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New salmon spawning ground to be created

New salmon spawning ground to be created

Above: Some of the new gravel being added to Shipley Bridge on the River Avon.

New salmon spawning grounds will be created in rivers in Devon and West Somerset, funded by South West Water and implemented by the Westcountry Rivers Trust. The undertaking forms part of the National Environment Programme, a project which aims to increase the number of salmon and trout by creating gravel beds, which these fish need to build nests for their eggs.

The rivers in question, which will see hundreds of tonnes of graved added, include: the Avon, the Teign and the Haddeo. These new habitats will be monitored by the Westcountry Rivers Trust and researchers from Plymouth University to gain an insight into the number of salmon and trout with past years, along with seeing the movement of the gravel along the river.

400 tonnes of gravel have been added to a 2.5 mile section of the Avon.

Matt Healey, Land and Fisheries Officer for the Westcountry Rivers Trust said: “Gravel beds are essential for salmon and trout to spawn. They seek out these habitats to cut redds because when water travels through the gravel it carries oxygen to the eggs, which they need to survive.  If there isn’t enough gravel, then there is limited spawning opportunity, and if there is too much silt in the gravels the eggs become smothered and don’t survive. These gaps between the stones also help create environments for invertebrates, providing food for the fish.

“We introduced some new gravel to these sites last summer and are already seeing how it is settling into the river bed, creating natural habitats in the river. By carrying out the work on a bigger scale this year, we are hopeful that we will see an increase in fish numbers in the coming years.”

By adding stones of different sizes, the Westcountry Rivers Trust aims to make the new habitats as natural as possible. Plymouth University researchers are electronically tagging some of the stones, so they can monitor how the gravel moves over time. This research will help scientists understand how far the stones move, and where they settle, to assess how successful the project has been in creating spawning habitats.

David Gilvear, Professor of River Science at the University of Plymouth, said: "The effect of dams on reducing fish spawning habitats due to them trapping gravel has long been known, but there have been few examples of trying to address this. This project is therefore to be applauded. It is important as well to learn from the project, in order to maximise the success of future gravel augmentation projects. We feel privileged to be providing the scientific expertise to be able to monitor the movement of the introduced gravels and the creation of gravel habitats for fish. The findings of our work will be of interest not only locally but nationally and internationally."

Dr David Smith, Environment Manager at South West Water, said: “We all rely on dams to ensure we always have sufficient supplies of safe tap water to drink but we are always mindful of the impact the could have on a river’s natural ecology. We are happy to support this project which we hope will increase numbers of fish and invertebrates in these rivers.”

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