1: Fish find a haven on the River Wear

The River Wear could soon become a haven for fish thanks to a low-tech scheme which will help to protect them from the effects of flooding and climate change.

Fisheries staff at the Environment Agency have been working with anglers and landowners at Houghall in County Durham to find a sustainable way of increasing coarse fish stocks without having to frequently restock the river.

By creating a refuge, the team hopes it will give the fish such as dace, chub, roach and barbel somewhere to shelter when the river is high and fast-flowing, and a good growing and nursery area for fry (young fish) when the water level drops during dry summers.

Heavy rain in the Wear catchment can lead to a fast-flowing river which flushes fish downstream, making it difficult for juvenile fish in particular to survive. Environment Agency fisheries officer Paul Frear said: “The haven is a sustainable alternative to restocking the river with fish every year. More fish in the Wear river system will help to attract more wildlife to the river banks, which in turn helps to make the area more attractive to local communities, anglers and tourists.

“This is a simple solution, which will help to bring benefits to both people and wildlife.”

The haven is a channel of open water which is linked to the main river and gives struggling fish somewhere to hide.

It also gives juveniles good conditions to mature in and give them the best chance of survival. As the climate changes in the future, the haven could become increasingly important for the survival of the Wear’s juvenile fish. Wild flowers and trees will be planted around the area to encourage more wildlife, and the team recently spotted a set of otter tracks.

2. Illegal eel nets discovered in the River Nene

The Environment Agency has removed four nets set to illegally catch eels from a river in Cambridgeshire during the first ever closed season.

Officers were called to a location on the River Nene, just downstream of Peterborough, by an RSPB warden who spotted the fyke nets. Fyke nets are a bag-shaped net held open by hoops. They are linked together in long chains and are used to catch eels in rivers.

Jake Reeds, environment monitoring officer at the Environment Agency, said: “The four nets were in a string formation set along the north bank of the tidal Nene. They were set without tags, which must be bought by eel fishermen and placed on each of their nets. They also didn’t have otter guards which puts at risk other protected animals on the river and not just eels.

“The closed season came into effect on 1 October to protect eels as they migrate down rivers and out to sea to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. The number of young eels returning to rivers across Europe has already fallen by 95 per cent and the Environment Agency will not tolerate the setting of these nets during the closed season.”

The six-month closed season was imposed by the Environment Agency following calls from the European Commission for all member states to take immediate steps to protect eels and halt their decline.

Fisheries enforcement staff are out searching for illegal nets and any found during the closed season, like the ones on the Nene, will be confiscated. Anyone found responsible for setting eel nets will be liable to prosecution.

The Environment Agency is also working on new legislation to cap the number of eels allowed to be caught outside of the closed season and anglers who catch eels by rod and line already have to return them.

Jake said: “We have seen the numbers of eels in our rivers fall over the last few decades, it is vital that we act now to reverse the decline and ensure there are healthy populations of the species in the future.”

Anyone who sees illegal nets in a river should contact the Environment Agency’s emergency hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

3: Working together to tackle river pollution in Berkshire

The Environment Agency and Thames Water have been working together to improve the quality of Slough’s rivers by launching a series of pollution prevention campaigns in the town’s most populated areas.

Environment officers were out this week giving advice and guidance to businesses in the Slough Trading Estate, which is located between the Chalvey Ditches and the Salthill Stream.

These visits highlighted the potential for urban diffuse pollution to cause damage to the natural environment. This is pollution from homes, town centres, industrial estates and transport routes that is washed down the surface water drains and flows into the river, damaging the environment. Guidance on companies’ legal responsibilities and good environmental practices were also given.

Sites on industrial estates can be significant contributors to urban diffuse pollution of watercourses by surface water runoff. The Environment Agency regulate, and provide advice and support to, businesses to improve actual and potential pollution from these sites. High risk activities include oil and chemical storage and handling, car washing where runoff flows to surface water drains, and sewer misconnections.

Jc Hall, a Senior Environment Officer, said: “Diffuse pollution from industrial estates is a common and serious problem. Often, the pollution results from a lack of knowledge about the premises, such as knowing which drains link to the foul sewer and which link to the surface water system, which run directly into the river.”

Within the last few years, The Chalvey Ditches and the Salthill Stream have been devastated by a number of industrial pollution incidents, killing fish and invertebrates and causing long-term damage to the river environment. The Environment Agency’s priority is to prevent pollution incidents occurring again in the future and the campaign has been designed to inform companies of simple steps and precautions they can take to help achieve this.

The Myrke Ditch, to the south of Slough, has also suffered from pollution incidents. However this pollution is caused by the build up of fats, oils and grease being put into drains, where it accumulates in the foul sewer system and causes blockages. These blockages cause the sewage to backup and overspill into the Myrke Ditch.

Thames Water and the Environment Agency are working with residents and businesses in the town centre to increase awareness of the detrimental effects of putting fats, oils and grease down the drain.

Dan Horsley, an Environmental Monitoring Officer, said: “Despite its urban nature, recent fish surveys on the Salthill Stream have shown at least ten species of fish to be present, including chub, dace, roach, tench and perch.

“These surveys highlight the potential for fish within the stream. However, certain species such as dace are particularly sensitive to poor water quality and this may be restricting any increase to the population.”

It is hoped that through this pollution prevention campaign the number of fish and other animal species in these streams will increase, making the streams better for people and wildlife.

Howard Brett, Thames Water’s Wastewater Regulation Manager, said: “Too often, there’s a view that once something is ‘down the drain’, then the problem has gone away.

“But that isn’t always the case, whether it be yard drainage on industrial sites or cooking fat being poured down the sink. What we’re trying to do is inform and educate our customers about the consequences of this approach, which although may be unintentional, is damaging to the environment.”