Wildlife Trust hopeful of eel return at key nature reserve

© Jack Perks

With temperatures rising and signs of spring now very much in evidence, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is hoping that the warmer weather over the next few weeks could see the return of eels to its Idle Valley Nature Reserve near Retford, Nottinghamshire.
Eel Migration

Whilst eels don’t usually feature in people’s top ten favourite wild species, they are an important part of the natural ecosystem due to their habit of feeding on dead and decaying animals, helping to recycle nutrients. Eels themselves are an important food source for otters and birds such as herons and have an amazing lifecycle. Having been spawned around 3500 miles away in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda, they spend around 18 months floating on ocean currents towards the coasts of Europe and North Africa before entering river systems in spring, often utilising Spring Tides to aid their journeys.

Eel Notts wt cpt Jack Perks

© Jack Perks

Having spent anything from 5 to 20 years feeding and growing, the adults then swim back across the Atlantic to spawn.

The European Eel once thrived across Europe but it is currently classified as ‘critically endangered’, with numbers down by as much as 90% over the past 40 years due to impacts such as climate change, barriers to migration, destruction of habitat, illegal fishing and disease.

To help boost their numbers in Nottinghamshire the Wildlife Trust, with the support of EDF Energy, which operates the West Burton and Cottam Power Stations and advice from the Sustainable Eel Group, installed a new eel pass at Idle Valley Nature reserve last year.

The structure is designed to enable young eels to move safely between the River Idle and Belmoor Lake which should provide an ideal habitat for the eels to develop into adults. The eel pass was installed by Aquatic Control Engineering based in Rampton, Notts. The company specialises in the supply and installation of specialist equipment for the water industry such as pumps, penstocks, weirs and floodgates as well as fish and eel passage equipment.

Speaking about the project Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s head of Communications Erin McDaid said: “As we mark the 1st anniversary of the installation of the eel pass we are hopeful that it will boost eel numbers at the Idle Valley in the long-term and that these important fish will recover in number along the River Idle and throughout the Trent Valley.  We were delighted to be part of such an important project, working with two long-term supporters in EDF Energy and Aquatic Control Engineering.”

The structure effectively provides a safe, wet, gradual slope so that young eels can move out of the river into the lake where they can grow until it’s time for them to breed. Sadly, due to modification of river channels to prevent flooding and to allow for navigation, many stretches of river are blocked with man-made structures which young eels find difficult and sometimes impossible to get past.

The work at Idle Valley is part of a huge programme of work which is underway across Europe to help restore eel populations by restoring wetlands and removing barriers to the eels’ migration routes.

The eel pass and an information panel about the project and these amazing creatures can be viewed on a short walk around Belmoor Lake at Idle Valley Nature Reserve. Details of all the Trust’s nature reserves and events can be found at www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org

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