Baby eels teach Bristol children about challenges facing our wildlife

Friday 17th April 2015

spawn to be wildSpawn to be Wild

'SPAWN TO BE WILD' - an exciting learning project run in partnership by Avon Wildlife Trust and Bristol Water brings baby eels that have already travelled over 4,000 miles from the mysterious Sargasso Sea into Bristol schools.

Now in its second year, schoolchildren from Bristol schools will be carefully nurturing the baby eels, known as elvers, before releasing them into Blagdon Lake in the Chew Valley. Schools taking part are:
• Victoria Park Primary School (Bedminster)
• Cheddar Grove Primary School (Bedminster Down)
• Whitehall Primary School (Whitehall)
• Oasis Academy Connaught (Knowle West)

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 of 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.

Avon Wildlife Trust's Learning Development Manager Kate Marsh said: " This fantastic project demonstrates the importance of habitats and the need for creating connections when habitats are increasingly becoming fragmented or disrupted by human activity. The enthusiasm from the children is palpable. You never know, these children could be inspired to be the environmentalists of the future."

Mr Taylor, a teacher from Cheddar Grove Primary School, said, "I’m surprised how mesmerising they are and thrilled the children are so captivated by them. We are going to put right their bad public image, while protecting them in this school."

The project forms part of Bristol Water's catchment management work to improve water courses and supports Avon Wildlife Trust's '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 Environmental Officer Sophie Edwards said: " The European Eel is critically endangered, meaning it is under greater threat than the snow leopard or tiger, and just as vulnerable as a panda. Bristol Water has a regulatory commitment under the National Environment Programme to prevent entrapment of eels in our abstractions and allow eel migration where passage is blocked. The kids taking part in Spawn to be Wild are really helping us achieve this goal."

Spawn to be Wild is an innovative measure to educate children and carry out restocking at our lakes at the same time. It is fantastic to deliver this project in partnership with Avon Wildlife Trust, with support from the European Sustainable Eel Group and Bridgwater College. The children are so excited when the tank with elvers arrive as the eel is quite an enigmatic species. Avon Wildlife Trust deliver the educational part of the programme, teaching them about the life cycle of the eel, the water cycle and the natural environment. The project will finish in a month’s time with a field trip and release at our lake in Blagdon.

Steven Smith, Recreation Manager at Bristol Water, installed the tanks in the schools added “A key part of Bristol Water’s role is to raise awareness of the environment and the need to support its protection. This project, which connects children directly with the natural environment, is central to our work”.

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 European Sustainable Eel Group and Bridgewater College.

For more information, please call Avon Wildlife Trust's Communications Manager Sam Allen on 0117 917 7278/samallen@avonwildlifetrust.org.uk

For further information about Bristol Water please contact Bristol Water's Press and Public Relations Officer Rob Ellis by emailing Rob.Ellis@bristolwater.co.uk or by calling 0117 953 2014 - 07810856862