River Sheaf

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River Sheaf
River Sheaf - Highfield 25-04-06.jpg
River Sheaf by Duchess Road at Highfield
Country England
Physical characteristics
  location Pennines

The River Sheaf in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, flows northwards, past Dore, through Abbeydale and north of Heeley. It then passes into a culvert, through which it flows under the centre of Sheffield before joining the River Don. This lower section of the River Sheaf, together with the River Don between the Blonk Street and Lady's Bridges, formed two sides of the boundary of Sheffield Castle.


The main tributaries of the Sheaf are the Porter Brook, which joins it beneath Sheffield Midland station, and the Meers Brook. The river has been polluted upstream through centuries of industrial activity, including iron and steel working, and is only slowly recovering. The river used to provide the power for a number of metal works, including the Grade I-listed Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.

A River Sheaf Walk has been developed which follows the river from Granville Square out to Millhouses Park and beyond to the Peak District. [1] [2]


Until the 17th century the name Sheaf was written as Scheth or Sheath. [3] Sidney Oldall Addy equates the origins of this word with the Old English shed (as in water-shed ) or sheth, which mean to divide, or separate. [3] Historically, the Sheafalong with its tributaries the Meers Brook and the Limb Brook formed part of the border separating the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria; it remained on the border between Yorkshire and Derbyshire into the 20th century. The city of Sheffield derives its name from the Sheaf.


River Sheaf
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Junction with River Don
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Ponds Forge culvert
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Sheffield Station culvert
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Porter Brook
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A61 Granville Square
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Duchess Road, Highfield
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Charlotte Road, Highfield
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A61 Queens Road bridge
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Midland Main Line bridge
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A61 London Road bridge
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Meers Brook (culverted)
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MML railway bridge
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MML railway bridge
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B6068 Abbey Lane, Abbeydale
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Abbey Brook
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MML railway bridge
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Limb Brook
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Dore and Totley station
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Hope Valley line bridge
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Start of River Sheaf
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A61 Totley Rise bridge
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Old Hay Brook and Totley Brook
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Rodmoor Brook
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Totley Brook source
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Needhams Dike
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Blacka Dike
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Redcar Brook
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Blacka Dike source

The waters which form the River Sheaf rise as a series of streams on a ridge of gritstone between 6 and 7 miles (9.7 and 11.3 km) to the south west of the main city centre. The Blacka Dike, Needhams Dike and Redcar Brook combine to form Old Hay Brook, while Totley Brook is joined by Rodmoor Brook, and itself joins Old Hay Brook, after which the combined flow forms the Sheaf. [4] Immediately below the junction, the river is crossed by the Hope Valley railway line, which then joins the Midland Main Line, and both cross back over to reach Dore and Totley railway station, which was built on the site of Walk Mill in 1872. [5] The river shares its valley with the railway, and there are a further five crossings before both reach Sheffield Station.

From the junction of the Redcar Brook and the Old Hay Brook to the city centre, the river descends by around 400 feet (120 m), and this fall has resulted in it being harnessed to provide water power for a number of industries from at least the 16th century. [4]

The river valley is broad, cutting through the underlying coal measures with its sandstones and clays, and the location of harder rock has been a major factor in where weirs and dams (a local word for the ponds used to hold water rather than the structure that creates the pond) have been located. There are some 28 sites which have well-documented and long standing mills associated with them, and a further seven were located on some of the smaller tributaries, or were more transitory in nature. The Sheaf supplied a greater variety of industry than the other Sheffield rivers, partly because of its close proximity to Derbyshire, with its mineral reserves of lead. The lead ore was brought to the area around Dore, Totley and Norton, which was then in Derbyshire. There were at least ten mills where the ore was smelted in ore hearths, which used kiln-dried wood as the heat producing agent, and water-powered bellows to produce the temperatures required. As well as the lead smelting mills, there were a variety of corn and paper mills along the river, some of which were adapted in the 18th century to service the metal trades as they grew and expanded. [4]

Walk Mill was one of the earliest known mills on the Sheaf, having been built around 1280 by the Canons of Beauchief Abbey as a fulling mill. After the abbey was dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII, it was used as a cutlers wheel. By 1746 John Tyzack was using it for grinding scythes, in 1797 Thomas Biggin was making knives for cutting hay and straw, and it was being used as a sickle mill in 1805. After a brief spell as a paper mill around 1826, it was occupied by Thomas Tyzack and Sons, who made saws. The site was sold to the Midland Railway by the Duke of Devonshire in 1871 to enable the construction of Dore and Totley station, and the last mill buildings were taken down in 1890. [5]

Below Walk Mill, the Limb Brook flows in from the west. Whirlow Wheel was situated on the brook, and was used for milling corn between about 1586 until 1803, when a grinding wheel was added. With the building decaying, the site was sold to Sheffield Corporation in 1935. The roof of the building collapsed in 2006, [6] but although there were calls to demolish it, the Friends of Whirlow Wheel campaigned for it to be retained until a use could be found for the site. [7]

Abbeydale Works is located just below the Limb Brook and was powered by two water wheels. In 1855, these were supplemented by a steam engine, but the site declined after 1900. It was given to Sheffield Corporation in 1935 as an industrial museum, and only an active campaign by members of a local history group prevented its demolition. Restoration eventually began in 1964, and in 1970 it was opened as a museum, known as Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. [8] The Abbey Brook then joins the river from the east, below which the river is bordered by Millhouses Park. In order to reduce flooding and pollution of the river when the sewerage system is overloaded by heavy rainfall, Yorkshire Water excavated the park in 2004/5 to construct a tank capable of holding 10,000 cubic metres (350,000 cu ft) of storm water. The decision to build a tank rather than a vertical shaft was made after test boreholes found hard rock and high groundwater pressure in the area. The project cost £7.5 million, and included three more conventional shafts further down the river, which provide an additional 3,175 cubic metres (112,100 cu ft) of storage. [9]

Little London wheel was used for the cutlery trade from the earliest known records in 1720. By 1814 it was described as a grinding and plating forge, and later was used for the production of scythes. When the railway was constructed, it crossed part of the dam, which was reduced in size by one eighth. By 1912 the water wheels had been modernised and there were two tilt hammers in operation. The owners moved their scythe production from Abbeydale Works to Little London on 1935, and the tilt hammers continued to be water-powered until the mid-1950s. Some of the equipment was dismantled in the 1970s and taken to Beamish Museum to be restored. [10]

The next tributary is the Meers Brook, culverted for its last section under the suburban district of Meersbrook. Just below the junction is Heeley Station, built on the site of Heeley Wheel. The mill was demolished and the river was diverted by the railway company. [11] Other sections of the river were also re-aligned in the 1860s to make way for the railway, and the weir at the site of Cooper Wheel, which can be seen from Havelock bridge, was probably built by the Midland Railway, as its orientation changed around that time. [12]

From Granville Square to the Don, the river is almost entirely in culverts. The Midland Railway bought the water rights to allow them to build their station over the river. The site of Pond Tilt is now occupied by the station forecourt, and the goods yard covered its dam. The owners of Pond Forge vacated their site soon after the station was built, but attempted to get compensation for loss of water power as a result of the work. [13]

At Granville Square, a large screen prevents debris from entering the culverts. Serious flooding in 1990 led to the construction of the first screen, and it was then refurbished in 2010, so that it could be continuously monitored by the Environment Agency. [14] The Sheaf Screen is currently being replaced by a larger, automated version. [15]

The River Sheaf emerging from its culvert to join the Don by Blonk Street bridge. The Two Rivers Cafe is in the centre, a former public toilet. Confluence of Don & Sheaf.jpg
The River Sheaf emerging from its culvert to join the Don by Blonk Street bridge. The Two Rivers Cafe is in the centre, a former public toilet.

The river continues below ground to the edge of the station, where it is joined underground by the Porter Brook, which emerges from its own culvert to flow beside the station car park before passing under the station from the west. The two rivers meet under platform 5a, currently under a wooden access cover but the Sheaf & Porter Rivers Trust intend to replace this with a lightwell and information signs.

The river surfaces briefly by Pond Hill, before passing under the Ponds Forge district. It flows through a series of huge tunnels, with the most famous section known locally as the 'Megatron'. This was a very large brick arch, designed to carry the weight of the Rotherham Tramway which climbed Exchange Street. [16] A decaying concrete section of culvert follows until the Sheaf joins the Don under Castlegate bridge, opposite Blonk Street bridge, named after Benjamin Blonk, who was the tenant of Castle Orchards Wheel from the 1750s to the 1770s. [17]

'Megatron' Arch within the River Sheaf Culverts, under Exchange Street Megatron Sheffield.jpg
'Megatron' Arch within the River Sheaf Culverts, under Exchange Street

Water quality

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. [18]

The water quality of the Sheaf was as follows in 2016.

SectionEcological StatusChemical StatusOverall StatusLengthCatchment
Sheaf from Source to River Don [19] Moderate Good Moderate 18.4 miles (29.6 km)20.33 square miles (52.7 km2)

Planned flood defence scheme

In September 2014 Sheffield City Council announced plans for flood defences on the River Sheaf and its tributaries costing £12 million. [20]

Points of interest

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML

Sheaf & Porter Rivers Trust

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In early 2019, the Sheaf & Porter Rivers Trust was set up to encourage the regeneration and improvement of the River Sheaf & Porter Brook. [21] Aims and Objectives of the Organisation

  1. Deculverting – the first priority is likely seizing the immediate opportunity at the Castle Market site where a  100 metre section of culvert is in an advanced state of decay and requires repair or removal.  Other possible opportunities may arise from the master planning of the lower Sheaf Valley around the accommodation of High Speed Rail 2 at Midland Station – for instance the section of culverted river which runs between Ponds Forge leisure centre and Sheaf Street
  2. Daylighting – whilst removal of the culverts under the railway tracks of Midland Station is probably unrealistic the potential of sinking light‐pipes into the dark tunnels to allow fish and animal passage could be considered as part of the environmental mitigation of the scheme c) Improved public access to existing open channel sections and newly deculverted ones including access for fishing, kayaking and stewardship eg Pond Hill, Sheaf Gardens, Cutlers Walk, the Primrose etc
  3. Marking, celebrating the concealed course of the river where it remains hidden for now, using public art, trails etc and guided visits using trained guides
  4. Interpretation of the river’s history, wildlife and environmental functions and engagement with its neighbouring communities
  5. Promotion of good practice by riparian owners
  6. More sustainable urban drainage in the Sheaf corridor following the example of Grey to Green

River Sheaf Walk

Granville Square - Start of the River Sheaf Walk Start of "River Sheaf Walk" , Sheffield - geograph.org.uk - 1459364.jpg
Granville Square - Start of the River Sheaf Walk
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River Sheaf Walk Signs

Although some key gaps remain missing, the River Sheaf Walk is fully signposted and contains 10 'Sheaf Wheels'.

River Sheaf Walk link

River Sheaf Wheel River Sheaf Walk, plaque, Sheffield - geograph.org.uk - 1459352.jpg
River Sheaf Wheel
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Sheffield City Council, the Environment Agency and Sheaf & Porter Rivers Trust are currently working on a vision for the former Castle Market site. This involves removing the structurally decaying concrete culvert at the end of the River Sheaf, daylighting the section and replacing it with a new city centre park. [22]

The missing links plan


Related Research Articles

River Don, Yorkshire River in South Yorkshire, England

The River Don is a river in South Yorkshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire, England. It rises in the Pennines, west of Dunford Bridge, and flows for 70 miles (110 km) eastwards, through the Don Valley, via Penistone, Sheffield, Rotherham, Mexborough, Conisbrough, Doncaster and Stainforth. It originally joined the Trent, but was re-engineered by Cornelius Vermuyden as the Dutch River in the 1620s, and now joins the River Ouse at Goole. Don Valley is a UK parliamentary constituency near the Doncaster stretch of the river.

Porter Brook River in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England

The Porter Brook is a river which flows through the City of Sheffield, England, descending over 1,000 feet (300 m) from its source on Burbage Moor to the west of the city to its mouth where it joins the River Sheaf in a culvert beneath Sheffield railway station. Like the other rivers in Sheffield, its steep gradient made it ideal for powering water mills and works associated with the metalworking and cutlery industries, and around 20 dams were constructed over the centuries to facilitate this. At its lower end, it is extensively culverted, but parts of it are gradually being restored to open channels, as part of a daylighting scheme for the city.

Dore, South Yorkshire Village in South Yorkshire, England

Dore is a large village in South Yorkshire, England. The village lies on a hill above the River Sheaf which gave Sheffield its name, and until 1934 was part of Derbyshire, but it is now a suburb of the city. Dore is served by Dore and Totley railway station on the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Manchester. The railway tunnel between Dore and Totley under a limb of the Pennines to Grindleford in Derbyshire is the longest such in England, second only to the Severn Tunnel between England and South Wales. They are the longest main line railway tunnels anywhere in Great Britain – the London Underground and Channel Tunnel to France excepted. Dore has long enjoyed a reputation of being Sheffield's wealthiest suburb, and Dore and Totley was the only ward of the city which regularly elected a Conservative councillor. However, as of May 2016 all three councillors were Liberal Democrats. The Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam constituency, of which Dore is part, is Olivia Blake (Labour) who was elected in 2019.

Ecclesall Electoral ward in the City of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England

Ecclesall Ward—which includes the neighbourhoods of Bents Green, Ecclesall, Greystones, Millhouses, and Ringinglow—is one of the 28 electoral wards in City of Sheffield, England. It is located in the southwestern part of the city and covers an area of 3.6 square miles. The population of this ward in 2007 was 19,211 people in 7,626 households, reducing to 6,657 at the 2011 Census. Ecclesall ward is one of the four wards that make up the South West Community Assembly and one of five wards that make up the Sheffield Hallam Parliamentary constituency. The Member of Parliament is Olivia Blake, a Labour MP. Ecclesall is one of the least socially deprived wards in the entire country, with a 2002 deprivation score of 4.7—making it the 8,105th most deprived ward out of 8,414 wards in the country. The demographic consists largely of white, middle-class families.

River Loxley

The River Loxley is a river in the City of Sheffield South Yorkshire, England. Its source is a series of streams which rise some 10 miles (16 km) to the north-west of Sheffield on Bradfield Moors, flowing through Bradfield Dale to converge at Low Bradfield. It flows easterly through Damflask Reservoir and is joined by Storrs Brook at Storrs, near Stannington, and the River Rivelin at Malin Bridge, before flowing into the River Don at Owlerton, in Hillsborough. The Loxley valley provided the initial course of the Great Sheffield Flood, which happened after the Dale Dyke Dam collapsed shortly before its completion in March 1864.

River Rivelin

The River Rivelin is a river in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England.

Millhouses Neighbourhood in Sheffield, England

Millhouses is a neighbourhood in the City of Sheffield, England. It is located in Ecclesall ward; in the south-western portion of the city on the northwest bank of the River Sheaf. Its origins lie in a small hamlet that grew around the Ecclesall Corn Mill. It has a population of 4,424.

Dore and Totley Electoral ward in the City of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England

Dore and Totley ward—which includes the districts of Bradway , Dore, Totley, and Whirlow—is one of the 28 electoral wards in City of Sheffield, England. It is currently represented by three Liberal Democrat councillors. It is located in the southwestern part of the city and covers an area of 26.3 km2. The population of this ward in 2001 was 16,404 people in 7,037 households. Dore and Totley ward is one of the five wards that make up the Sheffield Hallam Parliamentary constituency. The population of Dore and Totley is 16,740 (2011) with 7,334 Households.

Whirlow Suburb of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England

Whirlow is a suburb of the City of Sheffield in England, it lies 3.7 miles (6 km) south-west of the city centre. The suburb falls within the Dore and Totley ward of the City. It is one of the most affluent areas of Sheffield, with much high class housing and several notable small country houses within it. During the Victorian era it was home to some of Sheffield's most influential citizens. Whirlow straddles the A625, the main Sheffield to Hathersage road. The suburb covers the area from Parkhead in the north to Whirlow Bridge in the south and from Ecclesall Woods in the east to Broad Elms Lane in the west. Whirlow had a population of 1,663 in 2011.

Dore and Totley railway station Railway station in South Yorkshire, England

Dore and Totley railway station is a station serving the Sheffield suburbs of Dore and Totley in South Yorkshire, England 4 34 miles (7.6 km) south of Sheffield. The station is served by the Northern service between Sheffield and Manchester, East Midlands Railway service from Liverpool to Norwich and the TransPennine Express service between Manchester and Cleethorpes, all three running via the Hope Valley Line.

Abbeydale, Sheffield

Abbeydale is an area in the City of Sheffield, England that follows the valley of the River Sheaf. It covers many districts of Sheffield in the south-west of the city running roughly from Heeley Bridge in the district of Heeley to Dore Road between Beauchief and Totley. It is named for the Abbey that existed at Beauchief from the 12th century to 1537.

Sheffield is the most geographically diverse city in England. Lying in the eastern foothills of the Pennines, the city nestles in a natural amphitheatre created by several hills and the confluence of five rivers: Don, Sheaf, Rivelin, Loxley and Porter. As such, much of the city is built on hillsides, with views into the city centre or out to the countryside. The city is roughly one third urban, one third rural and one third in the Peak District. At its lowest point the city stands just 29 metres above sea level at Blackburn Meadows on the Rotherham border, rising up to over 500 m in some parts of the city to a peak of 548m at High Stones on the Derbyshire border; however, 89% of the housing in the city is between 100 and 200 metres above sea level. Over 95% of the population resides in the main urban area.

Sheaf Square

Sheaf Square is a municipal square lying immediately east of the city centre of Sheffield, England.

Heeley railway station Disused railway station in South Yorkshire, England

Heeley railway station was a railway station in Sheffield, England. The station served the communities of Heeley, Meersbrook and Lowfield and was situated on the Midland Main Line near London Road on Heeley Bridge, lying between Sheffield Midland station and Millhouses railway station.

Beauchief railway station Disused railway station in South Yorkshire, England

Beauchief railway station was in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England.

The Totley Brook is a stream in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It rises on a millstone grit ridge some 7 miles (11 km) to the south-west of the centre of Sheffield. Over its course it drops from 740 feet (230 m) to 430 feet (130 m) near its junction with the Old Hay Brook close to Baslow Road. The streams form the River Sheaf once they have joined.

Old Hay Brook

The Old Hay Brook is a small river in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It is formed from the Redcar Brook, Blacka Dike and another stream, which rise on moors to the south of Sheffield, and is joined by Needham's Dyke near Totley Grange. At Totley Rise it joins Totley Brook, to become the River Sheaf. Water from the river was used to power mills processing lead, corn and paper from at least the 17th century, which were later used for grinding scythes as the Sheffield metal industry expanded. All the mills were defunct by 1900, although some remnants including weirs and dams are still visible.

Millhouses Park

Millhouses Park is a public urban park located in the Millhouses neighbourhood in south of Sheffield, England. It is a 12.87-hectare (31.8-acre) park stretching approximately 0.75 miles (1.2 km) along the floor of the valley of the River Sheaf, sandwiched between Abbeydale Road South (A621) and the railway tracks of the Midland Main Line.

Limb Brook Stream in Sheffield, England

The Limb Brook is a stream in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It rises at the village of Ringinglow, flowing east through Whirlow and Ecclesall Woods into Abbeydale in the Beauchief area, where it merges with the River Sheaf. Near this point part of the stream has been diverted to provide the goit for the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet millpond, and this channel flows through what is now Beauchief Gardens.

Sharrow Mills

Sharrow Mills are a collection of industrial buildings in Sheffield, England, which have been used for the production of snuff by the firm of Wilsons of Sharrow since the mid 18th century. The mills stands on the Porter Brook in the Sharrow Vale area of the city, just off Ecclesall Road.


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  2. "River Sheaf Walk". Sheffield City Council. 13 June 2005. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  3. 1 2 Addy 1888 , pp. xxix–xxx
  4. 1 2 3 Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006 , pp. 148–149
  5. 1 2 Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006 , p. 156
  6. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, pp. 156–157.
  7. "Friends of Whirlow Wheel" . Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  8. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, pp. 159–162.
  9. "Going down a storm". New Civil Engineer. 10 February 2005. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  10. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, pp. 172–174.
  11. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, pp. 176–177.
  12. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, p. 179.
  13. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, pp. 185–190.
  14. River Sheaf Walk, interpretation board at Granville Square
  15. "Sheffield's River Sheaf screen gets £3m upgrade". GOV.UK. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  16. "Megatron - the River Sheaf culverts". Archived from the original on 9 March 2019. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  17. Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006, p. 191.
  18. "Catchment Data Explorer Glossary (see Biological quality element; Chemical status; and Ecological status)". Environment Agency. 17 February 2016.
  19. "Sheaf from Source to River Don". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  20. "£55m flood scheme plans backed". BBC News. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  21. "About us". Sheaf & Porter Rivers Trust. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  22. Council, Sheffield City. "New designs on historic Sheaf Field river plans | Sheffield Newsroom | Sheffield City Council" . Retrieved 15 July 2020.