Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer
An important part of our work on the River Esk is engaging with local people who are vital in helping to secure a sustainable future for the salmon and trout, and the freshwater pearl mussel population who live in the river. For the past 7 years we’ve been rolling out the Salmon in the Classroom initiative to a different village school each year in the Esk Catchment. This year it’s been the turn of Goathland Primary School.
We supplied the hatchery tank and the Atlantic Salmon eggs in March and the children have been raising the fish since then through the initial stage of their life cycle (from egg to fry). At the same time Heather and trainee teachers Megan and Francesca from our Education Team have been telling the children the story of the creatures who live together in the river including the illusive pearl mussels whose larvae rely on the fish as hosts, and illustrating the value of the children’s local river environment. The children have had the rare chance to see the start of life for the fish in front of their eyes, and in return have produced inspired artwork.
A couple of weeks ago the children released the young fish – around 70 of them – into the Murk Esk at Beck Hole. The released fish will remain in the river for around two years – growing and developing until they are big enough to migrate out to sea. Then hopefully they’ll return to the Esk river network in about three years’ time to spawn and produce young of their own.
As mentioned previously, the River Esk is the only river in Yorkshire with a freshwater pearl mussel population but numbers are in drastic decline. With the help of landowners and in partnership with the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT), we’re carrying out restoration work along the river to improve the river habitat for the benefit of the mussels and other river species. Pollution and sediment build up, decline in fish populations and habitat degradation are all recognised reasons for the decline. An improved habitat would allow the re-introduction of juvenile pearl mussels currently being raised through the captive breeding programme at the Freshwater Biological Association facility in Windermere, in order to boost the ageing population hanging on in the Esk.