Electrifying activities

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee

Last week some National Park Volunteers (all fully trained) have finally been able to carry out the first electro fishing surveys this year along the River Esk. Delays had been caused by the weather.

The priority are sites up and downstream of the Sewage Treatment Works (STW) and one Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) in the upper catchment. The first day of surveying was at Commondale.

The concept of electro fishing is to collect samples of fish living within the river, the higher the fish count the healthier the river should be. This will also show the type of fish living in our rivers, the cleanliness of the river and theoretically what the invertebrate population is like along that stretch of river.

The river levels had settled down by Thursday meaning the water was back to a slow flow and all the previous rain had made the water clear giving the perfect conditions for electro fishing.

We fished the river in two 50m sections, one upstream and one downstream of water treatment works. This was done using a zig zag motion to ensure that no area was left unfished. Each 50m section was fished three times to ensure a fair population of fish were caught.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

The equipment used to stun the fish is called an electro fisher and consists of a positive charge the anode at the front and a negative charge called the cathode which trails along the back. These are both attached to a battery which is worn by the person conducting the fishing, today it was Volunteer Paul. Both the anode and the cathode must be in the water to cause an electro charge which is what stuns the fish, but don’t worry rubber thigh waders were worn by everyone so the electro pulse did not affect us humans like it did the fish. The rest of us were in charge of catching the stunned fish in nets alongside the anode, which is harder than it looks as the fish soon spring back to life! They are then transferred into a bucket from the nets.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

We set the voltage output at 150- 200 volts which is enough to temporarily stun the fish making them easier to catch in the net. Once the section of river has been fished the data collection begins. The fish are identified – on this day we found 57 trout downstream and 104 upstream with the largest being 180mm and the smallest recorded at 52mm. The information collected will now be analysed before being sent onto Yorkshire Water, they will then compare this with the other locations which are due to be fished over the next few weeks, and that will all help inform management of their sites as necessary.

An amazing day was had by all the volunteers and staff that attended. More data collection will happen in the next few weeks on different sites along the Esk.

Esk electro fishing October 2019 - small trout. Copyright NYMNPA.

Catchment Trilogy – Part 2: Discovering the Esk

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer

The Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) on behalf of the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership* received a funding boost last April thanks to players of a charity lottery. £10,000 was awarded by the People’s Postcode Trust to deliver Discovering the Esk.

The Discovering the Esk project is made up of four initiatives:

  • Salmon in the Classroom;
  • Young Anglers Initiative;
  • Adopt a Stream; and
  • Riverfly Monitoring.

Discovering the Esk brings local people together to care for the catchment environment, and the first year of the project has been a great success!

Salmon in the Classroom literally brings the river into the classroom albeit in a fish tank! Primary School pupils along the Esk Valley learn more about the lifecycle of the Atlantic salmon, river ecology, and the important role they can play in looking after our local rivers into the future.

In 2015 we delivered Salmon in the Classroom at Goathland Primary School and the pupils did a great job caring for the eggs culminating in releasing the young fry back into the Esk in May. This year we will be at Sleights Primary School so it will be the turn of the children there to watch the eggs hatch and the young fry grow until the fish can be released to take their place back amongst the inhabitants of the river.

Through the Young Angler Initiative nine young anglers learnt to fish this year thanks to the dedication of local angling club volunteers (from the Esk Fisheries Association) who ran the fishing sessions. A professional tutor kick started the season with a Taster Day and then returned towards the end of the season to hone our young angler’s growing skills.

As well as the actual fishing our young anglers also got to enjoy the outdoors and to fish at places they had not been to before, and the sessions were an opportunity for to socialise.

Riverfly Monitoring is currently carried out by twenty local volunteers who have now been trained up in the nationally recognised sampling methodology established by the Riverfly Partnership.

The volunteers have learnt how to identify key aquatic invertebrates groups which we know require good clean water to survive. Our current volunteers are now monitoring thirty sites across the catchment to assess the water quality and detect signs of any issues. They do this by taking a 3 minute kick sample (to disturb the river bed and overhanging vegetation) catching the content in a net, and a 1 minute stone search. The sample is then cleaned using river water and put into a tray to settle. Key river invertebrate groups are identified and counted and if the results are lower than expected the Catchment Partnership and Environment Agency  can investigate the area to check for any potential pollution incidents causing the issues.

Our volunteers have been honing their identification skills at refresher workshops, getting to see these beautiful invertebrates up close!

Adopt a Stream is a new initiative recruiting ‘Guardians of the Esk’. We already have a number of people reporting interesting things they see while out and about, but Adopt a Stream ensures that key areas are being checked regularly and that information is collated and applied. Through Adopt a Stream we hope that all the potential barriers to migratory fish sites on the Esk can be adopted, with volunteers ensuring the structures do not become blocked. If they do, the Catchment Partnership can be alerted and can sort them out. We want to make sure the whole catchment is monitored to check for issues such as litter, and to build up a network of people monitoring the local wildlife so we can accrue a picture of what is normal and use it to continually assess the health of the river.

If you might be interested in becoming one of our ‘Guardians of the Esk’ we are holding an Adopt a Stream workshop on Monday 7 March. The monitoring programme is designed to suit everyone’s interests and fit within the time you can commit, so if you have a favourite walk, a regular fishing spot or simply visit the catchment now and again, then we would love for you to get involved. Please contact us.

View of the Esk - copyright Jeff at Aetherweb (aetherweb.co.uk)

View of the Esk. Copyright https://www.flickr.com/people/tall-guy/.

For more information on Discovering the Esk, how you can get involved, and the latest Catchment Partnership news, please have look at the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust website.

* The Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership is jointly hosted by the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust and the North York Moors National Park Authority, who work together to improve and care for the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment.



Increasing life chances – Part 2

Emily Collins – Conservation Student Intern

Following on from Increasing life chances – Part 1

Everyone knows that running a 26 mile marathon can be gruelling. Even after months of preparation, the ‘once in a lifetime’ experience is considered to be both mentally and physically challenging. Imagine then, having to travel that same distance year after year, not on land but against a freshwater current, with various obstacles in your way. Impossible?

Well, not if you’re a salmonid.

Salmon and trout literally ‘go the extra mile’ when it comes to ensuring their offspring have a bright start. In the North York Moors, travelling from the mouth of the River Esk at Whitby to as far upstream as Westerdale up in the moors, it seems these aquatic athletes (video) will tackle any challenge in order to spawn at their original birthplaces. They even undergo physiological changes which allow them to swim from saltwater to freshwater habitat.

There are, however, hurdles which fish can’t always surmount. The number of fords and weirs throughout the Esk has meant that many fish find it very difficult to reach their intended destination. When leaping over or squeezing through obstacles, many fish get stuck, damaged or become more vulnerable to predation. As a result, fewer eggs are fertilised upstream and females are forced to spawn where they can often in sub-optimal habitat, leading to an overall decline in the fish population.

Trout jumping from https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhh/Westerdale Irish Bridge/Ford - NYMNPADo you remember our old friend the Freshwater Pearl Mussel which we’re especially keen to encourage? Salmon and trout parr remain in the Esk for around a year after hatching and it’s in this time that the baby peal mussels, or glochidia, encyst upon their gills. After nine months the mussels drop into the gravel bed and the fish swim downstream to the mouth of the Esk to smolt. This is a vital part of the mussel’s life cycle so it’s crucial that high salmon and trout numbers are maintained in order to increase the chances of encystment occurring.

We can help salmon and trout to reach their upstream spawning sites by installing fish passes and fish easements through the obstacles. Ramps can be created at weirs and culverts and water levels raised artificially so that fish can swim over the barrier without harming themselves. The tubing underneath fords – in which fish can become trapped – can be replaced by wider, fish-friendly tunnels the fish can swim through.

Fish passes are in place at Ruswarp Weir and Sleights Weir but there are 21 barriers on the Esk and its tributaries and so there is still much work to be done. Gradually we’re hoping to pick up on other sites upstream when opportunities arise. This is all part of the habitat connectivity work underway in the National Park to strengthen landscape corridors for wildlife. Through the upcoming This Exploited Land HLF Landscape Partnership project we’re planning to install fish easements at Glaisdale Beck ford and Butter Beck ford. In the meantime, we are working in partnership with the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) to reduce sediment and pollution in the Esk and improve the overall river habitat for salmon and trout and in doing so increase their chances, as well as the chances of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel.