Their life cycle is complicated, they can magically transform in size, shape and colour, have one of the longest migration journeys on the planet (during which they don’t eat!), and can grow to over a metre in length. These snake-like freshwater fish are hidden heroes in our Somerset waterways that play a critical role in our ecosystem, providing food for wetland birds and mammals.
Thanks to £94,000 funding from European Marine Fisheries Fund, with support from the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG), we have been working to ensure that these incredible animals can continue to find safe refuge in our county’s wetland habitats during their epic journey in the future.
Once abundant in the wetlands of the Somerset Levels and Moors, populations of eels have declined in recent years. In 2014, in an attempt to boost flagging populations, three million glass eels were released onto our three reserves – Catcott, Westhay Moor and Westhay Heath. Whilst we know they are there, the detail of exactly however they are moving through Somerset’s waterways was poorly understood, so we have been monitoring this population to fill this gap in our understanding. This has helped us to create habitat management plans to ensure populations remain secure.
With the help of a Wetland Project Officer, some comprehensive surveying, the Westcountry Rivers Trust and our own wetland reserve manager, we have captured and collated important data and knowledge and created a comprehensive wetland ecological network – which maps how the eels move within our watercourses and wetland systems, as well as how they move out of our habitats to return to their mating grounds.
We have also enlisted the help of a phD student and a new eDNA kit – a method of testing the water to discover if eels have been there. Once we have received her data, we will be able to put in place plans to enhance and improve the conditions for eels on our reserves and ensure that we provide physical infrastructure such as culverts, to help them be as mobile as they need to be.