrough’s world famous Transporter bridge, first suggested in 1873 was opened on 1911 by Prince Arthur of Connaught. It wasn’t dismantled by that mob from the Tyne in ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet. ‘The Transporter remains the bridge over the Tees nearest the sea.
Alan Betteney, a local author/historian covered shipbuilding in Stockton and Thornaby including wooden and concrete ships and the part that Stockton-built ships played in the American Civil War.
The construction of the Infinity Bridge was explained by Russell Smith, Regional Director of White, Young, Green. His talk was illustrated by photos from piling of the foundations to the completed bridge.
The final talk was given by Alan Slater, River Manager, British Waterways who spoke about his work on the River Tees before the building of the Tees Barrage in 1995 and the transformation of the river over the years. When he started the river was tidal upstream to Yarm; at low tide the banks were black mud and if you put your hand in the water it would remove your skin. Completion of the Tees Barrage in 1995 limited the Tees' tidal reach, and created upstream a new wetland sports and leisure area for Teesside where you can take part in windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, rowing, angling - even powerboat racing and white water rafting. The barrage itself is an impressive structure and includes a fish-pass (with viewing area), navigation lock and canoe slalom.
With the industrial pollution cleaned up, the Tees Barrage has seen the water temperature rise by 2 degrees in the last 15 years. Alan Slater says he can watch a kingfisher from his office window. The salmon are back but so are the seals. When the salmon are fitted with pressure and temperature sensors you know they have gone when the temperature recorded reaches 34C, the stomach temperature of the seals. They believe that sixty-six percent of the salmon are taken.
The purity of the water now supports an invasion of mussels and pipefish love the oxygenated water created by water pouring over the barrage gates. A yellow legged gull more normally seen in Spain and Portugal has discovered the existence of the tasty pipefish.
Above the barrage the water is always fresh; coarse fish are no longer swept down stream and lost when the river is in spate.
It had been estimated when the barrage was built that it would be five years before the stocks of coarse fish would recover – in fact, it only took six months. The Tees above the barrage is now a triple A rated fishery.


Rachel said...

This is fascinating. What a great piece of informative writing, and the photos really add to it (especially the Transporter Bridge--still my favourite!). Having left this area too many years ago, I'm happy to see the beautiful transformation around the Tees Barrage area, particularly in terms of the wildlife. Fantastic.

rutlincsyorks said...

Thanks, Rachel. Glad you liked it.