A WATER company is helping a set of slippery customers to thrive – over weir, under weir, and wandering free.
South East Water has fitted a special ‘eel pass’ on one of its river weirs to help the slippery creatures migrate more easily from the sea and up into the River Cuckmere.
The special pass – a metal gutter filled with tightly packed bristles for the eels to cling onto – will allow juvenile eels, known as elvers, to get over the large concrete structure on the River Cuckmere at Arlington.
Eels are the fastest declining vertebrate and numbers have fallen by 70 per cent in England and Wales, making them a priority species in the UK’s national Biodiversity Action Plan.
As a result, South East Water and the Environment Agency have teamed up to install the special weir walkway.
Emma Goddard, environmental manager at South East Water, said, “Eels can have difficulty overcoming natural or man-made obstacles in rivers.
“One such obstacle, but a vital one nonetheless, is our weir which helps control the flow of river water into Arlington Reservoir, where it is stored ready to be used for our customers’ drinking water supplies.
“By fitting this eel pass, which was kindly supplied by the Environment Agency, we will enable the elvers to readily pass the weir structure during all months of the year.
“This will help them on their migration, and which will go some way to reversing the decline in local eel stocks.”
Eels start life as larvae on the other side of the Atlantic in the only known spawning ground, an area of the Sargasso sea south of Bermuda.
The larvae follow the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift to Europe at which point they change into glass eels – the intermediary stage between larvae and becoming a juvenile eel, known as an elver.
Then, each spring, the majority of eels migrate into freshwaters to join the main eel population.
They then spend a number of years in rivers and lakes, feeding and growing.
Eels are an important component of the diet of many other priority species, such as Bittern, Osprey and Heron, and so are a valued ecological resource.