Rivers have long been a lifeline for both ecosystems and human communities, The River Sid, flowing through its picturesque valley, is no exception. Our river is not only a source of beauty but also a vital habitat for various fish species. In this article, we delve into the state of fish stocks in the River Sid. The range and quantity of fish found is an indicator of how healthy a river is. The Environment Agency recently described the River Sid as a rare habitat with such a lot of potential; this is due to its active gravel system that is loved by many types of fish. Historically, it has been a habitat for both Sea Trout and Atlantic Salmon, however we have been deprived of these species by large weirs impassable to migrating fish.  But we do have some fresh water species that are doing particularly well. 

On the 5th September, two qualified people from the West Country Rivers Trust surveyed the fish population with electrofishing. Commissioned by the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group their task was to assess six sites to gauge the population of fish in each. Electrofishing involves passing a weak electric current through the water. This stuns the fish temporarily, so they can be netted and identified before returning them to the river; dazed perhaps, but unharmed. This was last done in 2014, so we have data to compare to this year. The sites surveyed were Gilchrist Meadow, Sidbury, the Snod Brook, the Woolbrook, the Roncombe and Plyford Farm.

Two species are regarded as doing well. The most common fish found was Bullhead or Miller’s Thumb. There were 189 recorded with the best numbers in the Roncombe. This species is becoming increasingly rare nationally but the west country is one of its strongholds and the River Sid is doing its bit in helping to preserve this species. 

The other species was brown trout. There were 25 brown trout collected in all, the best site being Sidbury, with nine adults caught; Gilchrist and the Snod also had good numbers. Trout fry were only found in the head waters of the Sid, it is disappointing this was the only location. It is thought that adverse weather conditions might have had an impact on the survival rate of the spawn.

However, it is clear that there is room for a lot of improvement in our river, particularly for Eels, Stone Loach, Minnows and Brook lampreys. These populations are worryingly low, and perhaps close to collapse. There was only one eel found on the day, that was on the Snod. The other species recorded in low numbers were Stone Loach, Minnows and one Stickleback. There were no Brook Lampreys found in this survey; in 2014 there were five recorded. Have we completely lost this species? Stone Loach is only found in one spot on both occasions, why isn’t it in other parts of the river? Although there were more minnows reported this year compared to 2014, they still very low in number. A local farmer recalls seeing loads of Minnows when he was a child here.

The conservation of fish stocks in the River Sid is not the sole responsibility of environmental organizations and government agencies. Local communities play a vital role in safeguarding the river’s ecosystem. There are a number of things that the SVBG are engaging in to understand the river better. We will be developing a vision plan for the River Sid catchment that we hope will be supported by the community so we can affect positive changes within the river.  Our efforts to protect and restore fish stocks in the Sid are essential to ensuring the long-term health of this beautiful river.

There are two fascinating talks on river themes coming up in the Sidmouth Science Festival this year on Saturday 14th of October. You can check these out here https://www.sidmouthsciencefestival.org/

SVBG is a not for profit organisation dependant on volunteers, grants and donations.  Without funding we cannot operate and many of our biodiversity projects will cease.

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