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Eel-y good news about Stroud’s waterways

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Waterways seem to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons – but Stroud is bucking the negative trend with some good news about the River Frome, which runs through the town centre, writes Kerri Tyler.

Thanks to a groundbreaking development by local charity Stroud Valleys Project (SVP), eels are moving back into the town’s waterways, according to recent research.

In late 2021, SVP worked with a range of partners to build an eel pass at Arundel Mill Pond near the town centre, including Stroud District Council, whose Community Infrastructure Levy funding of £56,000 supported the structural work for the pass, a special channel along which the fish can travel. 

The ancient sluice gate was blocking the eels way | Eel-y good news about Stroud’s waterways

The pass acts as a kind of staircase for the critically endangered European Eel, which couldn’t make their way upstream because of the 200-year old sluice gate at the mouth of the pond.

“Eels have an exciting life, travelling thousands of miles to the Sargasso Sea and then returning to their home waters,” explains SVP’s CEO Clare Mahdiyone. “They can usually wriggle across foliage if they meet with an obstacle in the water, but eels who wanted to swim up the Frome were meeting with an impassable barrier in the sluice gate – and we wanted to do something about it.

Taking samples of water from the River Frome 19.8.23 | Eel-y good news about Stroud’s waterways
Taking samples of water from the River Frome

“As well as Stroud District Council, we worked with Severn Rivers Trust, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Slimbridge (WWT), the Environment Agency, and Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to install the eel pass. Our volunteers got involved too, pulling debris out of the river, planting aquatic plants to improve water quality, and removing invasive species that had clogged up the water.

Eel expert Dr Laura Weldon joined SVP and a team of ‘citizen scientists’ for a special session in August, during which they took samples of the river water to see if eel DNA was present.

Damselfly at Salmon Springs | Eel-y good news about Stroud’s waterways
Damselfly at Salmon Springs

When the results came in, Dr Weldon shared the results on her Twitter feed, saying, ‘In year 1, we didn’t detect eel DNA. In year 2, we detected eel DNA below Arundel Mill but not above. This year, we detected eel DNA in multiple samples along the [River] Frome. Well done, SVP Charity – it’s been lovely working with you and your volunteers and great to see evidence of increased eel activity in the Frome now the eel pass is established.’ 

Stroud District Council are also working with SVP on the creation of a new wildlife pond at Salmon Springs, which will encourage different kinds of water-loving creatures including dragonflies, Damselflies, frogs, toads and newts – when the edge of the pond was planted up, a Damselfly had laid eggs there within the space of five minutes!

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