Suffolk/Essex: Eel numbers improve after five year project

Eel passes at Bures Mill

Eel passes at Bures Mill - Credit: Archant

The number of eels passing through some East Anglian rivers has hit a 12-year high.

Eel passes before at Bures Mill

Eel passes before at Bures Mill - Credit: Archant

Although populations of the fish are still at desperately low levels across Europe, a five-year project has seen numbers increase in the River Stour and River Colne.

As part of the Environment Agency initiative, special eel passes have been dug around flood controls to allow safe passage back to breeding grounds while others have been radio-tracked to enable experts to have a better understanding of their movements.

Roger Handford, the Environment Agency’s Regional Strategic Specialist for Fisheries, said: “We are working hard to ensure safe eel passages and habitat. The number of eels in Europe has declined significantly in the last 30 years, but we have recently put significant effort into helping eels back into the east of England.”

He added: “Since 2009, we have installed 39 eel passes in rivers in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. These help eels pass obstacles such as flood control structures, mill gates, dams, weirs, lock gates and gauging stations.

“One example of this is at Bures Mill, on the River Stour, Suffolk, where we have dug a bypass to allow eels and other fish to pass.

“Although eel numbers remain low in the east of England, we have started to see some successes from the work we have done.”

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The most recent survey of the River Colne revealed that the number of eels per 100m squared has risen from 0.576 to 0.651 – the highest level in 12 years. Similarly, the River Stour has seen the number of eels per 100m squared rise from 0.255 to 0.319.

Experts believe the declining eel population in Europe could be due to a combination of climate change, habitat loss and obstruction of water ways.

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