Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

ZSL European Eel monitoring project 2011 - Guest Post by Chris Ovington

I am sure by now all of you have been pestered by a member of the ‘Save the Tiger’ charity team. The main point they use to draw you in is the fact that the tiger species has declined by 95% since the turn on the century and are close to extinction. But what about a lesser known species which is in just as much trouble? Is it not time that someone helped to try and save the iconic European Eel (Anguilla anguilla)? Well that’s just what we at Kingston University have been doing...

The 2011 eel trap volunteers

The European Eel, most commonly known for being the “delicious” world renowned jellied eel which was once served across right across London, has declined rapidly in number (over 95% since the 1980’s).

The reasons for this decline? The exact reasons are not known, but evidence points to: loss of habitat, physical barriers to migration, infestation of a parasite in its swim bladder, over-fishing, and climate change affecting oceanic currents.

Due to this evidence, in 2008 the European Eel was placed on the IUCN red list as a critically endangered species, but it is practical action which can help to undo these wrongs and help to save a species. We here at Kingston University with a total of 14 volunteers have taken up arms (or waders in this case) to fight for the survival of this species...

Kingston University volunteers have been monitoring a purpose built eel ladder and trap (designed to keep the eels alive so they can be released up stream) on the Hogsmill River, one of many Thames tributaries that are being monitored by various public volunteers. The programme is being run by Zoological Society London (ZSL) and so all equipment and training was expertly provided.

Me in the river checking the eel trap!

I have always been passionate about the environment and helping endangered species in any way I can, so when I first heard about this eel project from Lynsey Stafford, Kingston University’s Biodiversity and Landscape Administrator, I jumped at the chance to get involved. It was a simple process - sign up, attend a safety training meeting at Knights Park campus and I was ready for action.

During the project volunteers work in pairs with two main roles:

1) The trap checker: enter the river via ladders wearing thick rubber waders and an emergency inflatable jacket; fight through the river current to the eel trap and ladder. Then, using a torch and net, check for any elvers (young eels) and remove any debris which may be blocking water flow. If any elvers are found, you simply fish them out and measure them via the use of a zip lock plastic bag and a ruler (a surprisingly tricky task). 

2) Safety watch out: this person is responsible for the safety and well being of their partner in the river. This includes keeping an eye out for any potential dangers, judging whether the river is safe to enter or not depending on water depth and flow and being ever ready to raise the alarm if necessary.

After each trap check the data is input online directly onto the ZSL website and that is your work done.

I personally carried out the eel trap check 16 times (a grand total of about 16 hours), but volunteers could do as little as 1 check if they wanted.

The project will be running again this year, starting Spring 2012, but is it worth volunteering for?

Definitely; it is a rare opportunity to be able to climb in the rivers of London without being offered a double lobotomy after, you know you have contributed in efforts to try and save a critically endangered species and the data you collect is part of an important long term study by an internationally recognised conservation body - so 
it always looks good on a CV.

One of the best parts of volunteering for this project is the surprises nature can give you during your trap checks, ranging from finding leeches and mitten crabs in the traps, to encountering a highly curious and friendly swan, no two trap checks will never be the same.

If you have not already considered volunteering for the project I urge you to do so, you will not regret it and the rewards it brings with it will last a life time.

Any eels?

by Chris Ovington - Chief eel volunteer 2011

(p.s. Eel dates for your diary: 
Weds 29 February - Joe Pecorelli from ZSL visits for a guest talk about the European Eel. Weds 18 April - Want to volunteer for this project? Then come along to this training session! Email for more information)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. thanks for sharing.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Very informative and interesting post. This team is really doing very good work.
    Keep it up