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30th April 2019

The project giving River Kennet's fish a fighting chance

The population of roach fish in the River Kennet has been in decline for many years, prompting the establishment of a breeding project to help protect the species from disappearing from its West Berkshire habitat altogether.

The Kennet Roach Project was established in 2016 by Del Shackleford, Fisheries Officer for the Reading and District Angling Association, which leases sections of the River Kennet from the Englefield Estate which is supportive of the project. The common roach is a small fresh water species found across Britain’s waterways and, although not commonly eaten, is a popular catch and release fish for anglers.

“The river’s roach population has been declining for 20-30 years, mainly due to an increase in river flow caused predominantly by urban development and associated run-off,” explained Del. “Whereas fast river flow used to be something that happened mainly throughout the winter months, in recent years we’ve seen increased river flow in the spring. This is when roach spawn so it’s a particular problem because the fry are tiny, at only half-an-inch long, and are particularly vulnerable.

“Concurrently, we’ve also seen a loss of habitat, so the young fish have fewer areas to hide away from the fast flows. They literally get washed out to sea.”

In recent years, the angling association noticed a “significant” decline in the River Kennet’s roach population, which was a stronghold for the fish. The success of the Avon Roach Project near Bristol inspired Del to take action locally.

In the first two years of the five-year project, which has Environment Agency support, stock ponds and spawning beds were established to enable the fish to grow to a substantial enough size that they could withstand the fast-flowing Kennet. Now in its third year, this spring is the first year the young fish will be released into the river.

“Other species are also at risk, such as the barbel and chub,” continued Del. “And while we’re trying to protect them by other means, like habitat conservation, too, the means of protecting the roach fish is relatively simple.

“The idea has involved taking spawn out of the rivers and rearing them for the first three years of the fish’s life, when they’re most vulnerable, so they have a fighting chance of thriving as young roaches when they’re released into the river. This is an important moment in the project, which will take some years to bear any fruit.”

Header picture shows: ten-month-old roach fish in transit between ponds where they will grow big and strong ahead of their release into the River Kennet.