Thames Catchment Community Eels Project

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 (TCCEP), it is a partnership between Thames21, the Thames Rivers TrustSouth 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.

Now you can play the project’s wonderful game to learn about eels. Help Eely on his journey from a tiny egg in the Sargasso Sea. Can you help Eely reach healthy habits in the River Thames and its tributaries? Just click on the graphic below to start playing!

Eel game

Running between December 2020 and March 2022, the Thames Catchment Community Eels Project 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. The project spanned 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 were the Pang and the Mole. These river catchments have an immense natural and cultural heritage, great for sustaining eels.

The European Eel
The European Eel

What did we do? – from surveys to school workshops


Working closely with the Zoological Society of London , Thames Estuary Partnership and the other project partners mentioned above, Thames21 helped to develop a standard methodology for citizen science eel barrier walkover surveys: ObstacEELS. The ObstacEELS programme trained volunteers to be part of our citizen science ‘Eel Force’, to take part in organised barrier walkover surveys in the Brent and Ravensbourne Catchments. Our incredible Eel Force learned to use an app to map and assess barriers that eels face to migration, such as weirs. This has consequently allowed the strategic prioritisation of barriers for future eel passage projects.

Our Eel Force in action in the Brent and Ravensbourne catchments!

You can see for yourself the results of the ObstacEELS surveys here and how the updated barrier data fed into the Thames Estuary Partnership’s Fish Migration Roadmap.

Have you seen a barrier recently that isn’t shown on the above maps? Visit this website and click on the tab at the bottom of the page labelled ‘Barrier works form – please submit your info here’ to log this information. Thank you for helping us keep the barrier dataset up to date!

Eel workshops and guided riverbank walks/talks

In addition to the ObstacEELS programme, the TCCEP saw the running of workshops for schools and eel riverbank walks/talks for the wider community to share the complex lifecycle of the European eel, teach people about their habitats and history as well as modern threats to their survival. Crucially, this education and engagement programme looked at what we in the conservation community can do to help.  

The TCCEP occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, so wherever possible, the project got communities outdoors and connecting with nature, in or by their local rivers, where eels spend the majority of their lives. 

For the school eel workshops and assemblies, the project had lots of eely exciting Educational ResourcesTake a look at the Eel Gallery, with all the artwork produced by schools!

If you would like to know more about volunteer training opportunities and other river activities we offer, please email Philly Nicholls.

Oli Back, one of our Eel Officers during the project, on a riverbank walk on the River Ravensbourne

Find out more

To find out even more about this project, you can:

Read Thames Estuary Partnership’s Blog: What Is R-eely Going On?

Listen to Talk of the Thames’ Podcast: What’s Eely Going on? Thames Catchment Community Eels Project

Read Natural Apptitude’s December Blog, Our app is making a splash in the Thames! – all about the River Obstacles app that is used during the citizen science eel barrier walkover surveys to map and assess barriers to eel migration

Read the ObstacEELS case study in the Environmental Scientist’s October 2021 edition – the whole edition explores the phenomenon of animal migration, so lots can be learnt about other migratory species too!

Check out ZSL’s River Obstacles Case Study: A way of working with citizen scientists to systematically survey river obstacles