For the last couple of winters we’ve watched Wandle trout cutting redds and spawning, electrofished year-old trout from places where little Trout in the Classroom graduates shouldn’t have been…

… but still never knew for certain whether our schools’ farmed-strain trout had ever started spawning successfully in the Wandle.

Finally, here’s proof provided by our already-award-winning Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative: after 80-plus years, trout have begun breeding again in South London.

Yesterday morning, Duncan and I were doing our monthly kick-sample on the Hackbridge stretch of the river, shuffling in the gravels and sweeping a net through the ranunculus just downstream from the Wandle’s first flow deflector to dislodge olive nymphs, freshwater shrimp, caddis: all important invertebrates that act as a proxy test for water quality, and tell us about the health of the river’s food web.

And when we tipped the contents of our net into a bucket of water to start sorting and counting the bugs… there was a tiny swim-up brown trout fry.

This year’s Trout in the Classroom releases aren’t scheduled to start until later this week.

So this tiny trout, carefully photographed and released, can only have been a wild fish, hatched just weeks ago from a gravel spawning redd near Shepley Mill.

(Duncan and I are both self-employed realists, out on the Wandle in all weathers, and more accustomed than most to the ups and downs of her fortunes.  But it’s only fair to say that, as the full enormity of what we’d discovered sank in, we whooped triumphantly… and then shook hands very solemnly in the middle of the river).

Within months, we hope that the older cousins of the barbel and dace stocked here last December will also use these same gravel shallows for their own spawning.

It’s a brilliant vindication of the Wandle Trust’s and Wandle Piscators’ strategy to work with the Environment Agency, the Wild Trout Trust and many other partners to improve adult and juvenile habitat for all fish species on this stretch of the Wandle – and a massive boost for our ongoing mission to improve water quality, clean gravels, and open up fish passage throughout the river.

80 years on, trout are breeding again in the Wandle.

Now we just need to make sure they can do it again, and again, and again.

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