Eel and chips

Posted: 27th September, 2018

Aiming to improve eel access and help this Critically Endangered species, conservationists from WWT Slimbridge are microchipping wild eels.

Eels that hatch in the Sargasso Sea drift thousands of miles across the Atlantic to Europe. Young eels ‘elvers’ live in the wetlands of the Severn Vale for five to twenty years before maturing into silver eels and returning to the North Atlantic Ocean. Much of their wetland habitat has been lost or degraded, and the eels’ movements prevented by obsolete industrial structures like weirs, pumps and sluices in the waterways.

WWT Head of Reserves Management Emma Hutchins said: “WWT is famed for its conservation work with endangered migratory birds around the world, but the most endangered species living on our nature reserves is the European eel, also a master of long-distance.

“As one of the biggest wetland areas within the Severn Estuary under conservation management, Slimbridge is an ideal place to enhance for eels and centre this conservation project.

“Numbers of glass eels returning to the UK have decreased by 95% in the past 40 years and they urgently need our help.

The microchips will automatically set off a reader placed on the main ditch leaving WWT Slimbridge, recording when each individual has decided to migrate to the ocean to spawn. The microchips can also be read by a hand held reader, this will enable researchers to understand how eels are using the ditches and pools around Slimbridge.

Slimbridge is situated on the banks of the Severn, a very important river system for eels. This study is part of a broader eel conservation project being undertaken by WWT in partnership with Bristol Water.

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