Helping the long-term survival of the European eel is the focus of a joint project by several Thames river catchment management groups. Called the Thames Catchment Community Eels project, it is a partnership between Thames21, the Thames Rivers Trust, South East Rivers Trust and Action for the River Kennet.
Once common, European eels are now a critically endangered species. Classed as a fish and growing to usually 40cm for males or up to a metre for females, they spend most of their lives in rivers. To fulfil their complex life cycle, they need to move freely up and down river systems before returning to the Sargasso Sea to spawn after they reach maturity.
This project spans several river catchments (including the Brent and Ravensbourne) which have an immense natural and cultural heritage to sustain eels. It was one of the first environmental projects to be awarded a grant by the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund in late 2020, to kick-start nature recovery and to tackle climate change.
Working closely with the Zoological Society of London and Thames Estuary Partnership, Thames21 will help develop a standard methodology for citizen science eel barrier walkover surveys. These will enable trained volunteers to assess and map barriers to eel migration. This information will allow strategic prioritisation for future eel projects.
The project will run workshops and activities for schools and groups to share the complex lifecycles of eels, teach people about their habitats and history as well as modern threats to their survival. Crucially, this education and engagement programme will look at what we in the conservation community can do to help.
Running between December 2020 and March 2022, the project spans a wide area from the Ravensbourne and Brent catchments to the 45-mile long River Kennet, which is the largest tributary of the River Thames. The other rivers included in the project are the Pang and the Mole.
How you can help
The project is looking for volunteers to train to be part of our citizen science Eel Force, to take part in organised barrier walkover surveys on the Brent and Ravensbourne Catchments. You’ll learn to use an App to assess barriers eels face to migration, such as weirs.
Schools can also get involved by holding school eel workshops and assemblies and the wider community can take part in eel riverbank walks/talks and workshops.
Wherever possible, the Thames Catchment Community Eels Project we will be getting communities outdoors and connecting with nature, in or by their local rivers, where eels spend the majority of their lives.
The delivery for our outreach will adapt as we navigate the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like to know more about volunteer training opportunities and eely exciting children’s educational resources we are offering, email Oli Back.