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An interesting grayling story

All may not be well on the Irwell


"Are grayling really a native Irwell fish?"

Besides being a keen grayling angler, I am also a member of the Grayling Society, trustee of the Grayling Conservation Trust, and recorder for fish for the Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Society, that has been keeping precise records of all animal species found in these two (traditional) counties for well over a century. In Lancashire the only rivers that we have long known to have a population of grayling are the Ribble and its tributary the Hodder. These fish almost certainly have their origins from fish introduced by the monks of Whalley Abbey, who had a fish farm by the (Burnley) Calder close to its confluence with the Ribble. No L&CFS report mentions the Irwell, the huge Mersey tributary, as holding grayling, and in his book The Grayling Angler John Roberts, aided by David Liversedge, the then secretary of the Grayling Society, gave a list of all grayling rivers in the UK: Ribble and Hodder are there, Irwell is not.

I heard a rumour that some grayling had been introduced recently into the Irwell so I contacted the Environment Agency, told them that neither the Grayling Society nor L&CFS had any records of grayling from the Irwell and asked if stocking had been carried out.

It had. On 18 July 2018 the EA had put 1,500 grayling into two Irwell beats, at Irwell vale (SD 79029 20022) and at Stubbin (SD 79361 17905), 3,000 fish all together.

Kevin Nash of the EA informed me that in the book The Irwell: pleasant reminiscences of the 19th century and suggestions for improvement in the 20th, published in 1907, J. Corbett recorded grayling in the river. He also reported that Salford Friendly Angling Society, the oldest angling club in the world, had old records. Then I received an email from Mark Campion of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, informing me that he had seen someone catch a Grayling in an Irwell tributary, Bradshaw Brook, just outside Bolton. Other “reports” of grayling, caught in the Irwell system, are still coming in. So watch this space!

Two questions come to mind, though. Are grayling really a native Irwell fish? And if they are, and they are fairly widespread through the Irwell system, why did the EA feel that there was a need for 3,000 to be stocked from the fish-farm?
If they are native, then those wild grayling now living in the river will have the genetic trait of previous wild generations. To put in farmed fish threatens this genetic integrity.

Also, as is well known from the stocking of rivers like the Eden, Clyde and Tweed (via the Teviot), relatively few grayling are needed. For instance, the Eden was stocked with one bucketful. So why waste money stocking 3,000?
I would be grateful for any suggestions, as this issue is far, far from over.

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