Sunday, 17 January 2016

Are the eels ill?

A quote from a good friend of mine - it only works with a Portsmouth accent!

I'd met up with them in Alresford, north-east of Winchester last weekend, for a bite to eat and a quick potter along the river. The Arle is a tributary of the River Itchen (which, as you may recall from previous posts, is a SSSI and SAC - the highest level of legal protection).

It was pretty muddy underfoot (well, we have had a lot of rain), but the river was looking clear in many places, with lots of different aquatic plants on show. On first inspections, this seems like a good thing, but unfortunately, having carried out a condition assessment on the river in 2014, I know this to be far from the truth. The levels of phosphate in the river are still much too high - a result of runoff from farmland, septic tanks, watercress farms and fish farms mainly. And the river hasn't been allowed to 'do its thing' throughout much of its course through the landscape - for example, many of the banks are 'protected' with reinforcements to prevent them eroding away - this effectively means the river can't move. It's a funny thing, but a river is far from inanimate!

Our walk took us to the Eel House - this is a listed building that had been restored to a degree some time ago, and is part of the rich heritage of the area - harking back to a time when the runs of eels through the river were so plentiful that you could build permanent buildings to catch them. Now, unfortunately due to many factors, some of which unknown, the numbers of eels nationally are declining rapidly. With their famous migration taking them all the way to the Sargasso Sea south of Florida, there is a lot thrown at them to along the way.

Saying that, the Environment Agency have a National Eel strategy, and they are even protected under a specific piece of legislation - these coupled with efforts to improve the ability of fish to migrate up and down rivers (overcoming barriers such as weirs), the UK is doing its bit to help these struggling fish.

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