‘Spawn to be Wild’ project using baby eels to teach children about challenges facing our wildlife

An exciting new learning project called ‘SPAWN TO BE WILD’ funded by Bristol Water and run by Avon Wildlife Trust, brings baby eels that have already travelled over 4,000 miles from the mysterious Sargasso Sea into North Somerset schools.

Schoolchildren  from Yatton Junior School and St Andrew’s Primary in Congresbury , as well as Wrington Primary Schools will be carefully nurturing the baby eels, known as elvers, before releasing them into Blagdon Lake in the Chew Valley.

Whilst the eels are growing in their classroom tanks, the schoolchildren will learn about their fascinating lifecycle and the challenges they face.  After two-year ‘s drifting on currents across the Atlantic from  the Sargasso Sea to our shores,  the tiny eels  make their way up into our rivers, streams and lakes where they can spend anything between 6 – 20 years before making the return trip back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

The European Eel (Anguilla anguilla), is critically endangered, suffering a 95% decline in numbers since the 1970s – making its other name, the Common Eel, sadly inaccurate.  Weirs, locks, dams and flood-defences can all act as impassable obstacles to this tiny creature’s heroic journey – pollution, over-fishing and parasite infections  are other factors in their decline . The eel’s epic journey and the obstacles it must overcome, provides a compelling example of an increasing challenge that faces all wildlife today – the lack of connectivity across intensively-farmed land or through and around the concrete and tarmac of our towns and cities.

The project forms part of Bristol Water’s catchment management work to improve water courses and supports Avon Wildlife Trust’s ‘Living Landscape’ and learning strategy working to restore and create a network of connecting corridors, habitats and migration routes across our landscape – both in the countryside and urban areas. These ‘Living Landscapes’ will enable eels and many other wildlife species to live their lives and get about their business just as our transport network allows us humans to.

Bristol Water’s Environment Manager ,Patric Bulmer said:  “Spawn to be Wild is capturing children’s imaginations and helping them to understand their natural environment , and the impacts both negative and positive that we have on eels. This partnership with Avon Wildlife Trust is delivering benefits for wildlife and for schoolchildren.”

Avon Wildlife Trust’s Learning Development Manager Jo Morris said: “Children and teachers are really enjoying the ‘Spawn to be Wild’ project. It is great for them to have the tanks in their classrooms, and to learn about the eels’ fascinating lifecycle and the challenges they face. We are pleased to be working again with Bristol Water and schools  on the ‘Spawn to be Wild’ project. It really does demonstrate the importance of habitats and the need for creating connections when habitats are increasingly becoming fragmented or disrupted by human activity.”

Clean rivers, streams and lakes are essential sources for our human drinking water – thriving wildlife is one key indicator of the quality and available quantity of that supply. As Bristol Water  clearly recognises – for as well as supporting the Spawn to be Wild project, the company is pioneering practical ways to help get the eel off the ‘critically endangered’ list –  including an ingenious ‘eel pass’ which allows the fish to wriggle up and over the dam wall at Blagdon Lake.

The project could not have been undertaken without support from the Severn and Wye Smokery who  loaned us the specialist  tanks needed  and UK Glass Eels, who supplied the elvers.

For more information please call Avon Wildlife Trust’s Learning Development Manager, Jo Morris on 0117 9177270 or 07799 096649.