River Doe Lea

The River Doe Lea is a river which flows near Glapwell and Doe Lea in Derbyshire, England. The river eventually joins the River Rother near Renishaw. The river contained 1,000 times the safe level of dioxins in 1991, according to a statement made by Dennis Skinner, (MP) in the House of Commons in 1992. The river flows through the site of the former Coalite plant near Bolsover, where coke, tar and industrial chemicals were manufactured until the plant closed in 2004.

Doe Lea
The river near Doe Lea
Physical characteristics
  elevation705 feet (215 m)
River Rother
53.2894°N 1.3373°W / 53.2894; -1.3373
163 feet (50 m)
Length11 miles (18 km)
River Doe Lea
River Rother, Renishaw
Jn with River Rother
Trans Pennine Trail (old railway)
A619 bridge, Staveley
Pools Brook Country Park
Pools Brook
Hawke Brook
M1 motorway
Industrial railway
Site of Coalite Chemicals
B6419 bridge
Snipe Bog nature reserve
A632 bridge
Bolsover nature reserves
Doe Lea Stream Section SSSI
Doe Lea Bridge, Bolsover
tributary from Sutton Scarsdale
A617 bridge, Doe Lea
Stainsby Mill
Stainsby Pond
Millers Pond
(Hardwick Park)
Great Pond
source near Tibshelf

The stream section is designated an SSSI for its geological interest.


The river flows in a generally south to north direction through a region where the underlying geology is predominantly Carboniferous coal measures. To the east of its catchment there is a band of Permian Magnesian Limestone, which forms an escarpment.[1] Magnesian Limestone is so called because it contains quantities of the mineral dolomite, which is rich in magnesium. The river and its tributary streams drain an area of about 26.2 square miles (68 km2). During its 11-mile (18 km) course, it descends from an altitude of 705 feet (215 m) to around 163 feet (50 m) at the point where it joins the River Rother.[2]

The stream section of the river is a designated geological Site of Special Scientific Interest; according to the SSSI citation, it "shows an internationally significant section through the Upper Coal Measures of the Carboniferous" and is "one of Britain's most important geological sites."[3]


The river rises as a series of springs near Tibshelf, and flows generally northwards, with the M1 motorway following its course a little to the west. Just before it reaches Hardwick Park, it is joined by another stream which rises at Hardstoft and flows eastwards under the motorway. Hardwick Park contains a grade I listed country house, built in the 1590s and now owned by the National Trust,[4] while the river feeds two lakes, the Great Pond and the Millers Pond. Two more streams, rising at Hardstoft Common and Common End combine near Stainsby Pond, and flow under the motorway to join the Doe Lea. The combined flow has powered Stainsby water mill since the thirteenth century. The present structure was restored in 1850, and worked commercially until 1952. It is now owned by the National Trust, and still operates to grind flour for sale to visitors.[5]

At the village of Doe Lea, the A617 road crosses as it approaches junction 29 on the motorway, as does a minor road to Palterton. A stream joins from the east, and another from Sutton Scarsdale joins from the west. The river passes under Doe Lea bridge, which carries another minor road,[6] beyond which a small section of the stream has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 0.336 acres (0.136 ha) were so designated in 1988, because of its geological interest.[7] Beyond the SSSI, the river passes a series of lakes to the west of Bolsover.[6] The southern part of this area is known as the Carr Vale Flash, and is a nature reserve managed by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.[8] To the north of it is the Peter Fidler Reserve, managed by Derbyshire County Council, and named after Peter Fidler, who was born nearby at Mill Farm in 1769. He went on to explore North America for the Hudson's Bay Company, and became its chief surveyor in Canada.[9]

The river continues under bridges on the A632 and B6418 roads, next to the former site of the Coalite plant which closed in 2004, and an industrial railway runs parallel to it which crosses to the west bank before both pass under the motorway. The railway crosses twice more, between which a stream from Barlborough Common joins from the north east, and after which Pools Brook, which flows northwards from Arkwright Town and Duckmanton, joins. The A619 road crosses between Staveley and Mastin Moor, and just before its junction with the River Rother to the south of Renishaw, a former railway bridge carries the Trans Pennine Trail long distance footpath over the river.[6]

Water quality

In common with most of the rivers of the River Don catchment, and especially the River Rother, the Doe Lea was affected by the development of coal mining in the nineteenth century. Small villages developed rapidly to service the new collieries, often with little or no provision for sewage treatment. Consequently, sewage entered the river, together with minewater, which often contained large volumes of solids, which were deposited on the bed of the river and choked plant life. The minewater also contained heavy metals, arsenic, cyanides and phenols, all of which are toxic to fish. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the river was little more than a lifeless sewer.[10]

Despite the pollution of the lower river, the upper reaches retained a population of fish. Brown trout were present around Stainsby, and there were small numbers of coarse fish, which had originated in the lakes at Hardwick Hall. They could not exist further down river, because of the pollution. Part of the problem was caused by efforts to reduce air pollution, which resulted in the production of smokeless fuels. While this reduced smoke from domestic fires, the liquors which were removed from the coal were highly toxic and rich in ammonia.[11] The coking plant at Bolsover run by Coalite was a significant producer of pollution, and the site was also producing chlorinated compounds by distilling the liquors resulting from the coking process, which added to the toxic mix. The effluent was treated by an activated sludge process, before discharge to the river.[12]

Efforts were made to improve the quality of the effluent in 1984 and in 1989.[13] The river was also affected by dioxins, and in February 1992, Dennis Skinner MP raised the issue in the House of Commons, because sampling by the National Rivers Authority revealed that dioxin levels were over 1000 times safe levels.[14] Two years later, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution took control of the works, and in 1996 new storage lagoons were built, to contain surface drainage water in times of flood. These measures lead to a steady decrease in the biochemical oxygen demand in the river, and in the Rother.[13] Although the plant closed in 2004,[15] experience on the River Dearne and elsewhere would suggest that it may be many years before leaching of chemicals into the river finally ceases.[16]

The Environment Agency measure water quality of the river systems in England. Each is given an overall ecological status, which may be one of five levels: high, good, moderate, poor and bad. There are several components that are used to determine this, including biological status, which looks at the quantity and varieties of invertebrates, angiosperms and fish, and chemical status, which compares the concentrations of various chemicals against known safe concentrations. Chemical status is rated good or fail.[17]

The water quality of the Doe Lea was as follows in 2015.

SectionEcological StatusChemical StatusOverall StatusLengthCatchment
Doe Lea from Source to Hawke Brook[18] style="background: #ffff99; text-align: center;" | Moderate style="background: #7af58a; text-align: center;" | Good style="background: #ffff99; text-align: center;" | Moderate 10.6 miles (17.1 km) 16.34 square miles (42.3 km2)
Doe Lea from Hawke Brooke to River Rother[19] style="background: #ffff99; text-align: center;" | Moderate style="background: #7af58a; text-align: center;" | Good style="background: #ffff99; text-align: center;" | Moderate 2.8 miles (4.5 km) 2.55 square miles (6.6 km2)
Hawke Brook from Source to Doe Lea[20] style="background: #ffff99; text-align: center;" | Moderate style="background: #7af58a; text-align: center;" | Good style="background: #ffff99; text-align: center;" | Moderate 5.8 miles (9.3 km) 4.16 square miles (10.8 km2)
Pools Brook from Source to Doe Lea[21] style="background: #7af58a; text-align: center;" | Good style="background: #7af58a; text-align: center;" | Good style="background: #7af58a; text-align: center;" | Good 3.2 miles (5.1 km) 4.82 square miles (12.5 km2)

Hawke Brook was classified as bad in 2009, and has seen considerable improvement since. The lower Doe Lea is quite variable, in that it was rated poor on biological grounds, but high in relation to specific pollutants, both of which are sub-categories of the ecological status.

Points of interest

See also


  • Firth, Christopher (1997). Domesday to the dawn of the New Millennium - 900 years of the Don fishery. Environment Agency. (This is available online at The Don Catchment Rivers Trust. Page numbers refer to the pdf file).
  • Lexartza-Artza, Irantzu; Lerner, David; Tkachenko, Nataliya (August 2009). "Preliminary Study of the Doe Lea Catchment" (PDF). University of Sheffield. Retrieved 4 September 2010.


  1. Lexartza-Artza, Lerner & Tkachenko 2009, p. 6
  2. Lexartza-Artza, Lerner & Tkachenko 2009, p. 1
  3. "SSSI citation: Doe Lea Stream Section" (PDF). Natural England. 1988. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  4. Historic England. "Hardwick Hall (1051617)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  5. "Stainsby Mill". Derbyshire UK. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  6. Ordnance Survey, 1:50,000 map
  7. "Doe Lea Stream Section SSSI". Natural England. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  8. "Carr Vale Flash". Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  9. "Peter Fidler Reserve". Bolsover District Council. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  10. Firth 1997, p. 42-43.
  11. Firth 1997, p. 68.
  12. Firth 1997, p. 78-79.
  13. Firth 1997, p. 79.
  14. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 13 Feb 1992". British Parliament.
  15. "Bolsover jobs hope site plans go public". Derbyshire Times. 24 June 2008.
  16. Firth 1997, p. 77.
  17. "Catchment Data Explorer Glossary (see Biological quality element; Chemical status; and Ecological status)". Environment Agency. 17 February 2016.
  18. "Doe Lea from Source to Hawke Brook". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency.
  19. "Doe Lea from Hawke Brooke to River Rother". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency.
  20. "Hawke Brook from Source to Doe Lea". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency.
  21. "Pools Brook from Source to Doe Lea". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency.

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