The salmon run; an epic upstream journey

A salmon jumping at Stainforth, one of the best places in the catchment to see the salmon run.

A salmon jumping at Stainforth, one of the best places in the catchment to see the salmon run.

Salmon are one of the most well known creatures in our rivers, and every year they provide one of natures greatest spectacles; the salmon run.

This amazing annual journey takes salmon from the ocean to the rivers they were born in.

The journey begins with a gathering in the sea, where the salmon have spent between 1-4 years maturing, growing, and gaining strength. The salmon then wait at the river mouth for the autumn rains which will raise river levels, helping them to start their journey. Once they enter the river the salmon stop eating, with their sole focus being to return to the place they were born.

Over the coming weeks the salmon will risk their lives in their mission to reproduce (or spawn) whilst they take part in a literal uphill battle on their way home.

An area of stream where salmon have spawned; the lighter coloured gravel shows areas where redds have been made

An area of stream where salmon have spawned; the lighter coloured gravel shows areas where redds have been made

Successful salmon reproduce by creating dips in the bottom of the river known as ‘redds’ by flapping their tails. Females lay eggs in these redds, the male fertilises them, and the female covers the eggs back up. With their mission complete the salmon leave their eggs in peace and make the journey downstream to the sea.

It is estimated that only around 10% of salmon survive this journey, but those who do survive will make their way back to the same spawning ground every year.

It might seem that the odds are stacked against our brave warriors, and this is true. Not only do they make this journey on an empty stomach, losing weight, muscle and energy; they also face the risk of being eaten, attacks from other fish, and some man-made issues.

Perhaps one of the more troubling of these are rivers which have been modified by dams (or weirs) which the fish waste valuable energy that they just don’t have spare trying to jump. Some of these dams and weirs are so big that the fish simply cannot complete their journey.

Making rivers more salmon friendly is a huge part of our work. There isn’t a single resolution which will help, it takes time, teamwork, and many smaller changes to improve rivers. But we’re proud that one step at a time we’re making rivers a better place for salmon, as well as other wildlife, and as our rivers improve, we hope that in the future a greater percentage of the area’s salmon will be successful in their journey.

If you want to try and spot a salmon yourself the run usually starts from mid-October and carries on throughout November and December, ideally following a period of rain after a dry spell. As always make sure to be careful around water.

A dam, or weir, at Hoghton bottoms, which would have been impossible for fish to jump before we created our fish pass up the side of the weir.

A dam, or weir, at Hoghton bottoms, which would have been impossible for fish to jump before we created our fish pass up the side of the weir.