This #WorldWetlandsDay, some of the BART Team will be spending the day at Steart Marshes in Somerset continuing a vitally important project to monitor population levels of the European eel in this important wetland. This 2 week project, led by Westcountry Rivers Trust and funded by the Environment Agency, will assess how the eel use the Steart as important feeding zones, life habitats or as part of their migratory route.
Opened in 2014, Steart Marshes is managed by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust and the Environment Agency and has been labelled as ‘a wild, wetland landscape for the future that helps people and wildlife adapt to climate change.’ Rising sea levels are predicted to completely flood thousands of hectares of saltmarsh and mudflats over the next 50 years. At some places, such as Steart Marshes, it is possible to realign the coastline, allowing vital new saltmarsh to form. As with all wetlands, the area provides habitat for a rich mix of wetland wildlife including otters, egrets, owls waders and wildfowl and its creeks are a nursery for the fry of important fish stocks. Not only this, but the habitat is a vital carbon storage area, absorbing tonnes of climate-polluting carbon as it matures.
We will update on the success of the project as it unfolds but we are pleased to have found the first evidence of eels using 2 different habitats within the site so far. We were joined in these findings by a familiar face from TV – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who came to learn more about Westcountry Rivers Trusts and BART’s conservation and research efforts. We look forward to seeing the plight of the eel on our screens in 2018 as part of Hugh’s new series exploring the Westcountry!
Thanks to funding from the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, BART will be working with 8 Riverfly monitors, 5 community groups, 5 schools and 5 farmers to monitor chemical water quality in their local rivers throughout the catchment over the next year.
This monitoring is testing for phosphates and nitrates with the global research project Freshwater Watch. Although naturally occurring in our rivers, concentrations of these elements can be increased by both agricultural and urban run-off and can lead to harmful algal blooms which strip waterbodies of oxygen and result in fish kills. Some of you may already have conducted Freshwater Watch monitoring as part of the hugely successful WaterBlitz 2016 event but this is a further opportunity for people to monitor phosphates, nitrates and turbidity in their local river. This biological and chemical monitoring will provide invaluable data to pick up local issues and aid us in directing future conservation work to improve our rivers.
The Somerset Frome Diffuse Pollution Pathways project will use a risk grading approach to develop sediment pathway maps for the upper Somerset Frome (South of the town of Frome). To date, statutory monitoring programmes and local knowledge has been used to identify the main pressures and likely reasons for failure to meet water quality standards. However, this existing data can often be insufficient for providing evidence for effectively prioritising and targeting works which will reduce sediment load and nutrients entering the watercourse.
Thanks to funding from the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, the project will involve a series of wet weather walkovers to identify pollution pathways using the Source Pathway Receptor Principle. These pathways can be identified by colour changes from ditch, road or tributary inputs into main streams or simply the colouration of the input itself if the main stream is already coloured.
Data collected at all sites will include GPS coordinates and photographs and where possible pollution events will be traced to source. The walkover survey findings will be graded according to their severity and risk to sediment entering into a watercourse.
Useful data sets including LIDAR images and the location data collected will be used to create maps of the area. The completed risk maps will highlight areas within the project area where it is likely that different cropping, better soil management or physical interventions would have the greatest impact of reducing soil and nutrients entering the river.
Stakeholder engagement will be an important part in developing solutions identified by this project. BART will engage with the general public, landowners, farmers and local businesses to increase awareness of the issues surrounding erosion risk and diffuse pollution as groundwork for future interventions.
What can you do to help?
We can’t be everywhere in the catchment at once but we are keen to get as much data as possible to build up knowledge for future improvements. If you are passing the area please help us by:
1. Reporting areas where sediment is entering the river. This may be from streams, tributaries or ditches and is characterised by a marked change in the water colour.
2. Reporting areas where ditches are overflowing or roads are turning into virtual streams whenever it rains and adding pollutants into the river
Please email Jess Grant at BART (Jess@bristolavonriverstrust.org) with the following information:
• Name and contact number/email address
• Grid ref or best possible location description.
• Weather conditions leading up to the event.
• Photo if possible
• Description of what was seen.
Thank you from BART!
Following a significant native white-clawed crayfish kill on the By Brook, Wiltshire in August/September, it has been confirmed that the crayfish sampled were infected with Aphanomyces astaci, which is the water mould (fungus) that causes crayfish plague.
Crayfish plague is a deadly disease that infects and kills our native white-clawed crayfish. The invasive non-native signal crayfish can carry the disease, but is not affected by it. The fungal spores can easily be transported to other watercourses on damp equipment, by other animals or by water transfer. As the spores cannot be seen with the naked eye, it is easy to transfer the disease without knowing it.
It can take the disease several weeks to spread among a crayfish population, so you may see dead or dying crayfish in the river for some time. As a result, the spores could still be present and could easily be transferred to other watercourses that could have susceptible native crayfish present. The disease is specific to crayfish, therefore there are no implications to human or other animal health.
We are therefore urging people that are visiting, or working in or near the river, to follow strict biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of the plague being transferred to other watercourses in the area. The best methods are to follow the ‘Check, clean, dry’ campaign, and/or use an approved chemical disinfectant to kill any fungal spores.
More information on good biosecurity measures and non-native species can be found on the GB Non-native Species Secretariat (NNSS) website.
If you see dead or dying crayfish or need to report another environmental incident, please call the Environment Agency’s incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.
If you need further advice or information, please contact the Environment Agency at wessexenquiries@environment-ag
Please can I ask you to forward this email onto any interested parties in the area.
Fisheries, Biodiversity & Geomorphology
The last month has seen two of our Riverfly Partnership monitors coming to us with a strange finding – lamprey larvae (or ‘ammocoetes’ as they are also known). One of the most primitive vertebrates alive today, lampreys are fascinating parasitic fish that are jawless and attach themselves to other fish to feed on blood and scales (although at the larvae stage they are filter feeding and not parasitic). They are similar in shape to eels and have a series of uncovered round gill openings (known as gill pores) on the sides of the head.
Recent reports have stated that lampreys are returning to rivers where they had not been previously seen for 200 years. A combination of poor water quality, a reduction in available habitat and man-made barriers to migration are all thought to have been responsible for this decline.
You can read more on the decline of the lamprey here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/04/older-than-the-dinosaurs-lamprey-fish-return-to-uk-rivers-after-200-years
All of our findings have been sent to the UK Lamprey Watch, a project which has been set up to help to conserve and protect the UK’s lamprey species.
If you find a lamprey in your river, please help by recording your find at the following link!: https://envscot-csportal.org.uk/lampreywatch/