Eels In The Classroom
About the project
This project has been funded through Anglian Water, under their ‘Flourishing Environment’ Fund.
Why is this needed?
Cambridgeshire ACRE recently delivered a project that gave primary school children the opportunity to care for and study endangered European Eels for six weeks in their classrooms during the summer term of 2022.
European eels once thrived in the UK’s rivers, but their numbers have declined by over 95% since the 1980s and the species has been classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN since 2008.
This project helped more eels to reach their adult life-stage in the Cambridgeshire Fens, contributing to their future viability. In addition, the project provided an opportunity for children to learn about the fascinating life cycle of the eel, and the current environmental issues they face. The project directly benefited the conservation status of a critically endangered species and inspired children to act for rivers in the future, not just for the survival of eels, but for the health of all wildlife which depends on the river and its surrounding landscape.
Two schools participated in this project: Little Thetford Church of England School (Years 5 & 6 – combined class) and Over Primary School (Year 4). Cambridgeshire ACRE supplied and installed the tanks & associated equipment and taught the teachers & children how to care for the eels. Elvers (young eels) were sourced from the Middle Level Commissioners (MLC) eel pass at St Germans Pumping Station by their Conservation Officer who also dealt with the permit needed for moving an endangered species.
The elvers were handed to the schools by Cambridgeshire ACRE/MLC in early June along with a lesson filled with games and learning activities around the eel and its life cycle. Each tank was visited by Cambridgeshire ACRE on a weekly basis to support the teacher and trouble-shoot problems.
At the end of the six-week period the elvers were released back to the river at St Germans by a small group from each class, this trip and associated tour of the pumping station was co-ordinated by Cambridgeshire ACRE and supported by MLC staff. All health and safety issues, risk assessments and permissions were dealt with by Cambridgeshire ACRE.
What impact has our work had?
The project delivered a number of outcomes:
• 60 children, two teachers and associated school staff all gained a greater understanding of the endangered species status of the European Eel, the challenge this species faces for survival and the importance of providing a suitable environment.
• 17 elvers were released back to the fens with a greater life chance having been cared for in sheltered conditions.
• A wide range of organisations /businesses or individuals gained business or publicity through association with this project: the Middle Level Commissioners (support and delivery), Lincolnshire Rivers Trust (advice on project delivery and eel food), Ely Aquatics (equipment and aquarium advice), Lizzie Ault (local artist).
• The project will feature in the autumn ADA (Association of Drainage Authorities) Gazette encouraging more Internal Drainage Boards to become involved with schools and environmental projects.
Key Learning Points
1. Time of year is critical for this project. The elvers swim from the Sargasso Sea to the UK, arriving April time. At this point they are glass eels and more vulnerable. We used larger elvers who were more robust, but they did eat each other in the tanks. The release was also tricky as it took place mid-July when the temperatures were extremely hot, and one school was unable to participate as the date set was the hottest the UK had ever experienced. It may be better from a school point of view to avoid the busy end of school year.
2. The teachers need a lot of support – eels can eat each other, get sick and the tank water can become unsuitable. Eels are also dirty fish in captivity and need a lot cleaning; balancing food and cleanliness is tricky.
3. Teachers and students can become extremely attached to their eels – it is an excellent way to learn about the species and the care needed to provide a suitable habitat for them.
4. The novelty value of this project encourages involvement from other partners and provides excellent promotional material.
5. There are useful links to the National Curriculum within this project and it provides an excellent opportunity for practical science recording.