Salmon lured back to cleaned-up Mersey after 100-year absence

SALMON HAVE returned to the Mersey, which 15 years ago was the most polluted river system in Europe, the Environment Agency believes.

Fish have been seen trying to jump the weir at Warrington, where the tidal section of the Mersey ends, raising the prospect that they may start breeding again in waters from which they have been absent for over a century. Coarse fish such as roach, perch, bream, chub and pike are returning in large numbers to the once-lifeless middle section of the river, encourged by a massive clean-up of the whole Mersey basin that began in 1985.

Increasing numbers of sea fish species - 42 so far - aresteadily returning to the estuary. But the salmon's comeback as a breeding fish would be the most remarkable revival of the waterway, which has long been a byword for pollution.

A series of sightings has convinced Environment Agen-cy staff the fish are already back in the lower, tidal part of the river, below the smaller tributaries they would use as spawning streams. They have been seen trying to get over Howley weir in Warrington, the first big obstacle for migratory fish swimming upstream from the sea, and there have been other sightings of them "porpoising" in the river.

"We all think it's highly likely that they have returned," said Bernie Chappel, the agency's area fisheries manager. "It's the consensus of the fisheries staff. We've had so many reports now that we're sure something has been happening."

The agency has already picked the River Bollin, which joins the Mersey at Lymm, above Warrington, as potentially the first tributary that might allow salmon to spawn. The fish need fast-flowing, clear water and gravel bottoms in which they make "redds", beds used for laying and covering their eggs. The Bollin, which flows through Cheshire after rising high in the Pennines above Macclesfield, has been surveyed for its salmon potential and would be perfectly suitable, Mr Chappel said.

Were it not for its gross pollution, the Mersey would be an ideal salmon river, with its high volume of water and many tributaries, he added. It sits between two other large rivers renowned for salmon - the Ribble and the Dee. The estuary of the Dee, one of Britain's premier salmon rivers, is a meresix miles from the Mersey estuary on the other side of the Wirral peninsula.

Historically the Mersey was a good salmon river but the fish disappeared with the industrial revolution of the 19th century. And the pollution from industry and sewage became so terrible that twenty years ago more than 80 per cent of the entire river basin system, meaning the main river and all its tributaries - about 1,200 miles of waterway - was unable to support fish life.

It was believed to be the most polluted river system in all of Europe. The clean-up campaign was prompted by Michael Heseltine, appointed minister for Merseyside by Margaret Thatcher after the riots of 1981 and who described the state of the river as "an affront to a civilised society".

The Mersey Basin Campaign, begun in 1985, has now presided over a startling change in the river's water quality, with remarkable declines in both industrial and sewage pollution. In the past five years, for example, the 200 industrial discharges at the bottom of the Irwell, the tributary that flows through Manchester and Salford, have been reduced to six. The amount of mercury, one of the most harmful of heavy metal pollutants, flowing down the river, has gone from 300 tons a year in 1985 to less than one ton now. And a pounds 500m improvement programme by North-West Water means the 28 outlets that used to discharge Liverpool's raw sewage into the river have been closed and the city's sewage is all taken to one of the world's biggest treatment plants, at Bootle.

Because of those changes and others, said Tony Jones, the chief executive of the Mersey Basin Trust, between 60 and 70 per cent of the river system can now support fish life and by 2001 that will rise to more than 80 per cent. "But salmon are partic-ularly sensitive, and it would be a great achievement if they were to reappear," Mr Jones said. "We think they could be back soon, if they're not already."

There is a precedent for a grossly polluted English river getting its salmon back - the Thames. In the 19th century the fish were killed off, with the last one being caught in 1833. But a clean-up similar to the Mersey's, begun in the Sixties, prompted a return, and the first new fish was caught at West Thurrock power station, Essex, in November 1974.

Since then a reintroduction programme has brought a steady stream of salmon back - about 160 a year - and after a programme of fish passes on weirs is completed next year, it is hoped that salmon will once again spawn in a Thames tributary, the Kennet, and run the river as they once did.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine