Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Eel Conservation Volunteering in the Hogsmill River

An update from Chris Ovington on one of our more unusual volunteering opportunities... 

The 2011 Eel Trap Volunteers
The European Eel, most commonly known for being the “delicious” world renowned jellied eel which was once served across London, has declined rapidly in number (over 95% since the 1980’s).

At Kingston University a total of 14 volunteers have taken up arms (or waders in this case) to fight for the survival of this species...

Volunteers have been monitoring a purpose built eel ladder and trap (designed to keep the eels alive so they can be released up stream) on the Hogsmill River. The programme is being run by Zoological Society London (ZSL).

I have always been passionate about the environment and helping endangered species in any way I can, so when I first heard about this eel project I jumped at the chance to get involved.

During the project volunteers work in pairs with two main roles:

1) The trap checker: enter the river via ladders wearing thick rubber waders and an emergency inflatable jacket; fight through the river current to the eel trap and ladder. Then, using a torch and net, check for any elvers (young eels) and remove any debris which may be blocking water flow. If any elvers are found, you simply fish them out and measure them via the use of a zip lock plastic bag and a ruler (a surprisingly tricky task). 

2) Safety watch out: this person is responsible for the safety and well being of their partner in the river.

Me in the river checking the eel trap!
After each trap check the data is input online directly onto the ZSL website and that is your work done. I personally carried out the eel trap check 16 times (a grand total of about 16 hours).

It is a rare opportunity to be able to climb in the rivers of London, you know you have contributed in efforts to try and save a critically endangered species and the data you collect is part of an important long term study by an internationally recognised conservation body - so it looks good on a CV.

If you have not already considered volunteering for the project I urge you to do so, you will not regret it and the rewards it brings with it will last a life time.

A longer version of this post and more information on the project can be found on the Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group Blog. 

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