Blog | 10 Nov, 2021

Centenary Riverside: from derelict steel foundry in South Yorkshire to a thriving wetland nature reserve

Authors: Robert Miller and Keith Davie


The Need


This £15m scheme is in the heart of South Yorkshire in Rotherham on the River Don.  The reserve is on the site of a former steelworks adjacent the River Don, once western Europe’s most polluted river.  Centenary Riverside opened in 2009 and has become a powerful example of how Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are now part of the town’s recovery.   

The creation of the nature reserve at Centenary Riverside created more space for water thereby reducing flood risk and placed a biodiverse life rich asset at the heart of Rotherham’s regeneration.  It has become a green publicly accessible asset which is a strong demonstration of how NbS can be harnessed to provide benefit to local communities and the economy.  The flood defences, of which Centenary Riverside is part, has allowed for land to be developed in this post-industrial town. The project addressed the most pressing societal challenges - disaster risk reduction, economic and social development, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss.

Centenary RiversidePhoto: iucn

The Solution

The 4.5ha site is an exemplar of well-designed flood protection, providing much needed flood alleviation, enhanced biodiversity, restored floodplain functions and developing local recreation and tourism.  The site provides 1 in 100 year flood protection for an economic development zone.

1.7km of flood defences were built along with the restoration of this former industrial site into an urban wetland park.  The park forms an attractive natural centre-piece and has been designed, constructed and managed to encourage biodiversity, with the park acting as a ‘stepping stone’ for wildlife moving up and down the river and pro-actively contributing to the implementation of the Rotherham Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

The project was delivered through a partnership of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Forward.  The nature reserve was designed, constructed and managed by the Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust to encourage biodiversity by providing a refuge for wildlife, an opportunity for education and a recreational resource for the local community.  Management and maintnence is under a 99 year lease with revenue generated through a £435,000 endowment fund which gives approximately £20,000 per year which means the site has a secure future.

Riverside renaissance principles allowed a new vision for the area which created something relevant to society and the sustainability of the area instead of developing it for commercial activity.  It is an excellent example of the multiple-benefits that can be achieved through high quality green infrastructure.   Following completion, the site was nominated for two Waterways Renaissance Awards; winning the Flood Risk Management category and commended in the Natural Environment category in 2010.  It has also now been designated as a Local Nature Reserve.

The Result

Given the multi-faceted benefits of the project it was able to attract funding from several sources. 

The Council secured funding from Yorkshire Forward – the former Regional Development Agency – to puchase the land.  Further funding for the works were secured from Objective 1, English Partnerships, South Yorkshire Sub-Regional Investment Plan and Rotherham Council.  It also secured funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).  The Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust independently secured a further £350,000 to create the nature reserve due to the biodiversity significance of the site and its contribution to the wider landscape recovery of the River Don. 

This project gave added impetus to the Renaissance of the River Don.  From once being a lifeless heavily polluted river, it has now become central to the life of Rotherham.  Partners have enabled the return of salmon to the river after an absence of over 200 years and regeneration work in Sheffield and Rotherham increasingly promotes the river as an asset where people and communities can engage. 

The self-assessment

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust were keen to be involved in the early movers pilot scheme to showcase our NbS that is now 12 years old.. Testing Centenary Riverside against the IUCN Global Standard for NbS was a great opportunity to see if the project stood the test of time and met a recognised standard. It was also important to demonstrate that smaller, urban NbS can achieve the standard.

The self-assessment went fairly smoothly. Initially the self-assessment felt daunting but once you made a start and understood the requirements it was a quicker and easier process than first thought.

Having been completed over ten years ago with several partners it was more challenging and required sourcing old documents, plans and proposals. If it had been a recent or ongoing project the process would have been easier.  One person from each from the Environment Agency and the Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust did the assessment. The process took 4-5 weeks with about three iterations. Once the old documents were obtained, they proved to be very informative and helpful  in providing the necessary evidence to meet the self-assessment criteria. 

The mains lesson would be to consider the self-assessment criteria when developing a new NbS project. The self-assessment could be used as a project management tool to ensure that all aspects of a new project are being considered. The process was thorough and made you think about the wider impact of the project beyond an immediate biodiversity gain. It was useful to meet with IUCN staff after each iteration was complete and submitted to have professional discussion and feedback on the self-assessment.

Moving forwards Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust want to be promoting and delivering NbS across our local area. Now that Centenary Riverside has been found to be in adherence to the IUCN Global Standard for NbS, it is hoped that this demonstrates our track record and encourages partner organisations to work with us to find NbS to protect, benefit and restore our environment and address societal challenges.

For further information:

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust on 0114 263 4335 or