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.

What Happened?

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.

Useful links


Who can I talk to about this work?

Please contact Rachael Brown, Community Development Manager, on 01353 865037 or email at

This summer, Cambridgeshire ACRE has been running a project the likes of which it has never run before.

Our ‘Eels in the Classroom’ project aimed to increase the life chances of the critically endangered European Eel and help young people to appreciate and care for their local wildlife.

Children from Class 5/6 at Little Thetford Church of England Primary School and Fox Class at Over Primary School have been caring for elvers (young eels) in their classroom this Summer Term.

The children received the elvers in early June and have kept them in an aquarium tank in their classrooms for six weeks, caring for them and studying their habits. The elvers were released this week (mid-July), back to St Germans Pumping Station, near King’s Lynn, where they were originally caught.

Elvers being released back into the wild at St German’s Pumping Station.

Cambridgeshire ACRE arranged the set-up of tanks to keep the elvers, provided lessons and materials to support the children’s learning and co-ordinated the release visits. These visits gave the children the opportunity to see the eels they had raised swim away. The eels will go onto swim the thousands of miles to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

There were some interesting lessons learnt by the children. One elver (named Titanic by the children) met an untimely demise by climbing out of its tank, but the biggest shock was how many elvers got eaten by other elvers. This is not uncommon behaviour though and whilst numbers in the tank declined by about half over the period in the classroom, this still represents a success as survival rates in the wild are even lower. It can take up to 20 years for an eel to reach maturity.

One Year 5 pupil at Little Thetford C of E Primary School commented: “It was fun. I now know a lot more about eels, their habitat, their lifespan and how they swim across the sea. I thought the eels would grow a lot bigger than they did and understand now why so few of them live to become adults.”

Rachael Brown, Cambridgeshire ACRE’s Community Development Manager commented: “Although this was a relatively small, short-term project, the children involved have learnt such a lot about the importance of caring for endangered species. Through running projects like this, we hope that children will develop a love of nature and learn to care for their environment around them.”

The project was funded by the Anglian Water Flourishing Environment Fund via the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation and used inspiration from the Lincolnshire Rivers Trust, who have delivered a similar project. The project was also delivered in partnership with the Middle Level Commissioners, who sourced the eels on our behalf and supported the delivery of the project.

For more information on this project, you can contact Rachael Brown by email or phone 01353 865037.

Stephanie Baxter


Stephanie joined the Board of Cambridgeshire ACRE in February 2022.

Stephanie is a strategic thinker, utilising housing policy to deliver social justice and poverty alleviation. She is passionate about community led housing and how this can enable local communities to be part of their own solutions. Stephanie has worked in rural local authorities for the past 16 years, with knowledge of planning and housing policy. She is a Trustee with her local foodbank and an active member of her local church.

David Gibbs


Dave became a trustee of Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2017. In his professional life, he was a community development worker specialising in finance and external funding. Since moving to the Fens, Dave has taken on a number of parish clerk roles, as well as being a trustee of Newton Village Hall.

Kirsten Bennett

Chief Executive

Kirsten joined Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2000 and then quickly assumed the role of Chief Executive from 2001. She oversees the work of the charity and puts in place our plans and strategies for the future. Day-to-day, Kirsten develops our relationships with new partners, explores new opportunities and oversees all aspects of the charity’s work.

Before working at Cambridgeshire ACRE, Kirsten attended Writtle Agricultural College gaining a BSc in Agriculture and then completed a Masters in Countryside Recreation Management at Sheffield Hallam University.

Jenna Brame

Rural and Community Led Housing Development Officer

Jenna joined the Cambridgeshire ACRE team in 2020. Her role involves leading our rural housing partnership, developing affordable schemes on rural exception sites and delivering housing enabling and co-ordination support for community-led housing through Eastern Community Homes.

Jenna has a BSc in Geography from University of East Anglia and prior to join the organisation worked as a Graduate Housing Strategy and Enabling Officer at West Suffolk Council. Since joining Cambridgeshire ACRE she has become an accredited Community Led Housing Advisor.

Alison Brown

Head of Business Services

Alison has been Head of Business Services at Cambridgeshire ACRE since 2007. Day-to-day Alison is involved in everything from developing new opportunities for Cambridgeshire ACRE, shaping the direction of existing projects, overseeing the delivery of advice and information to our members and working with our Board.

Prior to joining Cambridgeshire ACRE, Alison worked in the private sector holding roles in executive support and facilities management. Alison has BSc in Sociology from University of Southampton. 

Rachael Brown

Community Development Manager

Rachael became part of the Cambridgeshire ACRE team in 2006, initially running a gardening project and then moving to her current role as our Community Development Manager where she leads a number of our environmental projects and use her skills in volunteer management.

Rachael has a BSc in Horticulture from Bath University and, upon leaving there, put her skills to work in the private sector before becoming a primary school teacher for several years.

Kieran Carr

Economic Programmes Manager

Kieran joined Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2014 following 15 years spent working at Director and Senior Manager level for charities including Deafblind UK and Papworth Trust. At Cambridgeshire ACRE he has responsibility for overseeing our economic programmes, including some large grant-funded programmes and our housing projects.

Kieran has a BA in Business Studies from Manchester Polytechnic and holds a post-graduate diploma in management and leadership from Henley Business School. 

Olivia Carr

Administration Assistant

Olivia joined the Cambridgeshire ACRE team in 2020. Her role involves providing administration and customer support to all our economic programmes.

Olivia has a BSc in Human and Physical Geography from Reading University. Since joining Cambridgeshire ACRE she has become an accredited Community Led Housing Advisor. 

Lisa Chambers

Community Development Officer

Lisa became part of the Cambridgeshire ACRE team in 2015 taking on the role of Community Development Officer. The greater part of her week is spent providing expert support and advice to the County’s community-run buildings with the remainder being spent supporting our community health and wellbeing project dealing with fuel poverty.

Prior to joining Cambridgeshire ACRE, Lisa was the County Councillor and Cabinet Member for Education and Skills at Suffolk County Council. 

Howard Jones

New Life on the Old West Project Manager

Howard joined Cambridgeshire ACRE in early 2021. As the New Life on the Old West Project Manager he is responsible for the successful delivery of our three year Natural Lottery Heritage Fund-financed landscape-scale natural heritage project focusing on the area surrounding the Old West river.

Prior to joining Cambridgeshire ACRE, Howard worked at the University of East Anglia where he delivered another successful Natural Lottery Heritage Fund project focusing on understanding, restoring and renewing the region’s orchard heritage. Howard has a degree in law from University of Wales, Aberystwyth (practising as a solicitor from 1998 to 2012) before changing career direction and gaining an MSc in Environmental Conservation and Management from Swansea Metropolitan University. 

Linda Watson

Finance Officer

Linda joined Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2005. Her role as Finance Officer sees her administer all the financial processes of Cambridgeshire ACRE, ensuring up-to-date and accurate financial information is available at all times.

Prior to joining the organisation, Linda spent over 20 years working within the charity and the commercial sector gaining wide-ranging financial administration experience.

Annie Blair

Chairperson and Trustee

Annie became a trustee of Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2017 and took on the Chairperson role shortly afterwards. She has been a volunteer for community and parish organisations in the village of Folksworth and the surrounding area for over 30 years.

Professionally, she had a career in the financial and insurance sectors before changing vocation and training in the educational sector as an arts educator / practitioner working for both Anglian Ruskin University and Peterborough Regional College.

Brian Hayes


Brian has been a trustee of Cambridgeshire ACRE since 1999. Prior to retirement, Brian was an engineer and ran his own consultancy service specialising in infrastructure design and contract management.

Helena Schofield BA (Hons) (Ebor), MA (Ang Rus)


Helena joined the Board of Cambridgeshire ACRE in February 2022. She moved to Cambridgeshire in 2017 to undertake an MA in Intercultural Communication at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, following a BA in French and Linguistics at University of York. After a brief period teaching foreign languages and volunteering in Cambridge, she decided to pursue a career in the non-profit sector, having held fundraising and operations positions at Cambridge and District Citizens Advice Bureau, Cambridgeshire Community Foundation, and Magpas Air Ambulance.

She currently works as a fundraiser for The Ramblers Association and lives in Huntingdonshire – where she is also a Parish Councillor for her village – with her partner and their dog.

Michael Hellowell

Vice Chairperson, Treasurer and Trustee

Mike joined the Board in 2006. He runs his own company specialising in supplying scientific instruments and complete technical/medical laboratories to research, industry and high educational establishments. 

Mike is also a trustee of the Horningsea Millennium Green Trust and Village Hall Trust, as well as a director of Horningsea CIC.

Terry Jordan

Vice Chairperson and Trustee

Terry became a trustee of Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2011. Terry is currently the Clerk and Responsible Finance Officer for Wisbech Town Council in Fenland and has worked in local government in Cambridgeshire for more than 40 years. 

Terry is also a trustee of CP Learning Trust.

Hugh McCurdy


Hugh has been a trustee of Cambridgeshire ACRE since May 2009. Hugh leads the Diocese of Ely’s Living Ely 2025 and Market Towns Projects, having formerly been Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Wisbech from 2005  – 2022. 

Hugh is a trustee of Ridley Hall Theological College in Cambridge and a number of other local charities including Thomas Parsons Charity in Ely.

Elizabeth Stazicker


Elizabeth joined Cambridgeshire ACRE in September 2008. Her professional career was spent in English local government archives including being Head of Heritage and County Archivist for Cambridgeshire County Council for 11 years. She is a governor at Mepal and Witcham C of E Primary School, as well as churchwarden of her village church.

Hazel Williams MBE


Hazel joined the board of Cambridgeshire ACRE in 1994. She is a parish councillor in her village of Burwell, chairs the board of Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and sits on the boards of Burwell Community Print and Burwell Day Centre. 

Hazel was awarded the MBE in 2010 for services to charities in Cambridgeshire.

Right Reverend Stephen Conway


Cambridgeshire ACRE’s current President is the Right Reverend Stephen Conway, the 69th Bishop of Ely. Bishop Stephen is a great supporter of rural communities, particularly on issues such as education, mental health and disability. As well as being President of Cambridgeshire ACRE, he is also a patron of the Arthur Rank Hospice and of Romsey Mill in Cambridge, of Arts and Minds, the National Youth Arts Trust and of Kairos UK.

Bishop Stephen chairs our Annual General Meeting and shows a keen interest in the work we do supporting and strengthening rural communities to take action for themselves.

Julie Spence OBE CStJ QPM

Vice President

Cambridgeshire ACRE’s current Vice President is Julie Spence OBE QPM. In 2017, Julie was appointed by Her Majesty The Queen as the 37th Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, the Sovereign’s representative in the County.

Professionally, Julie trained as a teacher before joining the Police in 1978 and being appointed Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire in 2005. In the Queen’s 80th Birthday Honours, Julie was awarded an OBE for her management of complex and contentious organisational issues and leadership contribution. In 2008 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Anglia Ruskin University: then in the 2010 New Year’s Honours list she received the Queens Police Medal (QPM). In September 2010, after a 32 year career, she retired from policing.

Bev Vasey

Administration Assistant (Economic Programmes)

Bev joined the Cambridgeshire ACRE team in 2021. Her role involves providing administration and customer support to all our economic programmes.

Bev has a BA in Management and Business Administration from Reading University. Before joining Cambridgeshire ACRE, Bev worked in administration for local secondary schools.

Toby Frith

Digital Marketing Degree Apprentice

Toby joined the team in 2021. As our Digital Marketing Degree Apprentice, his role is to implement our digital marketing strategy  generating interest in our work and helping to build the organisation’s social presence.

From January 2022, Toby will be undertaking a Digital Marketing Degree at Anglia Ruskin University alongside working for Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Jessica Sellick BA (Hons), MSc, PhD


Jessica joined the Board of Cambridgeshire ACRE in February 2022. In her professional life, Jessica works at Rose Regeneration where she undertakes projects on behalf of Government, Local Authorities, charities and community groups across the UK. She is also a senior research fellow at the National Centre for Rural Health and Care (NCRHC).

She is a Chartered Geographer accredited by the Royal Geographical Society; a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce); and a member of the Institute of Economic Development. In her spare time she sits on the board of a housing association that supports older and vulnerable people across Lincolnshire.

Ray Vidler


Ray joined the Board of Cambridgeshire ACRE in February 2022. He has been a member of Weston Colville Parish Council, which he currently chairs, since 2008. He is a fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and holds an MBA.

He has enjoyed living in rural Cambridgeshire for over 35 years and is keen to be able to support an organisation that aims to sustain, support, and develop rural communities.

Prior to retirement, Ray was a general manager responsible for aspects of the operation of a large food company based at Histon, having previously been the site’s chief engineer. During his working life he gained lots of experience of managing large multi-million-pound projects and developed a good understanding of finance and human resource management.

Laura Allen

New Life on the Old West Natural Heritage and Communities Officer

Laura joined Cambridgeshire ACRE in 2021. Working exclusively on the New Life on the Old West project, Laura works to engage partners, communities and landowners in the project and to create opportunities for local people to learn about and connect with the diverse Fenland natural landscape. 

Prior to working at Cambridgeshire ACRE, Laura completed a Masters in Heritage Management at Bath Spa University and completed her first degree in Geography at Keele University.