Eel pass to be built at the Old Bedford Sluice, near Downham Market

Old Bedford Lock in Salters Lode near Downham Market. Picture: Ian Burt

Old Bedford Lock in Salters Lode near Downham Market. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The Environment Agency plans to incorporate another eel pass into the west Norfolk waterways when it upgrades the sluice at Salters Lode.

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Conservationists in recent years feared eels faced extinction within a generation if nothing was done protect them.

Since then, numbers have increased – particularly as structures engineered to help them pass through barriers such as pumping stations and sluices have been built.

Now, the Environment Agency plans to incorporate another eel pass into the west Norfolk waterways when it upgrades the Old Bedford Sluice at Salters Lode, near Downham Market.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: 'We are refurbishing Salter's Lode Sluice, a structure that reduces flood risk.

Eel catcher Peter Carter going out on the Well Creake to trap eels on a misty dawn out on the fens.

Eel catcher Peter Carter going out on the Well Creake to trap eels on a misty dawn out on the fens. - Credit: Matthew Usher

'We are using the opportunity to improve the passage of eels to and from the sea whilst we are already working at the structure, so we can provide the best benefit for the lowest cost.'

He added: 'This project will support recovering eel populations which are historically important to the Fens and lowland rivers, and support the local economy.'

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The Old Bedford Sluice separates the Old Bedford River and the tidal River Great Ouse and is located close to the strategically important Denver Sluice Complex, which is vital in the flood risk management of the Fens.

The works are set to cost £287,000 with the Eel Pass portion being delivered alongside the project for £86,000.

Eels are considered an endangered species in Europe and the Environment Agency has been working to improve access to more than 5,000km of river across the country for them.

They start their life in the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda, and some make their way to Europe where they mature before returning to Central America. The site at Salters Lode had been identified as a key location to be improved and ensure eels pass through waters safely.

A number of passes are already dotted around west Norfolk, and include the pumping station at St Germans, near King's Lynn.

Cliff Carson, environmental officer at the Middle Level Commissioners in March, said: 'With elvers [glass eels], it reached a point where we were seeing less than 1pc in our waters compared to 30 years ago.

'The Environment Agency numbers are a bit more variable so it will be interesting to follow this long term.'

Do you think the eel pass is a wise investment? Email louise.hepburn@archant.co.uk

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