A NATURALIST is hailing a new fish pass that will be created in Otley as a vital step in bringing salmon back up the River Wharfe.

Wharfedale Naturalists member Kevin Sunderland has taken up a 125-year-old campaign to have fish-passes created on all of the weirs along the river to allow salmon and sea trout to travel up and spawn.

And he hopes once one is fitted on Otley weir - one of the conditions agreed to for the redevelopment of the Garnett mill site - it will clear the way for others to follow.

Migratory fish like the salmon used to be common in the Wharfe, but their numbers plummeted after the first large weirs were created hundreds of years ago.

Mr Sunderland, of Bingley, believes the species - and others like the lamprey - could make a stunning return simply by altering several weirs.

He said: "It would be marvellous for the public to stand on the bridge at Ilkley or by the weir at Otley and watch the leaping of the salmon again.

"It would be a benefit to the towns, and it is a real possibility - I'm sure it's going to happen, it's a matter of when.

"The Environment Agency (EA) has been asked to come up with environmentally demanding schemes'. Hopefully getting salmon back into the Wharfe could be one of them.

"And Bradford and Leeds councils both have policy aims of getting fish back into their waters.

"The only reason this hasn't been done already is lack of funding. That's why the fish pass at Otley is such a boon, because we've got the developers' agreeing to pay for it. Otley could lead the way."

Mr Sunderland said that creating other fish passes at Boston Spa, Pool-in-Wharfedale, Burley-in-Wharfedale and Linton would have a dramatic effect upon populations of salmon and other migratory fish. My idea is to get salmon back into all the Yorkshire rivers," he said.

"And the passes will benefit all species, not just migratory ones, because they all move up and down the river.

"The river's water quality is fine now, Yorkshire Water's done a great job with that. Now it's a matter of letting the natural species that used to use the Wharfe using it again."

Mr Sunderland acknowledges it would cost more than a million pounds to get passes created on the other problem' weirs, but insists it would be money well spent.

He said: "What started me on this was when an angler caught a 16lb salmon in the River Aire a few years ago and I looked into the history and found out people had been trying get salmon back on the Wharfe for 125 years.

"But progress since has been lamentably slow, although a few weirs like one at Arthington and at Otley High Dam have been washed away.

"Now we've got cause for optimism at last, with the pass to be fitted at Otley. There are some small salmon in the river now, but getting fish passes on the weirs would enable the population to become properly re-established." Mr Sunderland's campaign is being backed by Wharfedale Naturalists.