Science Shops Saves the Taf Fechan Bullhead

Researcher Leonie Salmon of Science Shops Wales (CASE) has been recently involved in efforts to bring back the bullhead fish to a local river. Here, she writes about the campaign:

“In excess of 23,000 fish were wiped out from a 3 km section of the Taf Fechan River, near Merthyr Tydfil , according to Environment Agency (EA) estimates, following the accidental discharge of 3 tonnes of liquid aluminium sulphate. Fifteen thousand of these deaths were attributed to the bullhead, Cottus gobio a species of fish protected under European law. It was feared that the sudden loss of the fish population ??? a tragedy in itself ??? would result in severe ????knock on effects???? to a previously thriving river ecosystem.

This intriguing creature differs from other fish species on account of its nest building activities and vigilant parental care, as well as being negatively buoyant thus residing predominantly on the river bed. These morphological and behavioural attributes, in addition to the physical nature of the affected river stretch near Merthyr Tydfil, render the bullhead incapable of natural re-colonisation. Section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 makes it an offence to introduce any fish into inland waters without prior permission from the EA, whilst protection under Annex II of the Habitats Directive, gives the bullhead additional legal status under the guidance of the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).

With little knowledge of the ecology and lifestyle of the bullhead, the Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association (MTAA) approached Science Shops Wales (SSW) for their advice and research skills in assessing the feasibility of a re-introduction programme. Following contact with leading experts, and careful collaboration and negotiation with the appropriate statutory bodies, permission was granted to re-introduce the species at the end of Summer 2007, following a scheduled electro-fishing exercise. In addition, SSW provided procedural recommendations and advice on monitoring the hopeful recovery of the population ??? information which is limited and will provide a valuable assessment of the success of the re-introduction programme.

John Coombs, President of the Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association said, ‘The amount of work Science Shops Wales have completed on behalf of MTAA has been tremendous and you have given us much to consider. We never realised what a complex little creature the bullhead is and we thank you for all the work you have done on its behalf.’”

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