An extraordinary week of eel conservation work in Somerset culminated on Friday afternoon, when two million baby eels were re-homed into the tranquil waters of Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve and the Catcott Great Fen by the Sustainable Eel Group, the Rivers Trust and Somerset Wildlife Trust.
The Sustainable Eel Group said that the grand total of elver caught and rehomed throughout the week in Somerset (including the two sites mentioned here) was 2.05million. At Catcott we released 130 kilos of elver and at Westhay 186 kilos.
The numbers have broken all records thanks to an abundance of fish arriving from the Sargasso Sea on high spring tides, and it has become the biggest ever human effort to help eel populations recover in the UK.
A team effort
Andrew Kerr of the Sustainable Eel Group said “Eels have really struggled to reach habitats that are as rich and tranquil as these nature reserves over the last 20 years, so we’re delighted to give them all a lift. This week we’ve seen a heroic team effort from fishermen and conservation groups in Somerset all working together, and we’re very grateful to everyone who has been involved.”
Somerset Wildlife Trust Brue Valley Living Landscape Manager David Leach said: “Somerset is home to two globally threatened species; one of which is the eel so we are delighted to be working with the Sustainable Eel Group to ensure its future in the county. Catcott Nature Reserve provides an ideal habitat for eels and it has been thanks to donations from local people that we were able to complete such a terrific restoration project.”
Two suitable sites
Both release sites are Somerset Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves, and are restored industrial peat diggings.
Site 1: Catcott Complex (227 acres), north of the village of Catcott
Catcott has been the subject of a 30-acre restoration project, Catcott Great Fen, completed by the Trust in 2012. The way in which the Trust restored the peat voids has created ideal habitat for fish, including eels, and vitally these habitats are connected to the wider water system of the Brue Valley.
This involved leaving scrub cuttings, and root balls from trees, in the water to provide habitat for fish. The Trust also put in place an adjustable sluice so that the whole site is connected to the surrounding water system to enable movement of fish and eels through the extensive wetland network. Look here for more about the Catcott Complex
Site 2: Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve (261 acres), north of the village of Westhay
At Westhay Moor restored peat diggings have been transformed by Somerset Wildlife Trust into a network of open water, reed bed and fen. The reedbeds at Westhay provide habitat for bitterns (a kind of heron), which have made a remarkable come back on the Levels. The eel introduction to this mature habitat will support the continued recovery of this species, which feeds on fish.
Look here for more about Westhay Moor.
For some interesting background to this project, click here.