Friday, 23 May 2014

Wildlife in action

On a magical, sunny day at Blagdon Lake, 1500 elvers (young eels) were released by the Year 5s from Yatton Junior School, ready to start the next stage of their amazing lives in the reservoir.  Blagdon Lake isn't just home to thousands of elvers though... the children also saw nesting coots, mute swans, mallards, cormorants and the many gulls that make a home there.  In the woodland near the pumping station they also saw badger setts, an otter holt (and got to see and smell otter poo!); they waded through the long grasses and flowers of the meadow to a copse where blue tits nest and bats roost.  And talking of bats, they also stopped to look at the old pump house which has been converted into a bat cave.  The lake provides an amazing habitat for such a wide range of plants and animals and seeing all this wildlife 'in action' allowed the children to  understand more fully the food chains and webs that are part and parcel of such a wildlife rich environment.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

St Andrews eel release

On Friday year 5 and 6 at St Andrews finally got to release their elvers into the wild at Blagdon Lake where we hope they will be spending the next 5 to 25 years maturing into fully grown adults.  Then at some point they will be following their instinct to take them back across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

The children not only released the elvers they had been looking after since the beginning of term but also another 2000 (!) ready to start the road to adult life in Blagdon Lake.

 On a beautiful sunny day the children walked across the dam at the bottom of Blagdon Lake and visited the eel pass on the Bristol Water fisheries site. Here the elvers make their way up a special brush system and end up in a bird proof tank. Every morning they are netted and released up into the lake.  Without the eel pass they would not be able to get past the water works that Bristol Water use at the fisheries and therefore would not be able to mature into adults in an ideal habitat such as Blagdon Lake.

The eel pass at Bristol Water fisheries is just one of many devices functioning throughout the UK in an attempt to help elvers and young eels overcome many of the flood defences and other obstacles they find during their journey upstream in rivers and streams.

After finding 2 elvers waiting in the eel pass tank for release the children took part in a nature trail which also taught about several native riverside mammals such as the otter and water vole.

Finally it was back across to the lake to try some smoked eel.  Part of the conservation effort with this species is to make it also commercially viable in the UK and throughout Europe.

All in all, a lovely day was had by all and we would like to thank St Andrews for doing such a brilliant job in helping us to conserve eels in Somerset!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Catherine our young guest blogger from St Andrews shares her writing

 A description of the journey of an eel.

As I slipped through the waves,their fingers licking me as I went along, the sky gazed down upon me.  The serenity struck me as I entered the river; the dark waters were lifeless and empty.  Weeds embraced me as I danced past, but whether they were capturing or loving me I wasn't sure.  Looking through the beautifully deadly waters, the peace hit me.  At night the waters were cold and merciless, hence my journey taking a long time.  However, the day bought calm and sight.  Rocks encrusted the edge o the river like a crowd of faces, jutting their chins out in search of food.

The dark rivers seemed endless pools, drifting into foreign lands. The water - which was filled with sharp rocks and boundless boulders - was my greatest friend, but also my greatest enemy.  Sharp, invisible nets grasped me desperately writhing body until I fled in the other direction.  My heart built up a nest o f fear after close encounters with shiny cages that stole the air from my lungs; rock walls that blocked my view; and evil-smelling debris piles with little space for me to slither past.  Other eels occasionally appeared in the same same problems as me, some lying on rocks as ghastly white strips, dead.  One day (where the vast expanse of water lay innocently and undisturbed) two golden spikes pierced the surface of the water.  I as knocked into the shimmering waves.

I was being attacked by a heron.

Clusters of weeds snapped helplessly around me, putting up no resistance to the force that was shredding them apart.  The spears collided with my body, heaving it further away from the river.  Dark eyes glinting with malice drew closer...and closer....and closer.  Suddenly, I strained in on pain staking motion and flipped back into the water.  Bubbles zooming like cheering crowds past me, whilst the heron screeched in the distance.  My heart stopped rumbling inside me, and a looming mas of darkness appeared.  Nightfall?  A wall of rocks?  It was none of those things:  it was a flood defence.

I stopped uncertainly, and the gentle splash of disturbed water ricocheted in the waves around me,  As the steep edges of the river laughed at my misfortune, I saw a pipe and had a great idea.  I dragged myself up the pipe, a steep angle into the unknown.  Squinting, I noticed the walls shifting and distorting; I swam closer.  I saw creatures.  Eels!  The river was far away, the walls of the rock distant.  I had tried to persevere, and I don't know where the rest of our journey was taking us.  Would we ever complete the journey?

When I sensed that nightfall was ending, I felt a sharp movement.  It wasn't me.  Sliding away from the other eels into the cold river I understood.  It had been an eel pass.  Free at last!  I swam over the rocks and into the future.  I was nearly at my wonderful new home.

Catherine, year 5 St Andrews

Thursday, 15 May 2014


Feeding elvers is a delicate operation - better to let them go a bit hungry than feed them too much - so last bank holiday weekend, the Yatton Junior School Year 5s gave their elvers a little extra to keep them going over the long weekend and were very pleased to see that they had all survived an extra day without food!

Quite a few of the children commented that they thought the elvers were getting stuck on the sides of the tank and were surprised to discover that in fact elvers are great escape artists and were probably not stuck, but exploring instead!  By wiggling and sliding, the elvers can almost lift themselves out of the water, but so far have not managed to get as high as the top of the tank. 

Next week we will be giving the elvers a bit of a helping hand out of the tank because they will be collected up and released into Blagdon Lake for the next stage of their amazing life journey!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Sustainability, sea life and us

Pupils in Congresbury have been busy learning all about the threats to wildlife living in our seas and rivers this week as part of our Spawn to be Wild project funded by Bristol Water.

After learning about the amazing life cycle of the eel and the fantastic journey they make across the Atlantic sea, pupils then learnt about all the hazards they face from humans.  

Wrington Primary School learning about the waste timeline

Pupils from St Andrews Primary try to work out how long our rubbish takes to break down in the sea

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals, and more than 1 million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution and eating or being tangled in plastic waste.  This waste tends to accumulate in areas of slow spiraling water and along the coastlines.  One current has collected a "plastic island" which is the size of Texas covered in rubbish and up to 6 metres deep into the sea.

Pupils were shocked to find out that some items would never break down and heat up whilst floating on the top of the water and let off nasty pollutants into the water.  For example a big piece of plastic can break into many small pieces of plastic once it has been hit by UV rays whilst floating on top of the surface - this means that fish and other marine life can ingest these small traces of plastic which will kill then.  

Definitely made us all think about what else we can do to recycle and make sure we reduce our waste.  Our eels have become like pets and it would be awful to think of them suffering from our waste.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Eely fantastic art work

We think there may have to be some new wallpaper up in our office in Bristol thanks to some really lovely artwork that the schools taking part in Spawn to be Wild this year have done.

Yatton Junior School, sadly no name on it but a very talented artist in the making.

A very imaginative piece from St Andrews School imagining an eel inside its egg
and the journey it has ahead of it

Descriptive piece from St Andrews looking at elvers

Looking at ocean food webs and St Andrews school

A class piece from St Andrews looking at the challenges an eel face

Fantastic stuff, we can't wait to see more and will share pupils work from Wrington school as soon as they have had their next session.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Learning all about the eels fascinating life cycle

Here at Avon Wildlife Trust we love getting to see work that pupils have done, and we are especially impressed with some of the life cycle work that the schools taking part in Spawn to be Wild this year have already done.  Some of them make for very comical reading and are so well thought out.

So we thought we would share them on our blog so that you cn enjoy them too.
St Andrews Primary School student

Yatton Juniors Independent work

Yatton Junior School lifecycle artwork

Yatton Juniors lifecycles

Yatton Juniors

Yatton Juniors 

St Andrews School artwork

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Pollinators and Predators

 This month has been a very exciting time for the learning team at Avon Wildlife Trust.  We've had a busy time with lots of day and residential visits to Folly Farm Centre, Spawn to be Wild schools are doing a great job in rearing their eels and learning about sustainability AND we have also launched our new project Pollinators and Predators. 

CHILDREN in 12 local schools are discovering more about the fascinating lives of pollinators and predators thanks to Avon Wildlife Trust and Western Power Distribution.

Tyndale Primary School students with Cathy Mayne, AWT education officer (left)
and Tracy Carr, Weston Power Distribution (right)
Pollinators, such as moths, and their predators including bats, play an essential role in nature and there is a delicate balance in the relationship between prey and predator. 
Schoolchildren are taking part in games and learning activities inside and outside of the classroom as well as seeing live moths, which have been humanely trapped in their local area. The half-day activities are running throughout May and June and are linked to the National Curriculum.  Our project which is free to schools, thanks to the support of Western Power Distribution, raises awareness of the global decline in pollinating insects due to pressures, such as habitat loss, pests and disease, agricultural practices and climate change.

Did you know that the hairy bodies of moths make them fantastic pollinators; or that they hear sounds through their wings; or that the cecropia moth can smell its mate up to seven miles away with its feathery antennae; and what about the fastest moth in the world? That is the super-speedy sphinx moth which goes faster than 30 miles per hour, breaking the speed limit around schools!  Or that the pollination services they provide are vitally important for our ecosystems and food security, and are estimated to be worth approximately £513 million per year to UK agriculture.  

Avon Wildlife Trust's Pollinators and Predators Project is going to schools in south Gloucestershire including Hanham Abbots Junior School, Longwell Green Primary School, Severn Beach Primary School, St Peter's VC Primary School in Pilning, and Tyndale Primary School in Yate.

Western Power Distribution has worked with the Trust on a number of projects over the years, bringing fun activities to schoolchildren. The company's Community Liaison Officer Tracy Carr even sat in on a pollinators and predators session and was impressed with how much the children learnt, inspired by the fun project.  With the support of companies such as Western Power Distribution, we are able to do so much more for children and communities in and around Bristol and across the West of England.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

What have our elvers been up to?

St Andrews school are keeping a close watch on their elvers to monitor and study their behaviour whilst taking part in our Spawn to be Wild Project funded by Bristol Water.

Here's what the pupils noticed last week:

Two dead eels were removed after the weekend.  This is normal and in the wild there are some casualties, but we hope we don't have any more!

The Eels were all in the corners until one of the pupils gave them some food. They all darted to try and get some. When they were not being fed, most of them were in the plastic float, weaving their bodies through the holes. Sometimes the Eels go on the floor and they are not moving, when they do this some people think they are dead but they seem to be just resting. When they do die, they turn a white colour. Most of the time, the Eels like to be in big clumps together. 
By Phoebe

Most of the eels like to lie on the floor of the tank.  ¼ of the eels where in the plastic tube. The eels are starting to realise when they are getting fed because when Shaun put his hand in the tank to release the food they all swam to the top and jumped up to try and get the food.  
By Natalia

Today the eels are feeding well despite a late serving of fish food. They are doing fine with no more deaths in the tank since the weekend. Also doing great with their tube thingy mbobby. The latest update on length is 7cm long. They tend to enjoy swimming at the sides in big groups rather than the middle. 
By Cameron and JakeJ.

We looked at the eels and we noticed that they had little lumps under the tails. Also they are really growing but some are still the same size as they used to be. The eels all came to come up when they saw food coming. They were weaving in and out of the black tube.        
By Gabbie and Ellie

Today the eels were calm, we saw that one of the eels wasn’t moving and he looked depressed, but when we checked again it was wriggling. They have eaten well and we could see a little patch of poo. They were enjoying their toy. 
By Grace M & Grace C

Thank you St Andrews, we can't wait to hear more about their behaviour.  In the office at Avon Wildlife Trust they get fed at 12.30pm every day and have started coming out now ready for their dinner!