Last week pupils from Lanarkshire became the first in Scotland to release European eels into the wild in a pilot of a new project called Scotland to Sargasso. Based on the Avon Wildlife Trust’s ‘Spawn to be Wild’ project, Scotland to Sargasso involves placing a part of the life cycle of the eel directly into schools to raise awareness of this critically endangered species. Pupils from Chryston Primary School (P3/4) and St Dominic’s Primary in Airdrie (P6) reared eels in class for a few weeks before releasing them into their local rivers to allow them to continue their life cycle.
Eels are catadromous, meaning they must migrate from freshwater to saltwater to breed – this life cycle makes for a fascinating study species but also makes it vulnerable to a variety of pressures across its migratory range. It is thought that all European eels begin life in the Sargasso Sea (near Bermuda) and spend up to two years drifting towards Europe before entering our rivers and streams to mature. On arrival in our waters they are known as ‘glass eels’ due to their transparent appearance – it is at this stage that the eels for this project were collected. Glass eels were collected from the River Parrett, Somerset and taken to Bridgwater College where they were fed in a specialist facility before being distributed among schools. Once in school, the eels were easy to look after (they are fed once a day) and provided a great focus for learning about life cycles, migration and conservation.
We are very grateful for the help of the many partners who made this project possible – the Avon Wildlife Trust and Bristol Water (not only for the idea but also for providing teaching materials), Bridgwater College, the Sustainable Eel Group, Marine Scotland (for permission to stock the eels in Scottish waters), the aquarium staff at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine (University of Glasgow) who provided tanks, and to the River Kelvin Angling Association and the Mid Clyde Angling Association who provided support for this project.
We are currently looking at sponsorship and funding opportunities to develop the project further and to enable more schools to take part in this unique experience.