Electrofishing 2016: what’s in our rivers!
Paul Peters, Fisheries Scientist
It was a difficult start to 2016 for all walks of life within the region. Consecutive storms Abigail, Barney, Clodagh and Desmond brought exceptional rainfall during November and December 2015 leading to the worst flooding the North West has seen in recorded history. Significant shifts to river beds occurred with riffle features (where salmonids like to spawn), translocating and river banks eroding by over 40 feet. This culminated in unprecedented disruption with loss of farm land, the death of livestock, loss of power to homes and business and tens of thousands being displaced from their flooded homes.
October through to December is also a key time for salmonid spawning, with brown trout spawning from October to November and Salmon from November in to the new year. This coincided with the arrival of storm Desmond. During this time, both species migrate upstream into the smaller streams and tributaries to lay their eggs. They will select suitable sites based on gravel size with some opting for main river sites where conditions are right. The removal from rivers and delayed natural movements of gravel have destroyed their invertebrate prey and washed out eggs otherwise laid by salmonids.
Of the Ribble’s three main tributaries, our monitoring sites upon the river Calder showed the greatest fall in salmonid numbers. Almost no fry were found there. Indeed, no salmon fry were captured at all this year and only a small number of the salmon parr were found at the foot of Sabden brook. Previously, Sabden water has provided routinely good returns of salmon fry year on year. Brown trout have however, fared better with good to excellent fry returns found upon the smaller feeder streams.
Monitoring sites along the Hodder’s tributaries have also shown a poor return for salmon particularly those for the Rivers Dunsop and Langden. Croasdale and Easington becks did yield an improvement over the previous year. Considering the unfavourable weather conditions, this year has performed better than the last, however the long-term deteriorating trend for salmon in the Hodder catchment and wider Ribble is of concern.
Trout fry returns were below average for Rivers Dunsop and Loud, as well as for the tributaries of the Hodder above Stocks Reservoir, which has underperformed for its second consecutive year. Small feeder streams within the catchment have provided good returns of trout.
Ribble (downstream of Gisburn to Brockholes)
The tributaries of the lower Ribble were largely absent of any salmonids consistent with the findings of the previous eight years. In contrast, good returns of Brown trout were found in the tributaries north of West Bradford up towards Gisburn.
Ribble (upstream of Gisburn)
Main stem sites returned low densities of fry, along with streams displaying high levels of gravel movements. The stretch of main stem Ribble from Sawley up to Nappa that held so much promise after the excellent returns of salmon fry found last survey season has still managed to retain salmon, however in very small numbers.
Results from the upper catchment have remained largely unchanged over the previous year and provided the greatest consistency compared with other sub-catchments further to the 2016 winter floods. Salmon fry even returned to Wigglesworth beck after an absence of six years. The growth of salmonid fry also surpassed that of previous years, providing hope for greater survivorship during this winter and healthy parr during our next annual survey programme.
Is the Future Gray?
Grayling fry and parr and other coarse species have prospered during an otherwise poor developmental year for salmon and trout. More Grayling were captured over the summer than caught during the previous eight years of sampling.
The growth, health and number of individual fish species that a river can support is dependent upon the availability and quality of its habitat. Habitat availability may be assessed by measuring the amount and size of river bed substrate and the spaces found between them. Whilst for habitat quality we can measure the availability of prey items (e.g. counts of river invertebrates) and the concentrations of certain chemicals within the water. Generally, the more varied the habitat the better conditions are for supporting a range of fish species and for greater biodiversity. Beyond this generalisation, the situation within our rivers is highly complex with species specific requirements changing with the fishes age, and even with by the season of the year.
If a case arises where there is too much competition for food or habitat, a fish will seek an alternative that either has fewer fish or has less competition and more food. The idea that an area of river can only hold a finite number of fish is referred to as, “Density dependence”. With grayling, a lack of trout and salmon within the river enables the opportunity to move into a new habitat that holds more/or better food sources.
Winter river levels and shifts in the riverbed substrate will have shifted the invertebrate life within the main channel or that the constant high levels, increased velocities and murky river conditions reduced the predatory success of the grayling, forcing them to find more suitable habitat elsewhere. As an indicator species of good water quality, their increase presence within the Ribble catchment is an exciting development and showcases the excellent habitat that is available to wildlife within the Ribble.
Grayling have not been studied to the extent of salmon or trout and our knowledge of habitat use and requirements is lacking. We wish to support the further research in to Grayling and their behaviours through future studies and closer working with the Grayling Society and Grayling Research Trust.
If the trend in declining salmon numbers, linked to poor sea survival continues, a hypothesised shift to increased grayling abundance and interactions with salmon and trout is anticipated. Through future survey programmes we aim to investigate whether a new trend begins whilst we continuing to promote the enhancement, protection and improvement of available habitat within the Ribble catchment.
Volunteering for the Trust
Charlotte Ireland, Project Administration Officer
As a charity the Ribble Rivers Trust rely on volunteers to help us to deliver habitat improvement works. Our events are carried out across the catchment and we welcome all volunteers regardless of skills, experience, age or ability.
A typical day starts at around 10am, with the Trust staff arriving on site earlier. All our volunteers are given a tool-talks and demonstrations. Once everyone is comfortable we begin! Throughout the day there are regular breaks and whilst our staff usually stay on site until 5pm volunteers are free to come and go as they please. Even a few hours’ work is greatly appreciated.
From December through until March our volunteer days are focusing on tree planting. This is done in winter because the tree roots are dormant and so can cope with the stress of being moved and replanted.
Tree planting is a simple process; using a spade the ground is turned over and split to form a hole, the tree is then planted into this hole and the soil surrounding the tree is pressed down. Finally, a stake and tree guard is placed around the tree to protect it from the weather and mammals such as rabbits. Our staff will always be on hand to help to help if needed.
Why do we plant trees?
Much of Britain was once covered in dense woodland but the majority of this has been lost. However, we are planting more trees as they are a valuable and important resource that provide a range of benefits such as:
- Converting carbon dioxide to oxygen
- Cleaning and filtering water
- Providing food and habitats for invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals.
- Lowering flood risk by slowing rainwater flow
- Providing shelter and hiding places for fish and invertebrates
- Reducing the effects of climate change by keeping the water shaded and cool
The Trust are receiving funding from the Greggs Foundation Community Challenge Fund to help us to deliver tree planting activities across the catchment; including some site visits with local primary school children as part of the Trout in the Classroom activity. These site visits involve a day of tree planting and fly fishing which aims to educate the children and spark an interest in fishing.
The Natural Course project is another of our tree planting funders. Natural Course is a collaborative project between multiple partner organisations which aims to improve the water quality in the North West of England. This will be done exploring ways to improve water quality (such as tree planting) in rural and urban environments; data will then be shared the rest of the UK and EU in the hope that they too can improve water quality. This revolutionary project is the first EU funded LIFE Integrated Project (IP) in the UK and will span over 10 years.
Bags of Help on the way from Tesco!
Charlotte Ireland, Project Administration Officer
Ribble Rivers Trust are excited to announce that we have been shortlisted for funding from the Tesco Bags of Help initiative!
Tesco has teamed up with Groundwork on its Bags of Help initiative in hundreds of regions across England and Wales. The scheme will see three community groups and projects in each of these regions awarded grants of £12,000, £10,000 and £8,000 – all raised from the 5p bag charge.
You can vote in store from 31st October – 13th November to decide who should receive the £12,000, £10,000 and £8,000 awards- so please vote for us in the Bunley store!
Our project will connect and improve river habitat on the River Calder in Burnley Town Centre and in Towneley Park and follows on from the previous work done by Ribble Rivers Trust in Burnley Town Centre.
Our previous work was hugely successful and salmon have now been found in Towneley park for the first time in living memory. However above Towneley park a weir prevents salmon, trout and eels from continuing up the Calder to breed; with no salmon above the weir, and fish populations unsustainable, the river cannot support species such as otters, kingfishers and herons and so is considered in poor health.
If funded out project hopes to help to resolve these issues by modifying the weir to allow fish to pass upstream to breed, the river will be healthier and will support more wildlife for people to see and enjoy!
Summer 2016: Work Experience
After a warm welcome from Paul, we did a quick introduction and I was tasked with loading the car with all the equipment needed for the day. Once the car was loaded, we set off to the first site, meanwhile Paul explained what the trust was about and all the projects they were currently working on. It was really interesting to hear just how much the trust is actually doing and what they had already done within the catchment.
When we arrived at the site, I was introduced to Ruth and we went on to inspect the river. Unfortunately, it had rained quite a lot and the water levels were too high, meaning we couldn’t fish. Better safe than sorry! Once the decision not to fish had been made, we headed back to the office where I was given survey sheets to input into the computer. This wasn’t the most interesting task, but enabled me to gain an insight into what the surveys involved and the kind of information I should be expecting. I was unsure of some of the terminology used, however, I became quite familiar with this during the week.
After this task was finished and I had gone for a lovely walk with Ruth for our lunch break, Ruth and I set out on our next task (the sun had made an appearance by this point so we were eager to be outside doing something useful). The trust had recently become involved with other organisations who had hopes in displaying public artwork linked with the river within the catchment. Ruth and I spent the rest of the day traveling between potential sites for this artwork and discussing its pros and cons. Not only did this educate me on the trusts involvement, but also took me to some beautiful new places. What a lovely first day!
On the second day, like the first, the car was loaded with the equipment and we were off to the first site. It was a lovely place and once we had looked around, we set up for a full quantity survey. This involved placing nets at either end of the area we were fishing to ensure that no fish could leave or enter the site.
Once we had set up, the college students we had been waiting for arrived. They stood and watched the electrofishing and stayed to ask questions before leaving to go on a river walk just upstream. Once they had left, Paul and Ruth continued to fish, whilst I look care of the already caught fish. This involved making sure that the pump was working properly at all times to ensure the water in the buckets was well oxygenated. This continued for some time until we began to realise that the nets didn’t seem to be in the same place we put them and finally (after a confusing couple of minutes) realised this was down to a quickly increasing water level. Because of this, the site was no longer controlled as the nets had moved and the currents became strong very quickly, meaning we could no longer fish. However, in this time, Paul taught a mini lesson in fish biology on some of the fish that had been caught, which was really interesting and I learnt quite a
After packing up and eating lunch, we moved onto the next site in hope that the water levels would be okay. Upon arrival at the site, Paul explained electrofishing in more detail and went through all the information on the survey sheets with me, which gave me quite a lot of new information on the rivers and surrounding areas. From this site onwards, we did semi-quantity surveys, which are quick 5 minute surveys in comparison to the 3 runs done over a much larger area in the full-quantity
In the last site of the day, I had my first go at electrofishing and had the job of netting the fish. Unfortunately, no fish were caught due to the high temperatures and sewage pi
pe just upstream. This showed to me how much of an affect different things can have on the fish population in an area and showed how even a small rise in water temperature can mean that fish completely avoid this part of the river.
The third day was slightly more successful and involved Paul, Ruth and I going between sites and conducting semi-quantity surveys. We started at the same site as yesterday morning and again, were met with a group of eager college students who were very interested in the work the trust does and the methods used. Once the students had left, we moved onto the other sites and began the surveys. Throughout the surveys I took temperature, conductivity and pH readings and discovered the importance of these when it came to electrofishing and the conditions fish need to be able to thrive. This was a long but exciting and educational day.
On my fourth day, I experienced the techniques used to collect water samples from different sites in the Preston area. The sun was out in full force and we drove to 9 different sites where Mike explained the technique used to collect the samples. He demonstrated how to use the grabber to carefully fill up the sample bottle before filling up the two other sample bottles with the collected water. I had a go at filling up the sample bottle and manged to do it without any spillages (which I was quite proud of). We then continued to alternate who collected the sample, which gave me the chance to do it multiple times and really get the hang of it. These samples were then delivered to United Utilities to be tested and the remaining bottles were taken back to the trust for further testing.
When my fifth and final day arrived, we packed the van and went straight to the first site. This was the site we had first been to on the Monday morning and It was raining when we arrived (which seemed to be a trend for this site). After waiting for a couple of minutes to decide what to do, the decision was made to start fishing. We began setting up the nets but unfortunately, the weather was against us and we couldn’t fish at the site due to the rain.
Annoyed at the fact we couldn’t fish here (again!) Paul and I moved on to look at another site, whilst Ruth headed back to the office. We arrived at one of the sites and decided it was okay to fish and walked down to the river. I had the chance to fish in this survey and actually caught some fish! After doing a semi-quantity survey, we counted and measured the fish we had caught and headed back to the van, where we decided it would be best (because of the ever-changing weather) to make our way back to the office for the day.
Overall, my experience has been excellent and I have learnt so much since being here. I have learnt a lot on how the trust work and the things they have done and are doing to help and conserve the river Ribble. I think the experience I have gained will really help me later in my education and will massively help me in reaching my goal to be a marine biologist. I have had a wonderful week and would like to thank the trust for having me and making me feel so welcome from my first day. I have met some lovely, dedicated people and am very grateful to have been given the chance to have such an amazing experience here at the trust.
Keeping the Ribble Cool
Charlotte Ireland, Project Administration Officer
One of the many threats facing Britain’s fish is the effect of climate change on water temperatures. Climate change is not only increasing the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere- it is also raising the temperature of our watercourses causing serious problems for cold water species such as salmon and trout.
On a cool day a shaded river or stream can be up to 3°C cooler than a river or stream in the sun with the difference being even higher on a hot summers day.
In parts of southern England some watercourses reach 30°C in hot weather and experts predict air temperatures could rise another 4°C by 2050: when we take into consideration the fact that prolonged high water temperatures (22°C or above for 7 or more days) reduce water oxygen levels to the extent that it can kill brown trout we begin to see the potential impact of these temperature rises.
How can we help to control water temperatures?
One way of helping to control and reduce this temperature increase is to increase the amount of shade covering the river and so one possible solution is to plant native broadleaf trees along the banks of rivers and streams.
Trees can also improve water quality by filtering potential agricultural pollution, stabilising river banks and slowing the flow of rainwater runoff from the land which in turn may help to reduce flooding. Plus, the woody debris these trees leave provide cool, sheltered pockets of water which provide protection for invertebrates and fish.
At the Trust our approach is to focus on the smaller tributaries and streams in the hope of preventing the sun reaching the water therefore keeping the water cool. This approach is much more effective than attempting to cool the water in the main river that has already been heated in the tributaries.
The Keeping the Ribble Cool project
In the Ribble catchment years of intensive farming have resulted in the damage and, in some cases, total loss of riparian habitats. In order to reverse this problem one of our long term, ongoing goals has been to increase the area covered by healthy riverine habitat.
Habitat is being created by fencing off riverbanks and planting a range of native broadleaved trees such as oak, alder, hazel, rowan, hawthorn and willow. Fencing is very important in this project as it excludes livestock from the riverbank and reduces the risk of the erosion and poaching (as well as preventing the trees from being eaten or crushed). Alternative water supplies are provided for livestock in the form of drinking troughs.
The results so far…
Over a number of years, with the help of our partners, we have planted over 10,000 trees, erected over 10km kilometres of fencing and improved more than 10 hectares of riparian habitat in the Ribble catchment.
When these sites have been revisited the benefits have been clear with:
- Improved water quality
- Larger amounts and greater diversity of invertebrates and fish
- Healthier and more diverse riparian vegetation
- Greater abundance of wildlife
- Reduced soil compaction
This is in addition to the socio-economic benefits such as the strengthening the Trust’s relationships with local farmers and landowners, our volunteers and our project partners.
June 2016: Use of GIS in the Ribble Life Together project
Ellie Brown, GIS Data and Evidence Officer
Ribble Rivers Trust is in the process of developing the Ribble Life Together project: an exciting project that will see the delivery of a wide variety of activities to improve the Ribble Catchment for wildlife and for people.
A tool that is being used regularly during this project is GIS, which stands for ‘Geographic Information Systems’. GIS is computer-based software that stores geographical data (data that refers to locations on the earth) in the form of digital maps. This can range from simply showing where features are in a landscape, such as the distribution of river networks or locations at which certain species have been recorded, to more detailed information such as the condition of habitat patches. GIS can also be used to analyse these digital datasets in order to aid decision making, for example to determine where to carry out habitat improvement works in order to have the greatest environmental or biodiversity benefits.
All-in-all, GIS is an incredibly useful (and powerful) piece of software, and is enabling conservation organisations such as RRT to plan and develop their work in new and exciting ways.
There are two main ways in which GIS has been used during the Ribble Life Together project so far. The first was to prioritise the locations at which new woodlands should be created in order to have the greatest benefit to rivers, their inhabitants and the surrounding environment. Woodlands help to disrupt the overland pathways by which eroded soil, rainwater and animal faeces reach rivers, thus helping to reduce the risk of pollution and flooding. GIS analyses were carried out to identify stretches of rivers where there is a high risk of large volumes of soil, rainwater and/or faeces entering the river, and therefore where creating new woodlands could reduce one or more of these risk factors.
Woodlands also cast shade over rivers which, in view of the predicted temperature increases due to climate change, is important in preventing energy from the sun increasing river temperatures beyond those in which fish and invertebrates can survive. The most effective way of minimising catchment-scale increases in river temperatures is to create shade over smaller streams that feed into larger rivers – you can’t remove heat from rivers, so you need to prevent warm water from entering them in the first place. GIS analyses were therefore carried out to identify lengths of streams and smaller rivers that currently receive little shade, and therefore where creating new riparian woodlands could help to minimise increases in water temperature within them and thus further down the catchment.
The second use of GIS has been to help members of the public discover ways in which they can explore the Ribble Catchment. RRT is developing a series of walks across the catchment, and GIS is being used to produce maps of each walk route, including points of interest, to be used by the public alongside more detailed route descriptions.
Over the course of the Ribble Life Together project, GIS maps will be highly beneficial for many other purposes. For example, the use of interactive maps on the RLT website will allow the public to explore where they can view new river-related artinstallations, listen to audio guides about interesting river features, or view the results of wildlife surveys (click here).
Keep your eyes peeled for these exciting developments!
May 2016: Water Friendly Farming
Ceri Katz, Agricultural Projects Officer
Finally some drier weather! Following the wettest winter since records started more than a century ago, farmers have struggled to carry out their normal farm activities. Slurry storage has become particularly problematic, often leading to spreading in inappropriate conditions.
We have been working with farmers in the tidal Ribble area of the catchment to look at tackling “pathways” and sources of pollutants, the focus is on Bathing Waters and reducing faecal inputs. This project is a partnership project between the Ribble Rivers Trust, Environment Agency, United Utilities, NFU and catchment Sensitive Farming.
This is the first time we have worked in the tidal area. We have carried out 30 confidential farm visits within the tidal Ribble catchment, identifying opportunities on farms, such as separating clean & dirty water, improving slurry storage and watercourse fencing that provide benefits to the farm, the environment but also importantly Bathing Waters.
We have also held a number of farmers meetings in conjunction with Catchment Sensitive Farming, Campaign for the Farmed Environment & Environment Agency. Joined up advice delivery is at the heart of the Catchment Based Approach. Topics covered included yard management, soil & manure management, legal requirements for on-farm storage of manure & effluent and an update on Countryside Stewardship.
Separating clean & dirty water will help to reduce the pressure on slurry storage and allow spreading during suitable ground condition. This will reduce the potential pollution risk and reduce the chance of soil compaction, which can further heighten the risk of pollution. By reducing the pressure on slurry storage, farmers are able to make better use of the nutrient in the slurry and spread at the most appropriate time for the crop.
We have identified a number of opportunities to reduce the potential pollution risk and look forward to working with the farmers to implement these activities in the coming months.
Bin it for beaches this Easter
The Easter weekend is a great time to chill with family and friends. If that means cooking a roast or big meal, chances are you’ll have fats, oils and grease left in your roasting tin or pan. And you might think putting that leftover fat down the sink with hot water and washing up liquid means it runs way never to be seen again.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t! It sets hard in the pipes and mixes with other unmentionables flushed down the loo like baby wipes and cotton buds, causing blockages.
This can not only mean problems for you at home, but clogged sewer pipes that take waste water away can also cause untreated sewage to run into homes, gardens, streets and even end up in rivers, the sea and on beaches. Yuk!
The average cost of calling someone to clear a blocked drain at your house is £85. More than 50% of blockages are avoidable so we can all do something to prevent this from happening. So if you’re having a big Sunday roast this Easter, or any weekend, please follow these top tips to avoid blockages and help the environment:
- Scrape leftover fat from roasting trays and pans into a heat resistant container then recycle or #binit4beaches when cooled
- Wipe grease left in pans with kitchen roll and #binit4beaches
- Use a sink strainer to catch food scraps and #binit4beaches
- For larger quantities of cooking oils, contact your local council who’ll let you know if they can be recycled
#binit4beaches is a nationwide campaign changing the way we live to help us have cleaner seas. You don’t have to live by the sea to make a difference. Take a photo of your #binit4beaches action and share it on Twitter @LOVEmyBEACH
March 2016: Events and Shows
Charlotte Ireland, Project Administration Officer
The spring/summer volunteer season was kick started with a bang on Saturday the 5th March with a brilliant day out in Whalley & Billington where, in partnership with Whalley in Bloom, we collected a massive amount of litter from the banks of the River Calder. It’s estimated that around 100 people attended and the difference we made in just three hours was outstanding.
It’s not just river clean-ups; Ribble Rivers Trust run volunteer events throughout the year but spring and summer really is the best time to join us for a days work in the great outdoors. From tree planting to balsam bashing we have a variety of different events volunteers can take part in. The best bit of the volunteer events is that everyone is welcome, equipment and training is prov
ided and we often provide the drinks and biscuits!
Fantastic day tree planting near Settle and Long Preston with @BurnleyCollege environment and conservation students, a credit to themselves and the college! cracking weather too, check out this 360 photo… #theta360uk – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
Tree planting near Settle with Burnley College students
As well as volunteer days another important part of the spring and summer months is the show calendar, last year we attended over a dozen shows all over the catchment. These shows are a great way for us to spread the word about the work we do, people from all walks of life attend for a great day out and our work and displays are often a little bit different from what the other exhibitors have to show!
This year we have also been fortunate to get funding for a new, much needed gazebo, as we all know the Great British Summer can be temperamental and we need somewhere to keep our visitors (and staff) sheltered and dry!
The Trust has also been lucky enough to receive a free charity banner from https://www.displaywizard.co.uk/display-boards.html who have kindly provided us with banners for this year’s events.
So whether it’s at one of the areas brilliant shows or on one of our many volunteer events we look forward to seeing you in person, please stop by for a chat and to learn more about the work Ribble Rivers Trust do!
Our 2016 show dates are below; we are hoping to keep adding dates to this list!
07/05/2016 Long Preston May Day
30/05/2016 Great Harwood
12/06/2016 Myerscough College Open Day
09/07/2016 Goosnargh and Longridge
14/08/2016 Trawden Show
27/08/2016 Chipping Show
10/09/2016 Hodder Valley Show
Alternatively click here to find out more about volunteering.
December 2015: River Darwen Fish Passage
By Adam Walmsley, Project Officer
So far in the Trust’s history, we haven’t ventured far into the Darwen catchment. We knew this urban and heavily modified system would be a big challenge to restore, and there were plenty of easier targets elsewhere in the wider Ribble catchment. In 2011, we carried out a restoration feasibilitystudy which involved surveying all the watercourses of the Darwen for physical modifications and assessing their ecological condition using detailed invertebrate monitoring. This project identified over 160 barriers to fish migration. Just as importantly, we became familiar with the catchment and had the information needed to start planning restoration activities.
Barriers to fish migration come in many forms, but weirs are the main offenders. For fish which
migrate between rivers and the sea, such as salmon and eels, these are obviously a big problem. However, so-called ‘resident’ fish like brown trout also naturally migrate within a river system, particularly during spawning season. This is why, on a river like the Darwen, which currently has no salmon or sea trout, you will still see lots of fish jumping at the base of weirs in autumn.
In 2015, funding became available through the Catchment Partnership Action Fund for river restoration works in urban areas. This was a perfect opportunity for us to begin making progress on the Darwen. Two weirs were selected for removal and planning work was started for the installation of fish easements on two others.
The first weir we removed was on a secluded section of river between the Darwen Waste-Water Treatment Works and the Crown Paints factory. Before we removed this, Mike carried out some PIT tagging work to test how much of a barrier the weir was to fish. Of 13 tagged fish which attempted to make it back above the weir, only one was successful. To reduce the risk of undercutting the banks upstream, only the middle 60% of the weir was removed, and the remaining sections supported with concrete abutments. Thanks go to United Utilities and Crown Paints for their support on this project.
The second weir was just downstream of the M65, at the confluence of the River Darwen and Davey Field Brook. The top half of this stone weir had already washed away in the floods of 2012, but a significant barrier still remained. This was one of the quickest and easiest weir removals we have ever carried out, the in-river work being completed in under an hour. Thanks to CPC Premier Farnell Ltd for allowing us access through their site.
We have also been working on fish passage solutions at two very large weirs further down the river, one at Lower Darwen and one at Hoghton Bottoms. These are far too big to remove outright andwill need some sort of fish easement constructing to allow migration through them.
Two further (massive) weirs lie downstream, preventing access to the Darwen for salmon and sea trout. Though very challenging, it would be possible to put fish passes on these. The water quality in this system is much better than it used to be and continues to improve. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that in years to come we could see the return of salmon to Blackburn and Darwen, just as we have in Burnley and Colne. What a story that would be!
October 2015: Fish Populations
By Paul Peters, Fisheries Scientist
It has been another busy summer for the survey team and with help of 12 local volunteers we have covered 260 semi-quantitative sites, 65 quantitative sites, and carried out five fish rescues.
This season we welcomed back Stephen Harrison as one of our Seasonal Survey Assistants and had the pleasure of welcoming a second assistant, Rosemary Sigger. Needless to say this year’s survey effort would not have been possible without such a large bunch of dedicated people.
Fishery surveys are used to measure the distribution and densities of ‘salmonids’, the collective term given to species of the Salmonidae family. Within the Ribble catchment there are three species of native salmonids; Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Sea/Brown Trout (Salmo trutta), and Grayling (Thymallus thymallus). We occasionally encounter Grayling fry during our surveys; however we actively target salmon and trout as these are classified as key stone species within our upland river system and are good bio indicators of stream health. The spatial and temporal data that the Trust collects helps us to assess the progress of specific catchment areas and monitor schemes that the Trust has undertaken.
In order to undertake our fisheries surveys we utilise a technique called electric fishing, a widely used monitoring tool within the scientific community. Electric fishing is carried out by at least two operators and involves the use of a weak electric field; the voltage and frequency (Hz) of the electric fishing equipment are set depending on the conductivity of the water (linked to ionic content) and the species of fish that is being targeted. When an electrical charge is applied to the water, it invokes and involuntary swimming response in the fish which swim toward the field. The ‘anoder’ controls the electric field whilst a ‘netter’ positions themselves downstream of the anoder and uses the water flow to help catch the fish with a 30cm dip net. The team fishes across the stream, wading upstream after each width has been completed. The captured fish are placed in a bucket and any salmonids that are seen but not captured are counted. The backpack has a timer that counts down when ‘fishing’, after five minutes have elapsed the captured fish are speciated and the salmonids are measured to fork length: measurements taken from the tip of the snout to the fork in the tail (caudal) fin. This allows for a standard measurement to be taken for all captured salmonids, some of which have damaged fin tips from fighting or predation.
From this five-minute survey using the number of captured salmonids plus those fish that are seen but not captured and the total fished area we can calculate our Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) and therefore a relative population estimate. The data we collect from the semi-quantitative surveys (semis) is calibrated through our quantitative surveys (quants). These surveys use the same basic principle on a larger scale. A reach (length typically 10 times the width) is stop-netted to prevent any fish entering or escaping the survey area. This reach is fished three times with each runs catch separated into reservoirs, allowing us to effectively remove the whole fish population from the given reach. The fish are processed as with a semi-quant before being released. As the quants include three runs the efficiency of the operators of can be calculated – the number of salmonids captured in the first run compared to the following two runs. This calibration (through the use of linear regression analysis) provides us with adjusted values for our semi-quant surveys. The final value for salmon and trout fry is then calculated per 100m², and in turn classified using the National Fisheries Classification Scheme (NFCS).
In this way the quick semi-quantitative surveys allow us to monitor a greater number of sites across a catchment wide area, whilst the quantitative surveys ensure we have robust data. The information gathered from each survey site informs us of the progress of established habitat schemes, areas that would benefit from new schemes and highlights areas of good spawning and habitats that are underperforming.
Analysis of our results is ongoing however our initial findings seem to indicate an upstream shift in salmon from the lower Ribble area into previously unutilised reaches in the Calder system; both adult (as indicated by the presence of fry) and parr have been observed, with fry found along the river Brun and Colne Water at the end of June.
Unfortunately our results do indicate an absence of salmon along Ings and Swanside becks, Mid-Ribble, and Sabden on the Calder, tributaries known for reliable salmon fry densities in previous years. Further analysis of the data will try to explain this apparent drop in these tributaries and the catchment as a whole, so stay tuned!
Further to our Salmon Tracking Study which concluded last summer new exploratory electric fishing sites were selected along the main stem of the Ribble between Sawley and Nappa to confirm findings that spring salmon were using gravels along the main stem. The results from these sites have reinforced the findings, with highest densities for salmon fry measuring across some reaches.
Trout numbers have declined compared to last years with more noticeable drops along upper Pendle water on the Calder system and tributaries above Stocks reservoir on the Hodder. Further analysis and research is needed to understand this decline. Fortunately it has not all been doom and gloom: a trout fry was found in Showley Brook, Clayton-le-dale, and the first seen there in five years. The Trust recently installed a riparian habitat scheme along a section of the brook and hopefully this will help contribute to a more diverse and stable habitat leading to an increased fry density.
It is important to note that even with our use of specialist equipment to collect data from the fisheries surveys; this is only one aspect of the surveys themselves. Landowners and the public are vital sources of local knowledge that can shed light on the health of the rivers we survey. They follow the life of their rivers on a day to day basis and observations they may view as trivial or common may be the key to understanding the fluctuations in salmonid populations and the health of their river.
Summer 2015: Work Experience
Abigail, University of Birmingham.
On my first day with John we drove out to look at a couple of previous projects the trust had done which gave me an idea of what the trust does. John then decided to use up some tree saplings that were left over from a project by planting them at a farm in Sabden where the stream had been fenced off to keep cattle out a year before. I learnt how to plant trees and the effort required to complete habitat schemes. Even after the initial scheme has been completed, the sites are still checked on and improved months and years later. The trees will grow and provide shade for the stream which will increase its productivity. I was fascinated by the large amount of variety of plants there was inside the fencing that were able to grow undisturbed by grazing cows, even finding an orchid. John identified the species of wild flowers and grasses and showed me how to identify them myself. Another day with John I spent balsam bashing. This involves picking, strimming and spraying the invasive species Himalayan Balsam. I was educated by Adam the importance of getting rid of this species and the danger of it outcompeting native species and growing on river banks. I also learnt how to pull it out and dispose of it without the possibility of it growing back again. As well as Himalayan Balsam, I found out about the other invasive species that are found around rivers and the constant battle against them.
Whilst with the trust I also participated in a number of volunteer days, the first being finishing off a project where brash had been placed to slow down erosion of the banking. The brash had to be secured to wooden posts on the bank to keep it in place and prevent it from floating downstream in high flows. The fence then needed to be replaced to keep cattle from reaching the river. This involved banging in posts and securing wire to them, although I’m not the finest at fence building I still learnt the skills and time involved when fencing off streams and rivers. The environmental agency have a couple of days a year where they do volunteering with the trust, I helped out in the morning for those days. These days involved bundling brash in a woodland then moving it to the site where it was put in and secured to the bank the week after. These days also offered me insight into the work the EA does and the importance of both the trust and the EA working together.
I experienced electrofishing towards the end of the summer. Electrofishing allowed me to experience a different side to sampling compared to the soil and water sampling I have carried out at uni. I was able to participate in both full quant and semi-quant surveys during my two days. During the first day we did 5 semi-quant surveys in the morning, it was interesting to learn the common species of fish found in rivers and the information required to form the stats we read about them. After the productive morning work came to a standstill due to storms in the area. The second day involved doing one of the larger full quants in Ribblesdale Park. The difference between full quant and semi quant surveys was significant with the full quant survey we did taking a lot longer and involving 3 runs of electrofishing rather than the 5 minutes done in semi quants. However, all the measurements taken remained the same so the data could be quantified. The use of reservoirs was also used during this survey due to the longer time the fish spend out of the water, these had to stay oxygenated and the temperature monitored to ensure there were no casualties. Hundreds of fish were caught during the 3 runs and once finished they had to be recorded with the salmon, trout and eels being measured at the same time. This allowed me to see the differences between salmon and trout and have a fish anatomy lesson.
I am sure all of the experience and knowledge I have learnt over the summer will benefit me during my second year of study and it has allowed me to gain new practical skills I will be able to use in the field.
Thank you to the Trust for having me for the summer!
September 2015: Water sampling for the Tidal Ribble project
By Gareth Jones, Catchment Science Coordinator
This years stringent new Bathing Water standards have been introduced with the aim of seeing our local beaches becoming cleaner places to visit. The standard is set according to the number of microbes that are present in our beaches water. Although they are naturally occurring beasties, those that are present in sufficient numbers can cause us illness and upset stomachs having grown in and being transported via animal poo (to include humans). United Utilities in association with its partners have been modelling where the greatest sources of microbes come from within our catchment and are working to improve matters. To complement this work, the Ribble Rivers Trust has been sampling the water in thirteen of the Ribble estuaries’ smaller tributaries to investigate their contributions. The longest of these, Savick Brook, winds 19km from Longridge through Preston to the estuary near to the Preston Dock steam railway station. It is our longest tributary west of the M6 and for this reason we sample two locations along it. The area represents a new challenge and landscape for us whilst bringing the opportunity to making a positive difference to improve river habitat.
Since the start of the Bathing Water season in late May, we have collected water samples for United Utilities to then count the microbes and measure the amount of Boron in the water. Sampling just after wet weather has been the ideal time because more flow transports more microbes out to the estuary and impact our beaches. Boron is interesting because it can help us understand whether a water sample contains detergents from a more urban source. The hope is that we will be able to distinguish where the greatest rural sources are found so that we may assist farms with reducing the amount of poo polluting water courses. The process of collecting the samples has also provided a good opportunity to demonstrate new techniques to our bloggers below as well as work with new partners and farms we had not previously. Although collecting water sounds straight forward at first, samples may become easily contaminated, the microbes in the sample may grow too quickly when it’s warm or may die if they are stored too cold. This is before mentioning any close encounters of a bovine-kind. With the last of our water samples due to be collected in October we will soon be deciding which tributaries are our priority for further investigation and the potential delivery of improvements.
If any of the above leaves you fearful for your next paddle then know that prolonged exposure to direct sunlight does kill the microbes and that organisations such as http://lovemybeach.org/groups/fylde are working hard to keep your beaches clean. You can also find more information about the current water quality standard at your beach via http://environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/profiles/
Friday 28th August 2015: Work Experience
By Olly, Clitheroe Royal Grammer School Sixth Form
After a brief but friendly introduction to all the lovely people working here at the trust, Paul was given the go-ahead to collect water samples from various sites in the Preston area and we were off for the day. This task involved collecting water from the streams and rivers and delivering the samples to United Utilities; sounds like an easy job, right? Turns out it’s a lot more delicate an affair than simply running into the water and scooping up a bottle before driving merrily off without a care in the world. Paul demonstrated how they carefully have to use a grabber arm to fill a sample bottle, so as not to disturb the river bed and accidently collect large amounts of sediment. This is then poured into a sealed bottle with preservatives and another containing nitric acid, to be delivered to United Utilities; the remaining we were to do some simple tests on later. While collecting them we had to wear sanitised rubber gloves so as not to contaminate the samples. I was then allowed to complete this myself on later sites, doing a rather good job, if I do say so myself.
When we got back to the office I helped Rosemary to test the water, learning in the process about what all of these measurements meant. Afterwards I was set to work on entering surveys the trust had collected onto the database. This wasn’t overly exciting I must admit, however I’m pretty sure I know where the River Ribble source is now – so at least I’m learning.
On my second day I was fortunate enough to accompany Paul and Stephen to one of the larger full quantity surveys that the trust does. After we had netted up the site so no fish could enter or escape the area, the days work began. The use of electro fishing was fascinating for me, the way the fish are mesmerised by the electricity flowing through the water from the anode was weird to see; scooping them up with a net was made fairly easy by this. I must say though, Paul looked like he’d been thrown into a slightly less thrilling Ghostbusters remake with the backpack fastened to him. I was allowed to net for him for a little while, but it was clear that the water was busy with fish so the more experienced Stephen was tasked with this for the majority. I however was tasked with keeping the collected fish alive, a mighty responsibility. This involved ensuring the filtered pumps were continually running and checking that no fish had floated to the top, a sight I’m glad to say I didn’t see. When one of the pumps failed I was also required to periodically replace the water with a bucket to ensure it was well oxygenated, a job I surprisingly enjoyed.
The sixty five metre stretch took almost two hours to complete the three runs required, with an almost never ending stream of fish being collected and stored in the filtered buckets we took with us. Upon completion of this we were all pretty tired, however we were still required to record the species and length of each fish before releasing them back into the river. This took a very long time, but by the end of it we had recorded a total of 278 fish – wow. This figure made me realise just how teeming with life our rivers are, allowing me to appreciate and respect them to a greater extent. Although Paul informed me that at the same site last year there was upwards of 800 fish collected, so we were still disappointed with the figure we collected. While at the site Paul also showed me some otter spraint and several crayfish, one of which particularly interested us, due to its blue color.
Wednesday wasn’t such an eventful day, but enjoyable none the less. It began the same as yesterday, packing up the van with equipment for the day. However, due to heavy rain the previous evening all the sites we went to turned out to be rather less than optimal for electrofishing, which requires very particular conditions to carry out. This meant that Paul, Stephen and myself returned to the office rather disappointed, returning the various equipment to storage. Instead I was tasked with repairing and cleaning various pieces of equipment for a while, making sure everything was working as it should. But alas, this came to an end quickly and I returned to the computer to type up more data; a necessary task that flew by.
On Thursday and Friday we were back out in the field, performing another full quantity survey and several semi quantity surveys. Some of the sites were easy going so I was able to try netting more, I thoroughly enjoyed catching the fish but I’m sure I let many slip away back under the rocks. I also learnt how to access the site, taking note of all the details such as what percentage of the section was bedrock, cobble, etc. This information would then be used later in the office. The weather was beautiful while we were out, but due to the rain overnight Friday we were unable to fish at many of the intended sites; I picked the worst week to help out of course. Despite this, visiting all the sites and seeing the river, fish and other wildlife was very interesting and enjoyable.
My experience throughout the week has given me a large insight into both the rivers that wind through the area as well as how the trust operates. It has been a very valuable week for me and I would like to thank everyone who works at the trust for allowing me to be there for the week and treating me as one of them, it really has been a wonderful week despite the weather preventing us from doing everything we hoped.
Friday 7th August 2015: Work Experience
By Erin, Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
The first task I was given upon meeting the team- Paul, Stephen and Rosemary- was to help load up the car for the day with nets, buckets, and other tools of the trade, before we were off and on our way to my first survey- a full quant on Hareden Brook. As it was my first time out on the field, I mainly helped with set up and monitoring the fish caught in our netted-off area with Rosemary to make sure they weren’t swimming into the aeration equipment used to keep the water in the buckets oxygenated. After all, we were there to make sure the fish were okay, not endanger them! After finishing the three runs along the river, we moved round the stream a little ways and set up another quant along a small spawning channel, and a semi-quant in the river where it joined. During the day, Paul used some of our catch to help explain to me the differences between, and life cycles of the species we were trying to identify, as well as name all of the different fins on our little friends, and highlight the importance of monitoring fish patterns to ensure the population numbers were stable. After releasing them back into their aquatic homes, we were off home ourselves, job well done.
Day two was more active, with a myriad of semi-quants to do around the Chipping area with Paul and Stephen, which meant making our way through fields and footpaths to find a suitable site at the riverbank- I almost slipped a few times, but managed to find my footing and salvage my dignity most of the time. Though some were too deep for me and my wellies, leaving me in charge of the clipboard and tally charts, I managed to help fish in some of the shallower streams- the pros made it look easy, but I’m pretty sure most of the river’s population escaped the net and my grasp. Thankfully, it seemed the stream I was fishing in was mainly home to Bullheads and Stone Loaches, so there weren’t too many salmonid losses- though that might have just been my inexperienced eye! I also got to visit some of the sites the Trust was trying to restore and protect, with new additions of fences to close off the river from grazing animals, as well as ‘willow stakes’ to give the bank structure and support. This would hopefully allow those areas to withstand erosion from the river, and continue to be a thriving environment for native species of plants and fish. I was really excited when an old otter spraint was found- though sadly the creator never made an appearance- but the highlight of the day was an unexpected visitor in Stephen’s net- a sea trout, returning home upriver. Darker in colour, and quite a bit bigger, this weary traveller was quite happy to chill whilst we snapped some photos, before being released and disappearing into the murk and depths.
On Wednesday, Paul and Rosemary from the Trust united with some PHD students from Manchester University to help catch some fish for a study. We met up near the Wild Boar Park in Bowland, before heading cross the fields to find a good place to catch some fry. Though only four were needed for the study, it was a difficult task to find them! Almost as if they knew we were coming, the fish in our stretch of the river were elusive or simply absent, but we finally managed to find our subjects. Upon returning to the car, we were treated to an outdoor surgery, as the students removed the most miniscule of hearts and livers, before refrigerating them and the bodies of their donors for transport to the labs. There was some serious envy to be had at the skill it took to take out such tiny organs without damaging them, and the steadiness of their hands.
Thursday introduced me to Mike, and the art of water sampling. Travelling to spots around the Preston area, we collected jars of water for tests and studies by United Utilities, to check the microbe levels in the water, as well as the types and kinds of mini-creatures living there. In order to not disturb the sediment, and thus the microorganisms in the water, the jar was filled using a grip-tool from the bank, and then carefully set down, before being transferred to numerous other jars for different purposes. However, seeing as this week has proven once and for all that I lack any kind of elegance, grace or balance; I was in charge of labelling these bottles ready for the lab.
Friday was back near Chipping with Stephen and Paul, this time for a full quant. Due to the usual appearance of some strange weather also known as summer, and the higher temperatures it brought with it, I looked after our holding buckets to make sure the temperature was still cool enough for the inhabitants. After measuring and releasing our finds, with a distinct feeling of achievement at the amount of fish, we went on to do some semi-quants around the area, heading upstream. Sadly, a few of the sites had a rather reduced number of residents, though a couple were still lurking and willing to put in an appearance for my final day.
All in all, this week has given me the chance to meet some wonderful and dedicated people who truly care about our rivers and the impact we have upon them, as well as get up close and personal with those that make the river their home, and learn more about them, and their mysterious watery world. Rivers truly are an amazing piece of ecology, and there’s always something new to learn, something incredible to discover, if you are only willing to look beneath the surface.
Friday 7th August 2015: Work Experience
By Jack, Turton School
Never, in all my time, have I encountered a group of people so passionate about FISH!
But, in all seriousness, the passion and love for the subject shown by the guys is fantastically infectious and almost inspiring (which is a miracle seen as I’m a 15-year-old lad from Bolton: weir (pun intended) not inspired very easily). It meant that I was obsessed straightaway and was driven to learn more about the Trust and their work. Luckily, that wasn’t far to find as I quizzed John Milne on the way to our first job, and I’ll give him credit because the man knows his stuff! On that first day, I learnt a ton and a half about the subject and company, and also about work-life in general. Our first job was GPS-ing a fence up in the Yorkie Dales, though the weather was a bit naff, it was made up for by the beautiful limestone scenery, it really must be great to work in places like that. John seemed immensely proud of what he had done, stopping on the way back to point out various projects that the Trust had done in the past, which were very impressive; I find it amazing that a charity, funded by other parties, could pull off such amazing work, and the things that they’ve been doing in Burnley… incredible!
The second day was not so fun, as it was administration day with Catherine. I organised check-in sheets, sorted, inputted, and moved various data to various spreadsheets. It was as boring as it sounds, yes, but I wasn’t complaining. The warm and friendly atmosphere was extremely inviting and never once did I feel isolated. The only negative was Catherine’s bacon popcorn, not that it was bad, just that it completely boggles my brain!
The third day started off rather like the second: I was organising Anglers’ Passports. However, John took me out at midday to go and get a farmer to sign the forms for fencing to be built. The Trust demonstrated many times whilst I was there, their ability to co-operate and partner with both the locals and bigger companies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Forestry Commission, United Utilities, etc. It just goes to show their ability as a charity! The farmer was very nice and got on well with the Trust: the work that they do is always mutually beneficial, meaning that everybody wins! His only issue was that the fencing took a tad too much land, which was not a problem at all to John as we went out and moved it right away, no trouble.
When admin day was as boring as it sounds, electrofishing day was as cool as it sounds. We went out to survey fish by a process that concedes of stunning the fish and then measuring and tallying them. It was shocking (pun intended) to see how many fish that we found in such a small section of river (over 80 in only 60m of river), and was really eye-opening. It made me realise that what these guys do really does mean something. And the weather held up… yes! I left them a tin of biscuits, but I don’t think that it equates to the amount of things that I’ve learnt and experienced. Thanks to Ribble Rivers Trust for taking me on: it was really worthwhile.
Friday 24th July 2015: Work Experience
By Alaina, Kirkham Grammar School
After my warm welcome from Gareth to the trust I was soon put to work loading the pickup for the busy day ahead. My first fish survey was a full quant near Ribchester. Soon we were setting up the three reservoirs for our catch, with my first task being fish welfare. As Gareth and Stephen fished between our two nets, I was taking temperature readings as it is vital our fish tubs don’t go any higher than 18 degrees. Unfortunately this first site was not as productive as it has been in the past and we soon moved on to more sites for semi-quants near Mellor which saw higher numbers of fish, more similar to those in the past.
My second day started much the same way, electrofishing with Paul and Stephen. I took control of the clipboard and assisted on the qualitative side of the survey and marking down fish lengths. Later on in the day (after one to two barbed wire incidents) I was allowed to take control of the net- which is an awful lot harder than it looks! I missed quite a few Bullheads and Stone loaches at first as they are very hard to see in the water, but I soon got used to shoving my hands in and scooping the missed ones out. I am ashamed to say I still missed a quite few though!
Wednesday was electrofishing again on sites near Stocks reservoir. Here we found more trout fry as well as Salmon-the species we look for as our indicators. Today I saw some more of the work the trust has historically undertaken. This mainly included fencing the sides of the river to stop poaching from livestock and leaving areas around the banks to encourage a greater variety native species to grow and thrive while protecting livestock within the river.
We were back near Slaidburn on Thursday. After some fairly lengthy walks with equipment to some difficult to get to spots, I was let loose with the net again. I was improving-slightly-and netted a number of fry as well as par. We were very happy with one of our catches as we found a Salmon fry at a site they had never previously been seen at. This was an excellent opportunity for a lesson on fish biology that is certainly a lot different to in the classroom!
On my last day with the trust we undertook a second full quant survey. This provided me with an opportunity to see the full amount of fish that live in such a short distance in our local rivers. On this final survey we had a couple of good sized trout and a lot of Minnow as well as Bullheads and Stone loaches. Once again it provided me with the opportunity to ask lots of questions!
This week has given me loads of incredibly valuable fieldwork experience-something that I have only had in small doses before! It has shown me what geography really looks like in the field and out of the text book. I would like to thank everyone at the trust for showing me their work and teaching me about our local rivers and the species that live within.
Friday 3rd July 2015: Work Experience with Ribble Rivers Trust
By Katie, Oakhill College
My first week at the Ribble River Trust was very interesting I had lots of opportunities to ask lots of questions for example when PHD students visited to help do some field work for their experiment. I have also seen many of the chores that you have to do when doing this job, I have only seen the good ones, electrofishing has to be my favourite I have done semi quants and full ones so I can really see all the effort that goes into to doing these surveys. We also did some water sampling and I found this good because it showed me the first step of how to improve the water which will help save the ecosystem beneath it. On Thursday I found my first mink scat and all I can remember from that was Gareth telling me what different animal poo smells like.
I still haven’t fully got the hang of netting the fish before they come to and manage to swim away but hopefully I will get better. So far this has been a really good experience and I know that when it is over I use what I have learnt from this. In my two weeks I have managed to see salmon fry as well as trout. But however I feel that there is always something that you didn’t know about our rivers that you have to learn.
But I as I looked more into this job I found out that there is a lot more to it than just zapping fish and measuring them. I found out why you do this and also that to get the fish in the river you have to prepare it and look after it for example monitoring the pollution and what other species are there, putting up fences and planting trees and I’m sure there is a lot more I have to find out about. As I have been told by many of the people who work here it’s not all field work as you have to sort the data you have collected and the rest of the work is done in the office and understand what is happening in the river. The office work I have been doing is just sorting. But to me even the office work is interesting because you get to see out and transferring data from fish tokens, which doesn’t sound very interesting but it gives you a chance to see what types and sizes of fish are being caught in out rivers.
Having seen what it is like working here I would like to go into a profession like this in the future and would love to do more voluntary work at places like this. Working here has really given me a feel for what a job working, studying and looking after a wild life is like.