UK's marine ecologists start to think big

Sturgeon stroll to the Humber aims to raise sights on fish conservation
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The Independent Online

Environmentalists seeking to highlight the decimation of the UK's larger fish species are to make a symbolic journey from the headwaters of the Trent to the Humber Estuary, once a thriving spawning ground for sturgeon.

Lisa Chilton, marine development manager for the Wildlife Trusts, said: "We don't think of sturgeon as a UK species, but not so long ago they were common and still part of our diet."

She will join the three-day trek which starts at Coton in the Elms, Derbyshire, the most land-locked place in Britain, and follows the course of the Derwent/Trent system. British sturgeon would once have made a similar journey on their way to the sea.

"It's very easy to collectively forget just how abundant our seas once were," added Ms Chilton. "As a result of that, we're not as ambitious with our conservation efforts. We shouldn't be looking to restore our seas to how they were 10 or 20 years ago, we should be looking beyond that."

The effort coincides with a campaign to highlight the plight of Britain's larger fish species by concentrating on the biggest of them all – the basking shark. Some 5,000 tons were caught annually in the 1960s but this had dropped almost to none by the time it finally became a protected species in 1998. This weekend, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust began counting the sharks to gauge their numbers.

More than 20,000 tons of skate and rays were also caught annually in home waters in the 1920s. Today's figure is about 10 per cent of that.

Marine conservation biologist Professor Callum Roberts, of York University, said: "We tend not to think of the UK as a place that could never boast a profusion of giant fish and cetaceans, but even a century ago it was a very different place.

"As well as sustaining extraordinary numbers of large blue sharks and metre-and-a-half long cod, our waters in the mid-19th century supported, 'numberless whales sporting and rising on every side', large groups of dolphins and seabirds tame from unfamiliarity with people," he said.