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Water Level Management Photo by: Allard Martinius

New Fish Passes on the Derwent

landholders need not be significantly affected by beaver presence on stretches of river passing through their land. Dams can be modified or removed to reduce or negate flooding effects, and deciduous trees can be effectively protected from beaver coppicing by wire grills placed around their trunks. Coniferous trees are generally ignored by beavers.

Beavers can feed on arable crops if they are present within a territory, but damage is usually financially insignificant, highly localised and can be prevented by standard stock or electric fencing. The proposals for a beaver reintroduction in Wales include the establishment of a network of trained beaver managers that would be available to deal with beaver related problems. This would include provision for the trapping and relocation or humane dispatch of ‘rogue’ beavers.

Under normal conditions flood embankments further than 10m from watercourses tend not be vulnerable to beaver burrowing, but beavers can create burrows in flood defences closer than this or during prolonged periods of flooding where embankments are the only dry land available. It is however recognized that other burrowing animals such as rabbits and badgers pose a greater threat as they are not constrained to suitable stretches of water nearby. Measures can be taken to protect flood embankments from animal burrowing, and although this can be costly the need for it would generally be restricted to a very small proportion of a catchment.

Any reintroduction of beavers to Wales would include a comprehensive plan for their future management. Through natural recolonisation and reintroduction programmes beavers have returned to 24 European states within their former natural range and no reintroduction has been reversed.

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Our rivers are the healthiest for over 20 years allowing otters, salmon and other wildlife to return to these improving waters for the first time since the industrial revolution. In the past the salmon, known as the King of Fish, and its smaller cousin, the sea trout, were unable to travel very far up the River Derwent because of a man-made weir near Swalwell, Gateshead, built during the Industrial Revolution.

The new fish pass on the Derwent will allow salmon, sea trout and eels swim up the river to spawn for the first time in more than 300 years. The fish pass will be closely monitored by underwater cameras to see how many fish are using it. We are also busy revitalising 9,000 miles of rivers by 2015 which will include habitat creation for endangered species such as water voles and fish passes to help fish navigate man-made obstacles like locks and weirs.

The project is funded by a partnership between the Environment Agency and Gateshead Council and includes the potential for a hydropower scheme in the future, should funds become available.

Over the past 25 years baby eel stocks in our rivers have fallen by 95 per cent. One reason for this is that man-made structures such as weirs and dams are stopping glass eels - young eels a few centimetres long - reaching the freshwater habitats where they mature. The Environment Agency has launched schemes - such as building fish passes - across England and Wales to help fish travel to their spawning grounds, including glass eels.

Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon said “I'm delighted to be opening this fish pass and would like to thank all those involved for their hard work in making it happen. Our rivers are vital for our environment and we’ve all got a role to play in making sure they are as healthy as they can be.

“By allowing salmon and sea trout to return this fish pass will create exciting new opportunities for fishing in the area and benefit the local economy. It shows that by working together we can make a difference and restore our rivers so they can be enjoyed by people everywhere.”

Jon Shelley, project manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We’re delighted to have completed the fish pass and hope it brings significant benefits to the local economy.

“By building this fish pass we are creating an affordable salmon and sea trout fishery within easy reach of Newcastle and Gateshead, and we hope local anglers will enjoy this. “We also hope that by including a special eel section in the fish pass we will help boost the number of eels in our rivers after a dramatic decline over the last 25 years.”

Gateshead Council cabinet member for transport and environment Cllr John McElroy said: “The River Derwent is at the centre of our plans to grow Gateshead’s rural economy. People think of Gateshead as being about The Sage Gateshead, Angel of the North or Metrocentre, but actually we’ve got some fantastic countryside teeming with wildlife. “This fish pass will not only be the latest in a long line of major improvements for wildlife, it also opens up exciting new opportunities for fishing in the upper reaches of the Derwent.”

The River Derwent upstream of the weir currently achieves ‘moderate’ ecological standards under the Water Framework Directive - EU legislation governing the water quality in rivers. By enabling fish to pass upstream, the fish pass is expected to improve the river to ‘good’, which is a target of the directive.

The fish pass was officially opened by Minister Richard Benyon on the 17th July 2012.


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