Last week local anglers and conservators packed the upstairs room at the William Morris at a meeting organised and hosted by the Wandle Piscators to hear the Environment Agency and Wandle Trust present their thoughts on the health of the fish stock in the Wandle.

The EA's Tom Cousins answers questions from the audience
The EA’s Tom Cousins answers questions from the audience

Tom Cousins, the EA’s Fisheries Specialist, told us that there is a big problem with the age profile of fish in the Wandle. Based on the EA’s electrofishing results it seems that the very small fish are not surviving. The likely cause is lack of shelter for the small fish in times of flood. They get washed downstream, cannot return back up and over weirs and eventually end up in the Thames. (The EA may not be looking in the right places, so if you know of areas that are full of small fry, let us know)

The EA stopped restocking the Wandle in 2010 to check whether they were wasting money or covering up a bigger underlying problem.  This highlighted the fact that the young fish are not surviving and the average age of the Wandle’s fish stock is increasing.

The Environment Agency will carry out a major fish stock survey later this year to check progress (They will let us know the dates for this).

Recent habitat work on the Wandle reported by Luke Mitchell (Project Officer at the Wandle Trust) has improved river ecology and provided some more refuges for small fish and removed some weirs which blocked fish passage.  But this is limited to a few short section of the river

There is a plan underway to narrow the river in the middle of Ravensbury Park and create a more natural, faster flowing channel similar to the restored stretches at Hackbridge and Butter Mill but in keeping with the nature of the mid section of a river.

The presentations were followed by a Question & Answer session which was open to all the attendees.

During the Q&A there was a lot of complaint about fish being taken from the river by poachers and the EA not doing much about it. Tom Cousins’ response highlighted the size of the Wandle’s EA fisheries team (small), their shortage of resources and the size of their territory (very large).  He was very clear that in all cases people should report the problem to the EA  Incident  phone line (0800 80 70 60) and if the number of reports on the Wandle gets to be bigger than on other rivers, it will move to the top of the list for enforcement resources.

It was also reported that during the installation of the hydro unit in Morden Hall Park, the National Trust’s contractors dropped the water level to mere inches and that is why there are so few fish left in the Rose Garden are of the MHPAC waters.
Five bits of good news we heard were:

  • eels are doing well on the Wandle – bucking the national trend
  • the age profile of dace in the Wandle is much better than other species
  • The Trewint Street area seems to be doing much better than other parts of the Wandle.
  • The EA plans to stock a couple of thousand coarse fish into the upper Wandle later this year (Nov/Dec). They will wash down through the river during the winter and may hold up in newly created refuges.
  • The Wandle has an unusually high number of people who are concerned about it and take active steps to protect and improve it – keep it up!

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