River Teme fish rescue

The River Teme is one of England’s finest lowland rivers. It rises near Newtown in Wales, meanders through Shropshire and Worcestershire before joining the mighty River Severn just below Worcester. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its entire length.

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Despite its size, however, sections of its upper reaches are prone to drying out during periods of dry weather. This is a fairly frequent occurrence, happening, on average, around once every three years. The stretch most at risk is from Knighton to the confluence with the River Clun at Leintwardine.

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Drying out happens very quickly with low flows changing to a completely dry river bed within a day or two.

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Because the upper parts of the Teme rely on catchment runoff (rather than groundwater) for its flow, an extended period of dry weather quickly translates into low flows and then drying out. That is what has happened this year. The record-wet year of 2012 topped up our reservoirs and groundwater reserves very nicely but the lack of rainfall runoff for the last month (combined with high temperatures and evaporation) has resulted in the upper Teme (and other similar rivers) starting to dry out.

Fishy haven

The Teme is an excellent fishery and is home to a wide range of game and coarse fish. It is very popular with anglers who travel great distances to sample its challenges. The upper Teme is an especially valuable spawning ground for salmon and trout.

You may have thought that a drying river wouldn’t cause too many issues as the fish (being sensible creatures) would just move downstream as things dried out. The problem is that as the flows reduce , large, deep pools of water get cut off as the main river bed becomes dry. The fish tend to seek these pools out as they are deeper and cooler and tend to contain cover (weeds and fallen trees).

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The sun then gets to work on these pools, warming them quickly and oxygen levels in the water fall quickly. Obviously, in time, the pools themselves will dry out.

Launch the rescue team

We monitor high risk river areas like the upper Teme on a regular basis during dry weather. Our fishery officers have years of experience of where and when to look.

Once we know fish are becoming stranded and rescue is possible we scramble our rescue teams from Shrewsbury, Kidderminster and Tewkesbury (depending who’s closest).

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We use electrofishing to catch the fish in the pools. A small electric current is passed through the water which is sufficient to momentarily stun fish. There is quite an art in knowing where to look for the fish and how to efficiently get the optimum charge to the right spot!

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Members of the rescue team scoop them up in nets as they come to the surface and put them into buckets of water.

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The fish are then transferred to a large aerated tank of water towed by a landrover. This keeps them safe and happy until the rescue is complete. They are then taken downstream to a location where flows will be maintained and released.

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Teme haul

During the morning of 18th July we rescued around a hundred large fish from a dozen or so pools. Sadly the small fish and fry cannot be rescued. Some beautiful brown trout were saved as well as salmon parr, stone loach and bullheads.

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In addition we scooped up lots of brook lamprey and returned them to a safer place.

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Work like this is made possible by the money we receive from rod licence sales. We hope that anglers agree that it is important work in safeguarding the natural fish stocks in our rivers.

If you see and dead fish or fish in distress please call our incident hotline 0800 80 70 60

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4 thoughts on “River Teme fish rescue

  1. Interesting to see the theory of why the teme dries out has been updated. The work we did in 2002-9 ish looked at the groundwater links and we came up with the conclusion the water utilises the river valley gravels to travel beneath ground – hence not being visible in some river reaches. Be interested to understand the change in theory. Bores are prevelant in the area. If it was truly ephemeral would not long reaches upstream dry up. Any work on base flow index ? Tony Jenkins or Kate Evans would know where those reports are. Undertaken by esi as part of habitats review. Be interested to understand where the thinking is at now.

  2. I admire your work with saving the fish but does this not dectract from the “natural” balance of a river eco system? The drying up of this stretch of the Teme is not a new occurance, it must have been happening since the river forged its course, which was a couple of years before I was born. Do you replace the fish that were taken in this manner when the river levels return to “acceptable” level? It is a fact that migratory fish such as Salmon and some Brown trout return to spawn at their birthplace, but do we know whether being relocated to whatever distance downstream, will affect this process?

    Best Regards

    Bob Totty

    • Bob. You’re right drying is a natural process although does appear to be happening much more often than 50-100 years ago (probably a combination of a warming climate and more abstraction for agriculture locally). Our concern is that the gravels at the top of the Teme are excellent spawning habitat and attract large numbers of migratory fish. Probably a significant proportion of those in the local river system. If we were to lose them for several years overall populations might be affected. We only move them a short distance to where flows are guaranteed (after the Clun confluence) and because the drying is ephemeral they soon return to where they were.
      Regards Dave

      • Dave

        Thanks for your time to deliver the quick reply, it is much appreciated.
        I have a few more questions regarding the noticable steady decline (according to Environment Agency data) of Salmonids in the river catchment area that you are focused on.
        I shall ask them soon

        Best regards

        Bob Totty

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