School children across Somerset and Bristol are helping to save the critically endangered European eel this week by releasing hundreds into local rivers and lakes after nurturing them in their classrooms.
This week will mark the 5,000th eel to be released as part of the Spawn to be Wild scheme, created by Bristol Water in partnership with Avon Wildlife Trust and Bristol Avon Rivers Trust.
Baby European eels travel on oceanic currents from the Sargasso Sea to Europe. Here, the baby eels transform into elvers, where they have taken a month long pit-stop in five local schools in a bid to protect them from environmental threats while they grow.
Natasha Clarke, Environment Manager at Bristol Water, said: “We are eel-y excited to be releasing the eels this week. The European eel is more endangered than the red panda or even the blue whale, yet we have an opportunity to help them right here in the West Country.
“We have developed this scheme to raise awareness of the European eel’s conservation status and what we can all do to protect them from environmental threats, such as overfishing, pollution and barriers within our rivers. We couldn’t think of a better way to do it then to engage local children with the story of the eel.”
Laura Colman, Learning Programme Manager, Avon Wildlife Trust, said: “Observing and learning about these mysterious eels in their classroom, and then being able to release them back into the wild, is a powerful way to help children connect to nature and understand the rich wildlife that’s around them here in Avon.
“It’s a powerful first step to supporting them to play their part in caring about and protecting the natural world they are going to inherit when they grow up. We’ve worked with five schools right across our region and the children have had creative, wonderful ideas about how to rise to this challenge.”
Harriet Alvis, Project Manager at Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, said: “This scheme is an invaluable way of bringing local river wildlife and what we can do to help them to life in the classroom. This is increasingly important in a world where children know more about the wildlife in the rainforest than they do in their back gardens.”
Bristol Water have also installed special eel passes at Blagdon Lake to further protect the elvers, helping to ensure they can pass through beds of bristles and travel upstream.