EA officials state:
“The fish survey carried out in the spring this year showed a decline in the number of silver fish caught. This does not necessarily mean that there has been a decline in fish stocks per se, just that that there were not so many caught in the survey areas. There were some large tench, large pike over 20lb and big perch caught in the survey. We believe the silver fish were shoaling around Welches Dam and will continue to closely monitor the fish population in future surveys.”
Local Pike Anglers’ Club officials point out that there were indeed a handful of large fish caught during surveys carried out at five locations on the Old Bedford and anglers have been catching a few as well – like the 19lb sample pictured above, caught by PAC member Mark Ross. But they also point out that roach and bream can’t all have cleared off to Welches Dam because the sluice downstream of Welney Bridge remains closed most of the time.
Further the PAC advise that the issue of siltation in the lower reaches, resulting from muddy water being allowed in from the tidal Ouse via the sluice at Salters Lode to replenish levels after abstraction, is a disaster waiting to happen. When the Bedford suffered a catastrophic fish kill in 2002 the experts blamed a build-up of silt. Toxins were released after the bed of the drain was disturbed by heavy rainfall. The same experts recommended dredging, and this took place on the Welney stretch the following year.
There’s anecdotal evidence water was being abstracted from the drain at the height of this summer’s drought.
The EA commented: “There has been a really dry summer and we needed to balance the demand for water for irrigation of food, public consumption and the needs of the environment.”
The PAC was not convinced: “How about an investigation into exactly where the water’s going..? Who’s abstracting it and why couldn’t irrigation reservoirs be topped up during the winter, to tide farmers through dry summers?” they ask.
The EA also said it operated an ongoing dredging programme. This winter, it plans to clear a 5km stretch of the upper drain at Sutton. “We should return to the Salter’s Lode section in the next two to three years,” they said, “However, we are reviewing the condition of this stretch to assess whether there is a more urgent need to do works before the planned cycle.”
Locals who know the water believe it needs action now, with dredging to restore depths to 6ft before a re-stocking programme.