Baby eels teach children about challenges facing our wildlife

Monday 5th May 2014

Spawn to be Wild at Wrington Primary schoolSpawn to be Wild at Wrington Primary school

'Spawn to be Wild' - the latest exciting learning project run by Avon Wildlife Trust and funded by Bristol Water, brings baby eels that have already travelled over 4,000 miles from the mysterious Sargasso Sea into North Somerset schools

Schoolchildren from Yatton Primary and St Andrew's Primary in Congresbury , as well as Wrington Primary Schools will be carefully nurturing the baby eels, known as elvers, before releasing them into Blagdon Lake in the Chew Valley.

Whilst the eels are growing in their classroom tanks, the schoolchildren will learn about their fascinating lifecycle and the challenges they face. After two-year 's drifting on currents across the Atlantic from the Sargasso Sea to our shores, the tiny eels make their way up into our rivers, streams and lakes where they can spend anything between 6 - 20 years before making the return trip back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

The European Eel (Anguilla anguilla), is critically endangered, suffering a 95% decline in numbers since the 1970s - making its other name, the Common Eel, sadly inaccurate. Weirs, locks, dams and flood-defences can all act as impassable obstacles to this tiny creature's heroic journey - pollution, over-fishing and parasite infections are other factors in their decline . The eel's epic journey and the obstacles it must overcome, provides a compelling example of an increasing challenge that faces all wildlife today - the lack of connectivity across intensively-farmed land or through and around the concrete and tarmac of our towns and cities.

The project forms part of Bristol Water's catchment management work to improve water courses and supports our 'Living Landscape' and learning strategy working to restore and create a network of connecting corridors, habitats and migration routes across our landscape - both in the countryside and urban areas. These 'Living Landscapes' will enable eels and many other wildlife species to live their lives and get about their business just as our transport network allows us humans to.

Bristol Water's Environment Manager, Patric Bulmer said: "Spawn to be Wild is capturing children's imaginations and helping them to understand their natural environment , and the impacts both negative and positive that we have on eels. This partnership with Avon Wildlife Trust is delivering benefits for wildlife and for schoolchildren."

Avon Wildlife Trust's Learning Development Manager Jo Morris said: "Children and teachers are really enjoying the 'Spawn to be Wild' project. It is great for them to have the tanks in their classrooms, and to learn about the eels' fascinating lifecycle and the challenges they face. We are pleased to be working again with Bristol Water and schools on the 'Spawn to be Wild' project. It really does demonstrate the importance of habitats and the need for creating connections when habitats are increasingly becoming fragmented or disrupted by human activity."

Clean rivers, streams and lakes are essential sources for our human drinking water - thriving wildlife is one key indicator of the quality and available quantity of that supply. As Bristol Water clearly recognises - for as well as supporting the Spawn to be Wild project, the company is pioneering practical ways to help get the eel off the 'critically endangered' list - including an ingenious 'eel pass' which allows the fish to wriggle up and over the dam wall at Blagdon Lake.

The project could not have been undertaken without support from the Severn and Wye Smokery who loaned us the specialist tanks needed and UK Glass Eels, who supplied the elvers.

More than 200 pupils are taking part in the project and sharing their work with the rest of the school at assemblies - reaching almost 1,000 schoolchildren in total. After caring for the eels, schoolchildren will go on a field trip to Bristol Water's Blagdon Visitor Centre before releasing the young eels into the lake in the third and fourth weeks in May.

Children will document their 'Spawn to be Wild' progress through diaries and blogs at Avon Wildlife Trust's wildschools.org.uk. 'Spawn to be Wild' supports teaching across the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum and gives schools the chance to play their part in an important conservation project.

See our Spawn to be Wild page fore more information about our exciting project.

Visit our Wild Schools pages or email schools@avonwildlifetrust.org.uk for more details about our educational opportunities in the classroom, at Folly Farm Centre and our 'Feed Bristol' site.

EELY GREAT FACTS:

• The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is a type of catadromous fish, which means they migrate from fresh water to the sea to spawn;
• For centuries the eel's lifecycle was a mystery to people, even fishermen who regularly caught both the elvers and more mature stages did not realise they were related;
• In the early 1900s, a Danish researcher concluded that the Sargasso Sea, in the western Atlantic near the Bahamas, was the most likely spawning ground and that the baby eels then slowly drifted towards Europe on the Gulf Stream;
• After a journey of up to three years the baby eels metamorphose into transparent 'glass eels', enter estuaries - where they change again into elvers - and start migrating up stream;
• Bristol Water is working with the Environment Agency on eel passes, which allow the elvers to navigate through weirs. The first specially-designed trap is emptied every morning by Bristol Water staff into Blagdon Lake;
• The oldest ever recorded eel was 88 years old (age is measured by counting rings in its ear) ;
• Elvers are delicacies in many countries including Japan and Spain.
• In the UK, glass eels are hand-netted at night by fishermen on the River Severn for food or restocking programmes
• Elvers in captivity can be trained to feed at the same time, but will not breed in captivity.
• Visitors to the Festival of Nature on Bristol's Harbourside can see our elvers at the Avon Wildlife Trust marquee on June 14 and 15 - feeding time for the eels is at 12.30pm.