Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

17-10-2014: ZSL Eel forum at the Natural History Museum

On Friday 17 October some of our Middle Mill eel trap monitors joined volunteers from other trap sites around London at the Natural History Museum (NHM) for the annual ZSL Eel Forum to discuss this season's results and plans for the future.

Joe Pecorelli thanks all volunteers for their hard work this season, from those that have kept checking traps which have low numbers and are monitoring effects of river connectivity works, to those who have spent hours counting eels when they had just under 3000 eels in the trap!!!

In 2014 two new trapping sites were added at Ash and Loose and ZSL are looking at new schemes which will involve looking at translocations of elvers from sites where there are lots to sites where its too expensive to add in eel passes, but where the habitat upstream would support baby eels until they are old enough to swim downstream to the sea.

The monitoring has helped us see where there are still problems with recruitment such as on the River Crane and the Hogsmill, but the general pattern in recruitment at sites appears to be a general increase in the number of catches per unit effort.

Once the data for the Hogsmill site was properly analysed to separate out the true baby eels from the young eels masquerading as babies (elvers are less than 120mm in size) these were our results:

Hogsmill –Middle Mill
1 (0%)
7 (58%)
11 (63.64%)
(%) the percentage of elver entering the traps

This Citizen Science project is providing otherwise unavailable data to conservation organisations which enables prioritisation of investment in conservation measures, he said. Without volunteers like ours from KU and local residents getting their waders on and spreading the word, the plight this species is facing would only be known to a limited few. This kind of project works wonders for raising the profile of 'uncuddly' species like the European eel and wider conservation issues such as river habitat quality.

The I love  eels! awards

She Loves Eels

  1. A virtual mug for the Moorhen who kept insisting on nesting on the eel trap at one of the sites! The volunteers on that site created a separate nesting platform on the trap which she has used successfully! 
  2. Chris Cockel and his team  for winning a Canal and River Trust’s Living Waterways Award (the team came second) and helped engage the public with the plight of the eel on are rivers as well as their successful funding bid to tackle two barriers on the Brent
  3. And lastly for the Thames Angler’s and their hard work in March after the winter flood, when they spent the day clearing the area and trap at Molesey lock of all of the gravel that had blocked the area 

He Loves Eels
Breaking news: ZSL will be launching a new tidal Thames study in 2015. They will be investigating where smelt breed in the Thames. The project is funded by the HLF and will have a Citizen Science element which volunteers can get involved in.

If you are interested in volunteering on this new project – contact Joe Pecorelli 

Following Joe's roundup, Andrew Kerr from the Sustainable Eel Group  gave us an update on the status of various endeavours across Europe. The overall news wasn't too good with a general lack of impetus or financial incentive failing the eels in many of the counties in Europe and unscreened hydro-power turbines and pumps killing thousands of mature eels which get macerated going through the pumps. Evidence suggests that this form of loss is having a greater impact then fisheries! The good news is that Britain is leading the way in terms of schemes and volunteer effort to help save the eels, but as we only attract a small proportion of the eels migrating from the Sargasso Sea, it is collective and decisive action by other European countries that will make a true sustained difference. 

The final talk (linked here) of the day was about tackling misconnections by Aimee Felus of Thames 21.

In terms of rivers and streams, misconnections refers to incidences where the foul water from our homes such as toilets and washing machines  have been misconnected directly into surface water drains which don’t go to a sewage plant, but get dumped directly into streams and rivers!!!
People may not even know if they are misconnected and that they are contributing directly to the pollution of the nearby waterways. 

10% of all London homes have misconnections directly into rivers and streams! While one person may think that it won’t matter if their property is flushing into the stream as it will be washed away and can’t be causing an effect, it’s the cumulative effect of all of the houses that results in dead streams and rivers with nothing but algae and sewage fungus growing in the water.

The Thames 21 Love the Lea campaign  is an example of the work that they have been doing to help resolve misconnections (the responsibility to resolve the misconnection resides with the home owner) and reduce other pollution inputs from roads surface runoff to improve the River Lea. You can find out if your home is misconnected by following the steps in the Connect Right website

Miles of shelves
After a tasty lunch and networking opportunity, volunteers were given a tour of the Spirit Collection at the NHM. Excited volunteers carefully entered the room housing the Spirit collection and proceeded to pile our bags safety in the corner so that we didn’t knock over bottles with an unwary turn – the bottles worth thousands of pounds each as they are all bespoke! 

Containers for all shapes and sizes
With 22 million specimens, the Spirit Collection is named after the alcohol in which they are stored, a mixture of 95% ethanol and five% methanol.

This collection includes approximately 170,000 type specimens, the specimens by which species are first named and described. The collection is important as it also allows studies to continue in the future, sometimes when the species has been completely wiped out by our actions.
Modern specimens are also sampled for genetic information as well as ensuring that the physical structure of the specimen is preserved. This data is then available in the future to aid in studies such as investigating adaptation, even if the species does go extinct.

So the Eel Forum 2014 ended in the Spirit Collection with volunteers looking at species, some of which were extinct relatives of those they are helping to save.

The talks on the day were inspiring and have hopefully help encourage new volunteers to get involved next year in the eel monitoring, getting involved in monitoring the health of our rivers and reporting any pollution incidents that they see as well as getting their homes checked for misconnections.

Imagine if every student at Kingston checked with house for misconnections – if we could find and fix our misconnections, and help spread the word to our neighbours and family, imagine what sort of difference that could make to our local streams and rivers.

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