South East Water builds river walkway for eels

South East Water (SEW) has fitted a special 'eel pass' on a river weir in East Sussex, in a bid to help the creatures migrate more easily from the sea and thrive.

The project is supported by the Environment Agency (EA) and involves the fitting of a metal gutter filled with tightly packed bristles for the eels to cling onto, allowing juvenile eels, known as elvers, to get over the large concrete structure and up into the River Cuckmere at Arlington.

According to the EA, eel numbers have fallen by 70% in England and Wales, making them the UK’s fastest declining vertebrate and placing them on the UK’s national Biodiversity Action Plan as a priority species.

As a result, SEW and the EA have teamed up to install the special weir walkway to help protect eel numbers, which are also an important component of the diet of many other priority species, such as bittern, osprey and heron, making them a valued ecological resource.

Commenting on the project, SEW environmental manager, Emma Goddard, 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, helping 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 then 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 elver, before the majority migrate into freshwaters where they spend a number of years in rivers and lakes.

Carys Matthews

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