Doncaster school children release hundreds of eels

Children release eels at Potteirc Carr: Photo: Jim Horsfall.
Children release eels at Potteirc Carr: Photo: Jim Horsfall.

Children from a string of Doncaster schools have got to grips with some real slippery customers.

For pupils from Waverley Primary, Hexthorpe Primary and Bentley Primary schools released elvers - young eels - into the waters at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves in Doncaster as part of the ‘Eels in Schools’ project.

The ‘Eels in Schools’ project which is led by Don Catchment Rivers Trust and Severn & Wye Smokery, has seen hundreds of children look after elvers in tanks in their classrooms for up to six weeks.

During this time they have learnt about the eels fascinating life cycle, which sees them travel to the Sargasso Sea near the America’s to breed, after which the young return to the rivers and wetlands of the UK to feed.

Bentley Primary students released around 100 elvers each at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s flagship site in Doncaster. Students at Waverley and Hexthorpe Primary have also been caring for elvers in their classroom and released several hundred at the Trust’s Sprotbrough Flash Nature Reserve. In total the ‘Eels in Schools’ project has released over 250,000 elvers across the country, with more than 2000 school children having been involved.

Jim Horsfall, Reserves Officer for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, talked of the importance of the project: “Eels are a species that has been in decline since the start of the industrial revolution; industrial pollution in rivers and the construction of weirs to control water levels have meant eels have been unable to live in the river and pass up stream to where they spend most of their lives in ponds, marshland and lakes. Some estimates put the decline as high as 95% over the last 30 years and they are listed as critically endangered globally.

“Thanks to better regulation of rivers and pollution, and introduction of eel and fish passes on rivers they are beginning to recover in Yorkshire, but need a helping hand to reintroduce them to areas where there aren’t many. Eels, released as elvers, can live for 20 to 30 years in a place like Potteric Carr, feeding until they are large enough to go down stream and swim across the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. The young elvers will then float back to Europe on ocean currents and make their way upstream, starting the process all over again.”

Local artist Shelia Bury was so inspired by the project she decided to raffle her paintings to help fund the release of the elvers at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve.

Shelia Bury said:“This year I am fundraising for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust by donating four large paintings to help them purchase young eels for Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. Each painting depicts one of the Four Seasons, with the first two, ‘A Potteric Winter – Highland Cattle on St Catherine’s Field’ and ‘Piper Marsh – Spring’ having already raised more £1200. The raffle for the third painting, ‘Peacock Butterflies – Brockadale’ will be drawn at Potteric Carr on August Bank Holiday Monday and tickets are still available from the nature reserve. The final painting, portraying autumn colours at Potteric Carr is yet to be started, but will be raffled this December.”

Eels are important in the food chain and are part of a rich tapestry of wildlife, ensuring a rich diversity in the Humberhead Levels Nature Improvement Area (NIA): an area in which Potteric Carr Nature Reserve sits and Sprotbrough Flash is found close to. Eels support rare birds such as the bittern, which can be seen at both sites, and mammals including otters. The Humberhead Levels NIA supports a number of projects, including ‘Eels in Schools’ to create thriving wildlife habitats across the levels.

The Humberhead Levels NIA partners include Natural England, the Environment Agency, the RSPB, English Heritage, North Lincolnshire Council, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Isle of Axholme and North Nottinghamshire Internal Drainage Board, Lower Ouse Drainage Board, the Shire Group of Internal Drainage Boards (represented via JBA Consulting), York University and Sheffield University.