After several years of work to remove barriers to migratory fish, the first fish in over 150 years have been seen moving freely up the Brancepeth Beck in County Durham.

The Wear Rivers Trust has been working in partnership with Brancepeth Castle, Brancepeth Estate and Brancepeth Castle Golf Club on a project funded by the Environment Agency to modify structures such as culverts, weirs and bridge abutments in the Brancepeth Beck which were proving to be a barrier to migrating fish.

This year, the work has been carried out using a team of local volunteers and staff from the Wear Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency who have successfully addressed two structures. Volunteers have also been monitoring various sites along the Brancepeth Beck during the last two months and have confirmed that fish have now been seen to be using the fish passes. It is hoped that fish populations will now increase along the Brancepeth Beck catchment as more fish are able to reach their spawning grounds.

Steve Hudson, Senior Project Officer at the Wear Rivers Trust said: “The project was developed four years ago by volunteers who helped us survey this catchment for issues which might be having an impact on fish populations. The same volunteers are now helping to deliver and monitor the success of the project and it really is amazing to see all of our hard work paying off, by seeing for ourselves the fish utilising the newly installed fish easements.”

Jim Wood, volunteer with the Wear Rivers Trust added: “Having been involved with the project from the very start I am over the moon to see that what we have delivered is working so well. Working with the Wear Rivers Trust has really opened my eyes to what can be done to enhance and protect our rivers and I would encourage anyone who enjoys being outside in the fresh air to get involved.”

Paul Frear, Fisheries Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, said: “We’ve worked really hard together with our partners over the years to make dramatic improvements to water quality. But there is always more we can do and opening up our rivers to help fish migrate is crucial to this, aiding their incredible journey and seeing wildlife thrive.

“It really is a fantastic achievement to see fish back in a location they haven’t been seen for 150 years, and shows just what great things can be done when everyone works together. By working with partners we can play to different organisations’ strengths, make our money go further and deliver more. It’s remarkable how quickly fish stocks can start to recover once we remove obstructions.”

The Wear Rivers Trust is working on several projects throughout County Durham and relies on local individuals and organisations to help with practical conservation tasks and monitoring.  Anyone wishing to help with future projects can call 01388 488867 or visit www.wear-rivers-trust.org.uk for more details.

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