Amanda Morgan is one of our volunteer co-ordinators who works with our heritage, environment, engineering and hydrology teams. She's been keeping busy helping eels out on the River Lea lately and she's been kind enough to tell us all about it.
Located far away from the hustle and bustle of London is the Sargasso Sea, in the north Atlantic. Taking its name from the free-floating Sargassum seaweed, the sea is uniquely defined only by ocean currents and it provides a home for a fantastic variety of marine species.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the wildlife of our canals and rivers – well, the answer is the humble eel! Beginning and ending their life in the Sargasso Sea, Anguilla anguilla, to give the European eel its official name, spends a proportion of its life in the UK, entering the network through areas such as the River Lea.
Classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with ‘recruitment’ (returning elvers) numbers suggested to have declined by up to 95% over the last 25-30 years into some tributaries of the Thames, this summer sees the official opening of the eel pass on Lea Bridge Weir.
Designed to aid the passage of elvers along this stretch of water, its usage and success will be monitored by a team of volunteers, who will be assisting on a joint project with Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
ZSL already have a track record of eel monitoring projects, but this is the first time that the new pass will be monitored. After training, volunteers will visit site regularly to check the eel trap, and to measure and assess the elvers using the pass.
This ‘citizen science’ will help scientists to identify trends in annual recruitment, indeed data from ZSL’s other programmes have been used in Environment Agency eel management plans.
Volunteers are currently being recruited for this year’s scheme – no experience is required, just an interest in wildlife and the ability to commit to regular trap inspections (so you will need to live close by to Lea Bridge Weir in Clapton).
The initial training session will be taking place in mid-late May – so if you are interested, please contact Amanda Morgan. Just one more thing – the return boat trip to the Sargasso Sea is not included – the eels will be doing this part on their own!
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