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New River Wensum pass to boost Norfolk’s endangered eel population

PUBLISHED: 15:05 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:23 20 August 2020

Jez Wood from Environment Agency East Anglia, talking about the new fish pass in River Wensum at Hellesdon Mill to encourage endangered eels and fish to travel further up stream. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Jez Wood from Environment Agency East Anglia, talking about the new fish pass in River Wensum at Hellesdon Mill to encourage endangered eels and fish to travel further up stream. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

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Critically endangered eels have been given a lifeline thanks to a new fish pass on a major Norfolk rivers.

Jez Wood from Environment Agency East Anglia, talking about the new fish pass in River Wensum at Hellesdon Mill to encourage endangered eels and fish to travel further up stream. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANJez Wood from Environment Agency East Anglia, talking about the new fish pass in River Wensum at Hellesdon Mill to encourage endangered eels and fish to travel further up stream. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

The specialist kit worth £1,500 has been put in at Hellesdon Mill, Norwich, by the Environment Agency (EA) to give the European eel and fish, including sea trout, access to an extra 5,000 metres of the River Wensum.

Jez Wood, technical specialist at the EA, said: “The River Wensum is very important for wildlife. The problem is there are a lot of remnant structures in place from mills and weirs which stop the river from flowing in areas and ultimately damage the river.”

A European eel. Picture: christaylorphoto.co.ukA European eel. Picture: christaylorphoto.co.uk

Fish passes are put in when permanent structures including mills, weirs and sluices cannot be removed.

Commenting on the river obstructions, Mr Wood added: “It turns stretches into essentially a lake - it silts up and fills with weed, creating problems with river functions and processes.

“Also, fish can’t get past these structures. They can get washed down in floods when the games are open, they can’t get back upstream. It’s not just trout that migrate, or eels - every fish species migrates to an extent.

“Pretty much everything can get through at Hellesdon now, depending on flow levels. The big part is that we’ve opened it to sea trout - we’ve only caught a few on our surveys, but if we can get more of a run of sea trout that would please the anglers and would be great for the diversity of the river.

“We know the habitat is there in the Wensum, it was just a case of helping them to get there. Now we’ve opened it up we should see everything benefit. The better the habitat the more insects are there, and the more insects there are the more there is for the fish to feed on.”

MORE: New water pass to boost endangered eel population in River Wensum

Evidence has revealed that barriers preventing migration has an impact on the European eel.

Numbers have fallen 95pc over the last 30 years but fish passes helps protect the species to continue its life cycle.

Mr Wood added: “When a species is failing and endangered breeding females is key. There is a high proportion of females that come to Norfolk so it’s a vital area. They’re a keystone species - a lot of other species rely on them - and they also provided a food source for people too.

“Norfolk is key for eels, especially after the population crash in the 80s. There are signs it is improving but it’s slow.”


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