The reach of the River Great Ouse which passes alongside the Paxton Pits Nature Reserve is particularly rich in wildlife and fish. Otters are seen here regularly and this is seen as a good indicator of habitat quality.
However, a lot of good fish-holding habitat has been lost historically to enable land drainage, navigation, and to prevent flooding. To make up for this loss, the Environment Agency has been improving backwaters and secondary channels which provide shelter for fish, out of the main flow of the river, as part of a project called “The Great Ouse Vision”.
This summer, Ian Hirst and his team from the Environment Agency went a stage further and excavated a large inlet on the reserve near the point where Southoe Brook enters the river. This point was also the site of ferry across the river at Wray House Farm.
During excavations parts of the old ferry were found and Environment Agency scientists identified some quite rare invertebrates in the wetter parts of the site, so some areas were left untouched.
On their tours of the site, the rangers have seen quite large numbers of small fry in the inlet, as well as some medium sized chub seen feeding. However these casual observations are not accurate enough to tell how effective the work has been in proving a safe area for small fish.
On Thursday 30 November Environment Agency fisheries scientists will be netting the inlet to see just what is there.
They are hoping to find small prey species like gudgeon, minnows, sticklebacks and bleak, but they might find all sorts of other things, including American Crayfish, pike and zanders.
Ian Hirst, Environment Agency Technical Specialist said, “This fisheries survey of the backwater indicates that fish use backwaters as a refuge when the main rivers is experiencing high flows. In the springtime, the backwater will double up to provide important spawning habitat and nursery areas for juvenile fish.”
“This project is one of many sites identified in the Great Ouse valley as part of our Great Ouse Vision – a vision to restore and enhance river and floodplain habitat to benefit fish and biodiversity”.