An ancient and protected fish species and a critically endangered eel have been given a boost in the Forest of Dean.
Blackpool Brook which runs through Blakeney Village is an important habitat for migrating fish and eel, but there are no recent records of lamprey, an ancient and protected fish species, being seen upstream of Blakeney Weir.
A new pass has been added alongside the weir to help River Lamprey and European Eel travel over it and access further potential spawning grounds.
The pass was jointly funded by the Environment Agency and Foresters’ Forest, a Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Programme in the Forest of Dean. It was also supported by Natural England and Awre Parish Council.
Chris Bainger Fisheries Technical Specialist for the Environment Agency said: "This is an exciting example of local partnership working and investment to help create a better place for two species of fish whose populations are in widespread decline, the European Eel and River Lamprey.
“We hope this is the start of something special to engage the local community and raise awareness to help return these two iconic species to sustainable levels here in Gloucestershire.
“Both the eel and lamprey undertake complex migrations and each depend upon open access from our oceans and rivers to reach their destinations to complete their lifecycles. The weir in Blakeney has blocked one of those pathways and has been a barrier to upstream migration.
“Worldwide we are starting to realise the very significant threat and impact that barriers to migration have on our fish populations. When fish cannot reach their habitat, they can't reproduce and rebuild their populations.
“This pass should significantly help both the eel and River Lamprey gain access to and thrive in the rich water environment of the Forest of Dean.
“Both these fish had a rich cultural heritage and history in supporting the people of the forest before the time of the Industrial Revolution. Eels and lampreys were so numerous they were an important food source and supported the local economy as a delicacy that was distributed throughout the country, including the Royal Courts.
“It is now our time to help eel and lamprey gain access to the forest once again. This fish pass project as part of the Foresters’ Forest programme should go some way to help restore those populations to those historic levels.
The pass is part of the Foresters’ Forest Waterways and Ponds project which aims to help restore ecological connectivity across the forest and encourage the recovery of iconic species that rely on water.
Alisa Swanson from Natural England and leader of the Foresters’ Forest Waterways and Ponds project, said: “Thank you to all the organisations involved in making this happen, and to Blakeney residents who have supported the new pass.
“Eel and lamprey may not be the most attractive fish to look at, but they are an important part of the ecosystem and a species which has had a long-held association with the area.
“Whilst there is still more to do and species will still face barriers further upstream, we hope that the new pass at Blakeney is an important first step in helping eel and lamprey to expand their habitat here in the Forest of Dean.”
Later in 2019 Bournemouth University will be carrying out a series of lamprey surveys across the Forest of Dean to establish the status of lamprey populations. There will be opportunities in the near future for volunteers to get involved with monitoring and looking after the eel pass and then in 2020 for volunteers to get involved with undertaking lamprey spawning watches.
To volunteer with the Waterways and Ponds project please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waterways and Ponds is one of 38 projects in the Foresters’ Forest Heritage Lottery Funded programme and is led by Natural England.