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Surveys planned into health of Teesdale’s becks

BECK PROJECT: Richard Holmes testing out the new electrofishing gear in Percy Beck

VOLUNTEERS are using battery-powered fishing rods to get a better idea of what lives in Teesdale’s becks.
The electrofishing scheme is being run by the Tees Rivers Trust and aims to discover more about the health of becks around the dale.
The trust is now looking for volunteers who can undergo training so they can help with the surveys during August and September.
Richard Holmes, who is leading the project, said: “It’s to give us a baseline for the fish stocks in becks we don’t have any information about. This is a very quick and effective way of assessing the health of a water body. It is fascinating to see what lies beneath at the press of a button and is safe for the fish, as well as the operators.
“For me it’s very useful because I can identify pollution and habitat problems. You can walk along a beck and think it looks marvellous but when you get into the nitty gritty it’s not so great.
“We’ve done little bits through the catchment but not a lot in the upper becks. The trust has just bought the equipment so we’re trying to build our database. This first year we’ll be looking to get baseline information and ideally some sites will be done every year and some every three years.”
The new electrofishing backpack, which consists of a battery in a backpack and a rod with a metal ring at the end, was bought thanks to funding from the Heart of Teesdale partnership and private donations.
When activated, it runs a small current through the water, which momentarily stuns fish in the vicinity.
The fish are then netted and put in buckets where they can be measured and counted before being returned to the river.
Mr Holmes said: “We’ll measure the length of the fish to get an idea of the year class and we might take a few scales off to age them.
“Fish scales grow like tree rings so you can test them to get an idea of how old the fish is. From the size we can tell whether the population is stunted or not and we can get an idea of the density so we can work out a rough population.
“In the upper dale, we’re predominantly looking at trout and salmon and some bullheads, minnows and maybe some eels.”
Training takes about three hours and will be held on evenings and weekends throughout August. Training to carry out invertebrate surveys will also be available.
The electrofishing surveys will be carried out on Wednesdays and Thursdays in August and September.
Mr Holmes added: “We’re aiming to get some volunteers trained up and from now until the end of September we’ll try and get out a couple of days a week. Ideally we’re looking for a couple of volunteers to come out each day.
“It’s good at the moment because everything is very low so we can get in and do our surveys. If there’s a lot of water you can’t really see anything and you can’t get in for health and safety reasons.
“By September the fish start thinking about spawning so we want to leave them to it.”
For more information or to get involved phone Richard Holmes on 07879 648354 or email richard.holmes@teesriverstrust.org