What is the project trying to achieve?
The project will install improvements on seven weirs to allow fish to migrate throughout the river. This will open the entire river for many species such as Atlantic salmon and will reintroduce the twaite shad to its historic natural range, an increase of 253km (195% of its current UK range).
The project will engage local communities and visitors explaining how the built heritage associated with the Industrial Revolution significantly damaged the natural and a particular cultural heritage, but through current, best practice technologies, the two can co-exist. The history of the shad will form an important part of the present day story of restoration of a species.
What is a twaite shad?
Twaite shad (Alosa fallax) is a member of the Clupeidae (ray-finned fishes) family. It is an anadromous fish which lives in the sea and migrates into fresh water in May to June each year to spawn. In appearance it resembles an Atlantic herring but has a row of six to ten distinctive spots on its silvery flanks.
So why choose shad?
Shad are unique as a breeding population in the UK to the Severn Estuary and the rivers that flow into it and is a protected “species of community interest” under the European Union Habitats Directive. They are the species most impacted by the presence of barriers and by improving access across the target barriers for shad, all other fish species will benefit.
Will this project benefit all fish species in the river?
Yes. Humans have built barriers, such as weirs, dams and sluices for water management, hydropower and land drainage. These barriers in rivers and on coasts prevent fish migrations for reproduction, feeding and other purposes. Currently, migratory fish that require access to and within our freshwater ecosystems are threatened around the world and fish stocks are declining rapidly.
Many species of salmon, shad and eel migrate between the sea and the rivers to complete their life cycle. Other species must make extensive migrations within their home rivers to reach critical habitats. Free migration routes for fish are crucial to their survival. If they cannot reach their breeding ground, the species will decline and eventually become extinct. This fate has already fallen on many fish species all over the world.
When were the navigation weirs built on the River Severn and what impact did they have?
With the passing of the Severn Navigation Act, weirs were built in the mid-1800s to increase the size of boats able to reach the Black Country in the English West Midlands.
Prior to this the Severn was already a vital trade route, being the 2nd busiest river in Europe by the end of the 17th century. The drive for industrial improvements led to the need for deeper draft boats than the traditional trow on the Severn up to the Black Country in the Midlands. This effectively sealed the fate of the abundant shad which are unable to cross barriers and in just 5 years the whole spawning run of the Severn had been pegged back from the Welsh borders to below Diglis Weir in Worcester, a decrease of 190km. This decline was recorded and lamented by the Severn Commissioners. The push for the Empire to become the world’s industrial powerhouse saw the removal of an important local industry, focused on a fish that has been unable to recover, until now.
Why was shad important on the Severn?
The role shad have played in the heritage of this country is a fascinating story in its own right, a record that goes back centuries. As early as the 13th century, shad from the Severn were highly prized, including by the court of Henry III, where records show it was not only more highly prized than salmon, but the fish was being transported the then great distance to London. They were eaten, used to feed livestock and fertilize fields, but this has been all but forgotten as there is little physical reminder of their importance.
Will this project benefit users of the river?
The project partners are currently working with all users of the river to determine impacts and opportunities associated with the project. The improvements seen on the weirs to improve fish migration will benefit fish populations across the river and will specifically benefit migrating fish to reach their spawning grounds faster and in better condition, leading to an increase in spawning potential. In time therefore the project should show an increase in the number of certain fish species in the river, and thus a benefit to anglers.
How will the project involve local communities?
The project partners are currently working on plans to develop educational, volunteering and community activities. These will start later in 2017 and will be designed in consultation with local people.
One of the most exciting aspects of this project is the Fish Viewing Gallery being proposed at Diglis Weir in Worcester. This will allow people to watch fish using the fish pass with their own eyes. How many people ever see a fish actually swimming in a river – from within the river? The Viewing Gallery will be open in time for the 2019 shad run.
We are always keen to hear what people have to say so please continue to talk to us (see our Contact page).
Why is the area important for twaite shad?
The population of twaite shad associated with the Severn Estuary is the only breeding population in the UK. Other rivers around the estuary are important, such as the Wye and Usk, but the Severn and the Teme have the largest potential to increase spawning habitat by 253km (nearly double the current range in the region).
Where will the project take place?
The weirs that are currently causing problems for migrating fish on the River Severn are between Upper Lode, Tewkesbury and Lincomb, Stourport-on-Severn; and on the River Teme at Powick and Knightsford Bridge.
How long will the project take?
The project began in July 2016 and will end in September 2021.
Where is the funding coming from?
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Heritage Grants and the European Union’s LIFE Nature Programme are the main funders for this project. The project partners are also providing match funding.