New passes at Earsham and Mendham will help eels navigate our waterways

Volunteers installing eel passes in Earsham.

Volunteers installing eel passes in Earsham. - Credit: Archant

A group of volunteers have done their bit to help protect the country’s eel population by installing special structures to help them better navigate our area’s waterways.

A volunteer working on the eel passes in Earsham.

A volunteer working on the eel passes in Earsham. - Credit: Archant

A team from the River Waveney Trust under project manager Keith Lead have put two eel passes in the river - one at Earsham and another at Mendham.

They are designed to help eels and elvers swim upstream over stepped weirs and other structures which make it harder for them to get inland to freshwater where they breed.

River Waveney Trust trustee Mr Lead said: “The life cycle of the eel is very interesting and not that well-known.

“They breed in South America and the little elvers, which only grow to up to 75mm in length over one to three years, come across to Europe on the Gulf Stream.

“Eventually they end up on the shores of England or elsewhere in Europe and they travel up rivers and grow in fresh water.

“But they need to get over the structures in our waterways.”

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The group has been working with, and on behalf of the Environment Agency, which has £25,000 to spend on four passes, including two more at Wainford and Bungay.

The passes are made up of a channel filled with brush-like bristles through which a trickling flow of water can pass.

They crawl upstream through the material inside the channel in order to move up the pass.

And it is all part of a country-wide initiative to protect the eel, which is considered ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Their numbers were absolutely decimated back in the 1970s,” said Mr Lead. “They just disappeared from the rivers. People used to catch them and transport them to London for jellied eels.

“The passes are being put in to try and encourage them to come back and re-establish the population, there’s been a big push to put them in.”

And with the eels expected to come back to British waters any time now, the Trust volunteers are hopeful their hard work will soon start to pay off.