THE Environment Agency, in partnership with local angling organisations, is releasing 2,000 barbel into the River Stour on Wednesday (17 Dec), half way through its five-year programme to restock the river.

This is the third year of the programme to bring back to the waters of the River Stour a sustainable barbel population.. Numbers had reached a low level probably due to historical modifications to the river and loss of suitable habitat.

The Environment Agency is working towards making the population sustainable with a phased stocking programme and the addition of gravel areas to encourage the fish to spawn.

Over the last two years 5,600 more barbel have been released at a number of sites from Stoke-by-Clare to Boxted. The barbel being released have been marked with a coloured dye in one of their fin rays so that future growth, survival and movement can be monitored.

Results from the monitoring have so far been pleasing and the young barbel are growing well. Next spring could see the first spawning since the programme began now that the fish stocked in 2002 are reaching the right breeding age. Habitat improvements are planned for about March in time to encourage the barbel and other fish species in the river to spawn.

The sites chosen to release the fish were identified by Dr Paul Garner in a study commissioned by the Environment Agency to ensure suitable habitat for all life stages of the barbel.

The River Stour is the only river in Essex with the potential for a thriving barbel population. Anglers welcome the opportunity for a river barbel fishery in this area and are working in partnership with the Agency to ensure the long-term success of this project.

Ecology appraisal officer Kirk Markham said: “We are very pleased with the progress of this project and hope that the establishment of a barbel population in the River Stour will contribute to restoring interest in river fishing.”