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A ray of hope in salmon crisis

Yearl Weir

Various local community groups and organisations have worked together to help young salmon spawning in the River Derwent make it back out to sea.

Atlantic salmon are facing a battle for survival, with threats from climate change, habitat destruction and predation. Another major problem is that dry spring weather results in low river levels.

When levels are low over barriers such as weirs, young salmon trying to reach the sea congregate and are easily picked off by predators. Studies have shown that up to 80% of the juvenile populations can be lost at such places.

Plans to remove Yearl Weir – a major barrier to fish migration on the River Derwent – remain very much in their infancy, so a short-term solution was needed.

Ian Creighton, Project Officer at West Cumbria Rivers Trust explained: “In dry springs, juvenile salmon gathering at the weir become a target for goosanders, cormorants, heron and otters. West Cumbria Rivers Trust and the Derwent River Corridors Group joined forces to come up with a simple idea to help the Derwent’s young fish: utilising an existing mill race to allow fish to swim past the barrier”.

Jack Abernethy from the Derwent Rivers Corridor Group added: “Iggesund have abstraction rights at the weir and mill race which are currently not fully used. The idea was for them to allow much more water down the mill race in April, May and June during times of low water to allow the fish to bypass the weir and access the sea much more easily. Iggesund, local residents and all stakeholders came together and now the increased flows plus some minor engineering works above the mill race will help the salmon juveniles enormously.”

Over the last few decades salmon numbers have fallen catastrophically and in many UK rivers the species is in severe difficulty. The River Derwent, designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) primarily due to salmon stocks and a unique aquatic environment, is one such river.

Thought of until recently as one of the best salmon rivers in England, it is now a river where salmon are struggling to survive.  People used to flock to Keswick to watch the fish leaping in Fitz Park and thousands of salmon were caught by anglers on the Derwent and its tributaries each year. This is now down to a few hundred, nearly all of which are returned by anglers, and the people who had travelled from all over the world to fish the river no longer come.

Jodie Mills, Operations Director at West Cumbria Rivers Trust, said: “This was a very simple project but an incredibly important one as it could mean many thousands more baby salmon survive. Our thanks go to all stakeholders, but especially Iggesund. It is fantastic to see one of largest local employers and water users stepping up to the plate in this way.”

Other partners involved were the Environment Agency, Natural England, Allerdale Borough Council, Workington Flood Action Group, Workington Town Council, Workington Anglers and Ashcroft Ltd.

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