New insights into Cumbria’s salmon habitats

25th June 2019 - Derwent Catchment

Evidence of the preferred habitats of Cumbria’s native Atlantic salmon has been provided by new research from West Cumbria Rivers Trust.

Our annual fish survey had its most successful season ever in 2018, with a record 157 sites surveyed across the River Derwent catchment area and nearly 7,000 salmon and trout recorded and measured. 

With the drought reducing water levels, the team were able to survey sites on major rivers which have not previously been accessible, with striking results. 49% of the salmon observed were recorded at 27 sites on the main rivers, showing that Atlantic salmon prefer these major watercourses to smaller tributaries. The full findings have now been published in the Trust’s annual survey report (.pdf, 21Mb).

Ruth Mackay, Project Officer, said: “Being able to survey main river sites was fantastic. It was in these habitats that we found the highest numbers of salmon fry – salmon less than a year old – which is an encouraging sign that despite the general decline in adult salmon returning from the sea to spawn, those that do make it back are reproducing well.”

Of the salmon observed in major rivers, 65% were in the River Derwent, with most of these downstream of Bassenthwaite Lake and the rest further upstream, between Bassenthwaite Lake and Derwent Water. Good numbers were also seen in the River Cocker, with fewer in the Rivers Greta and Marron.

However, while the drought helped our research effort, it provided a stark reminder that rivers need to be resilient to changing weather conditions. The team saw many areas that were dried up or reduced to a trickle, and fish in some areas under stress, needing rescue, or having died.

Vikki Salas, Assistant Director, explains: “Many of our rivers have been changed and modified over the years and during drought conditions these are some of the first watercourses to dry up, leading to loss of wildlife and a lack of water supplies for livestock and other animals. At the other extreme, during storms, these modified watercourses speed up the flow of water and gravel into communities, contributing to flooding. Restoring and maintaining natural watercourses helps provide resilience to the changing climate and resulting weather conditions.”

We’d like to thank the 36 volunteers who helped conduct the surveys, donating over 800 hours of their time to the project, and the 100 landowners and tenants who permitted access to their land to enable the surveys to happen. Funding for the project was provided by the Patagonia Environmental Grants Fund of the Tides Foundation, the Rivers Corridor Group, the Derwent Owners Association, Cockermouth Anglers, Bowland Game Fishing and Lord and Lady Egremont.

Our fish surveys have been conducted annually since 2015.

Help us out in 2019

The charity’s 2019 fish survey season starts soon and volunteers will be needed throughout July, August and September. Anyone interested should contact Ruth Mackay on ruth@westcumbriariverstrust.org