A Close Encounter with Eels

(c) Nick Turner

This summer we’ve given school children the chance to have a close encounter with some intriguing wildlife which has kept them company in their classroom before being given a helping hand to the next stage of life. Eels may not be cute or cuddly, but they’ve been the temporary visitors to classrooms in five schools across our region – and a sure hit with the children. Our eels project – called Spawn to be Wild - is in its fifth year and aims to give children a chance to get up close and personal with wildlife and learn how they can play a part in protecting our natural environment.

275 pupils in five schools took part this year and each class cared for a tank of European eel young – known as elvers – over a few weeks, learning about the lifecycle, incredible migration journey and threats facing this critically endangered and fascinating wild animal. Baby European eels travel on oceanic currents from the Sargasso Sea to European coastlines – a journey of almost 5,000 kilometres. Here, the eels transform into elvers and make their journey to freshwater rivers, streams and lakes where they grow to adult size before returning to the Sargasso Sea to spawn after many years. Eels can reach a metre in length and live to around 85 years old – but as the children we worked with discovered, they face many dangers including pollution, loss of habit, illegal fishing and other dangers.

The children had wonderful, creative ideas about how to protect and save European eels and some unique perspectives on their temporary classroom guests. “Before they arrived, I thought they would be like tiny little particles. Now I think they look like rolled up fish, like little worms,” said one pupil.

Laura Colman, Learning Programme Manager at Avon Wildlife Trust, oversees the project and notices the impact it has on children – some of whom have had only limited chances to get out to wild places and experience wildlife before now.

“Observing and learning about these mysterious eels in their classroom, and then being able to release them back into the wild, is a powerful way to help children connect to nature and understand the rich wildlife that’s around them here in Avon. It’s a powerful first step to supporting them to play their part in caring about and protecting the natural world they are going to inherit when they grow up.”

To shouts of “I’ll miss you!” and “Have a good life Freddie!” the children gently released their eels into Blagdon Lake and were full of new learning, ideas and quite a lot of affection for these misunderstood, mysterious creatures.

We’re grateful for the funding support of Bristol Water which makes this project possible and gives children a chance to get to know the wonders of the European eel.