WATCH: Erosion has led to fish-pass problems

A number of organisations are working together to try to find a solution to an issue which is affecting salmon and sea trout in north Northumberland.

Haugh Head ford on the Wooler Water has, for some time now, been a problem to salmon and sea trout seeking to migrate upstream to spawn in the autumn.

A fish hits the pass at Haugh Head. Picture by Jane Coltman

A fish hits the pass at Haugh Head. Picture by Jane Coltman

This is due to the fact that the river has eroded below the ford to such an extent that the fish-pass is now perched well above the river bed, making it all but redundant.

Whereas fish used to be able to swim straight into the fish-pass, they now have to jump a significant distance to get anywhere near it and it is for this reason that fish can be seen repeatedly leaping below the ford in an attempt to get upstream at this time of year.

Fish surveys carried out by the Tweed Foundation have shown that salmon are now largely absent in the Wooler Water above Haugh Head.

The Wooler Water is particularly active in this area, partly due to the steep gradient and high flows that come off the Cheviots, but also due to a legacy of gravel removal in decades past that has increased the instability of the reach.

The state of the structure means that many miles of excellent fish spawning and nursery habitat are being unused and it also contravenes legislation under the Water Framework Directive in terms of allowing the free passage of fish. The continued degradation of the ford (and the associated footbridge upstream) also threatens vehicular and pedestrian access.

Tweed Forum, through the River Till Restoration Strategy, is working with the Environment Agency, Natural England, Northumberland County Council, the River Tweed Commission and local landowners to find a long-term solution.

The very active nature of this stretch of river makes this complicated and one of the biggest priorities has been to ensure that anything done here will not have any effect on properties near or downstream of the ford.

It is also important to ensure that the access requirements of the key stakeholders – walkers, horse riders, land owners and farmers, etc, – are maintained.

However, if nothing is done it is probable that the structure will be washed out or outflanked in a large flood in the not-too-distant future, with knock-on consequences for local people and those that farm the land.

Tweed Forum and the agencies are hoping to find a long-term solution that satisfies all access users, including that of salmon who have used the upper Wooler Water for millennia before the ford was put in.