Friday, 11 July 2014

And they're off! We wave goodbye and good luck to our elvers

This week has been quite a week with an emotional farewell to our elvers that we have been rearing since April.  Over the last 4 months our little office friends have tripled in size since they first arrived as glass eels and had changed into elvers.  

Not only have these adorable elvers helped us learn how to look after eels to be able to share the information with schools who took part in our Spawn to be Wild project with Bristol Water, but they were also the celebrities in our marquee for the Festival of Nature. Thousands of people visited our marquee over the weekend along with 200 school children all keen to learn more about their fascinating lives and what we can do to help them and make sure that we keep them far away from extinction.

Learning development Manager Jo Taylor releases our elvers 
So it was only right that they got a proper send off as they start the next exciting part of their journey.  We took them down to Blagdon lake where so far we have released over 2500 elvers with the Spawn to be Wild schools project.  Making sure that there weren't any hungry ducks around we slowly released them into the lake where they will live until they are adults (between 6 and 20 years).  Once they reach maturity they then begin the amazing journey all the way back to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic to breed.  

We've really got to know the personalities of the eels in the last couple of months so it was a real honour to be able to release them and watch them on a clear and sunny day head to the lake bed exploring the weeds and rocks.
Lets hope that one of these eels beats the record of 88 years old and that as many of them as possible head back to the Sargasso Sea to breed and many more glass eels will travel up our rivers in future years.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hungry Caterpillar at Folly Farm

We've just watched a wonderful video from Knowle Park Primary school all about their fantastic day at Folly Farm.  

Take a look at what they have been up to by visiting their blog 

Knowle Park Primary Blog

Monday, 2 June 2014

Wrington Pupils wave goodbye to their elvers

Our final release of the year before half term was a very exciting one with the children from Wrington Primary School having a fantastic time at Blagdon Lake.
The first thing to do was to head over to the eel pass at the Bristol Water Fisheries site and check whether there were any elvers waiting in the tank to be released up into the lake.  This time we not only had these elvers which had made their way up the River Yeo and through the eel pass brushes to get into the tank, but also hundreds of glass eels and elvers which had been transferred there a few days before from UK Glass Eels.
These elvers were due for release into the wild and who better to do this than the wonderful guardians of our glass eels in Somerset - the Year 6 class at Wrington Primary.  So all the children had a go at catching the elvers in the tank - ready to be taken up to Blagdon Lake.  This was no easy task as of course, eels are slippery customers - the saying "As slippery as an eel" exists for a good reason!  However, the children were fantastic - very careful and gentle and we managed to capture every single one.
Trying some sustainable smoked eel 
After an enthusiastic nature trail in the woodland reserve at Bristol Water Fisheries, we headed back to the lake for some lunch and to try smoked eel - a first for all the children.
It was then time for the big release with our elvers of all different sizes from the eel pass as well as their own special glass eels, which they had looked after so carefully all last term. 
It is amazing how fond you can become of your little eel charges!
Good luck little elvers!
After saying 'goodbye' to all our elvers and glass eels and wishing them a long and happy maturity into adulthood in Blagdon Lake, the children had a wonderful bird watching session on the lake.  Our highlight was seeing families of ducks and coots with their babies bobbing in and out of the rushes.
The children at Wrington did a wonderful job of looking after their glass eels and we are very grateful to them for helping us with this wonderful conservation project aimed at increasing the population of eels in our freshwater in Somerset.  What a lovely thought for the children that they might come back in 20 years' time and their eels could still be living in Blagdon Lake before heading all the way back to their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Wildlife in action

On a magical, sunny day at Blagdon Lake, 1500 elvers (young eels) were released by the Year 5s from Yatton Junior School, ready to start the next stage of their amazing lives in the reservoir.  Blagdon Lake isn't just home to thousands of elvers though... the children also saw nesting coots, mute swans, mallards, cormorants and the many gulls that make a home there.  In the woodland near the pumping station they also saw badger setts, an otter holt (and got to see and smell otter poo!); they waded through the long grasses and flowers of the meadow to a copse where blue tits nest and bats roost.  And talking of bats, they also stopped to look at the old pump house which has been converted into a bat cave.  The lake provides an amazing habitat for such a wide range of plants and animals and seeing all this wildlife 'in action' allowed the children to  understand more fully the food chains and webs that are part and parcel of such a wildlife rich environment.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

St Andrews eel release

On Friday year 5 and 6 at St Andrews finally got to release their elvers into the wild at Blagdon Lake where we hope they will be spending the next 5 to 25 years maturing into fully grown adults.  Then at some point they will be following their instinct to take them back across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

The children not only released the elvers they had been looking after since the beginning of term but also another 2000 (!) ready to start the road to adult life in Blagdon Lake.

 On a beautiful sunny day the children walked across the dam at the bottom of Blagdon Lake and visited the eel pass on the Bristol Water fisheries site. Here the elvers make their way up a special brush system and end up in a bird proof tank. Every morning they are netted and released up into the lake.  Without the eel pass they would not be able to get past the water works that Bristol Water use at the fisheries and therefore would not be able to mature into adults in an ideal habitat such as Blagdon Lake.

The eel pass at Bristol Water fisheries is just one of many devices functioning throughout the UK in an attempt to help elvers and young eels overcome many of the flood defences and other obstacles they find during their journey upstream in rivers and streams.

After finding 2 elvers waiting in the eel pass tank for release the children took part in a nature trail which also taught about several native riverside mammals such as the otter and water vole.

Finally it was back across to the lake to try some smoked eel.  Part of the conservation effort with this species is to make it also commercially viable in the UK and throughout Europe.

All in all, a lovely day was had by all and we would like to thank St Andrews for doing such a brilliant job in helping us to conserve eels in Somerset!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Catherine our young guest blogger from St Andrews shares her writing

 A description of the journey of an eel.

As I slipped through the waves,their fingers licking me as I went along, the sky gazed down upon me.  The serenity struck me as I entered the river; the dark waters were lifeless and empty.  Weeds embraced me as I danced past, but whether they were capturing or loving me I wasn't sure.  Looking through the beautifully deadly waters, the peace hit me.  At night the waters were cold and merciless, hence my journey taking a long time.  However, the day bought calm and sight.  Rocks encrusted the edge o the river like a crowd of faces, jutting their chins out in search of food.

The dark rivers seemed endless pools, drifting into foreign lands. The water - which was filled with sharp rocks and boundless boulders - was my greatest friend, but also my greatest enemy.  Sharp, invisible nets grasped me desperately writhing body until I fled in the other direction.  My heart built up a nest o f fear after close encounters with shiny cages that stole the air from my lungs; rock walls that blocked my view; and evil-smelling debris piles with little space for me to slither past.  Other eels occasionally appeared in the same same problems as me, some lying on rocks as ghastly white strips, dead.  One day (where the vast expanse of water lay innocently and undisturbed) two golden spikes pierced the surface of the water.  I as knocked into the shimmering waves.

I was being attacked by a heron.

Clusters of weeds snapped helplessly around me, putting up no resistance to the force that was shredding them apart.  The spears collided with my body, heaving it further away from the river.  Dark eyes glinting with malice drew closer...and closer....and closer.  Suddenly, I strained in on pain staking motion and flipped back into the water.  Bubbles zooming like cheering crowds past me, whilst the heron screeched in the distance.  My heart stopped rumbling inside me, and a looming mas of darkness appeared.  Nightfall?  A wall of rocks?  It was none of those things:  it was a flood defence.

I stopped uncertainly, and the gentle splash of disturbed water ricocheted in the waves around me,  As the steep edges of the river laughed at my misfortune, I saw a pipe and had a great idea.  I dragged myself up the pipe, a steep angle into the unknown.  Squinting, I noticed the walls shifting and distorting; I swam closer.  I saw creatures.  Eels!  The river was far away, the walls of the rock distant.  I had tried to persevere, and I don't know where the rest of our journey was taking us.  Would we ever complete the journey?

When I sensed that nightfall was ending, I felt a sharp movement.  It wasn't me.  Sliding away from the other eels into the cold river I understood.  It had been an eel pass.  Free at last!  I swam over the rocks and into the future.  I was nearly at my wonderful new home.

Catherine, year 5 St Andrews

Thursday, 15 May 2014


Feeding elvers is a delicate operation - better to let them go a bit hungry than feed them too much - so last bank holiday weekend, the Yatton Junior School Year 5s gave their elvers a little extra to keep them going over the long weekend and were very pleased to see that they had all survived an extra day without food!

Quite a few of the children commented that they thought the elvers were getting stuck on the sides of the tank and were surprised to discover that in fact elvers are great escape artists and were probably not stuck, but exploring instead!  By wiggling and sliding, the elvers can almost lift themselves out of the water, but so far have not managed to get as high as the top of the tank. 

Next week we will be giving the elvers a bit of a helping hand out of the tank because they will be collected up and released into Blagdon Lake for the next stage of their amazing life journey!