Supporting fish populations in Bristol so they recover and thrive

Councillor Kye Dudd is pictured, smiling, with trees and College Green in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Kye Dudd, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Waste, and Energy and Labour Councillor for Southmead ward.

The Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership has just launched the Bristol Avon Fish Recovery Strategy, which sets out four main aims to ensure healthy and diverse fish populations across the River Avon in Bristol. 

It is a comprehensive strategy that outlines key improvements needed to restore fish populations, affected by the impact of climate change and human intervention on the Avon in Bristol, ensuring they are protected and able to thrive in our waterways.  

The strategy is supported throughout the region with Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council, North Somerset Council, Wiltshire Council, and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), all acknowledging the need to address the impacts of climate change and the loss of biodiversity in the Bristol Avon Catchment. 

Where is the Bristol Avon Catchment? 

The Bristol Avon Catchment is a special and extensive network of rivers, streams, and lakes, with its main river flowing 75 miles from its source in Wiltshire, through Bath and Bristol, to the sea at Avonmouth on the Severn Estuary. The river has been managed over the years by dredging and straightening to accommodate the building of industries and housing. Unfortunately, this has negatively impacted on the fish population as obstructions stop them reaching spawning grounds, and poor water quality and low flow affects the health and diversity of species.  

A map of the Bristol Avon Catchment is pictured.

Which fish are found in the Bristol Avon Catchment? 

The Bristol Avon Catchment supports a wide range of fish species, with coarse fish (fish species traditionally considered undesirable as a food) dominating the lower, slow-flowing reaches, and brown trout widely found in the faster flowing upper reaches and tributaries. Sea trout are recorded in tributaries of the estuary, the waters of Bristol Harbour, and have occasionally been reported by anglers further upstream.  

Twenty-two river species such as grayling and silver bream, nine marine species such as Atlantic mackerel and common sole, and six migratory species have been recorded in the Bristol Avon Catchment.   

A pilot environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis was carried out by Bristol Avon Rivers Trust (BART) in 2022, working in partnership with Bristol City Council. This cutting-edge technique for biomonitoring rare and difficult-to-observe species, found Atlantic salmon, an endangered migratory species, around the Harbour and New Cut in Bristol.  

Read the summary report and our previous Mayor’s Blog celebrating and protecting the heart and ‘sole’ of Bristol rivers’ biodiversity for more on the eDNA survey results. 

What needs to be done to ensure fish recover and thrive? 

The strategy for the Bristol Avon Catchment has four main aims: 

  1. Healthy populations of fish 
  2. A diversity of coarse fish species 
  3. A diverse abundance of estuarine and marine fish species 
  4. Protection of different habitats for all the life stages of fish 
A poster pictured highlights four main aims of the Bristol Avon Catchment strategy.

It also outlines the actions we need to take to reduce the impact of climate change, improve water quality, remove barriers to fish movement, and improve the river habitat. These include: 

  • No new barriers to fish such as weirs to be built, and where possible existing ones to be removed 
  • Controlling invasive plant species both in-stream and on the riverbanks to protect our native ecology 
  • A planting programme on banks with overhanging branches and tree roots to provide refuge for fish and help regulate water temperature 
  • Leaving a buffer strip between fields and the river to stop any residual run-off/pollution from reaching the watercourse 
  • Implementing nature-based solutions such as natural dams, to slow the flow of water in the landscape 
A poster that contains an image of a lake, with trees, has figures that highlights the processes at work in a natural river, that creates different habitats for wildlife.

What is already in place to support fish recovery? 

We are investing in Bristol’s floating harbour wildlife and boating community. A new floating reed bed habitat has been installed on Bristol Harbourside (Capricorn Quay) which provides around 1,000 square metres of habitat that as an ecosystem will improve water quality, support stronger fish stocks and provide haven for birds.   

Continuing to work together 

The majority of the Bristol Avon Catchment’s rivers are of poor to moderate ecological status and the status of the Severn Estuary, into which the Bristol Avon Catchment drains, is deteriorating. We need to keep working together with our neighbouring councils, landowners, farmers and the general public to respond to the challenges of our fish population. It is through our partnerships that we can collectively improve the water environment as a priority while also protecting it for years to come. 

To find out more, read the full Bristol Avon Fish Recovery Strategy and the initial set of actions set out in the Bristol Avon Fish Recovery Five Year Action Plan.  

*The Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership would like to thank the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust for leading this work and the Partnership Fish Recovery Task Group members for providing their expertise: Environment Agency, Natural England, Bristol City Council, North Somerset Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council, Wild Trout Trust and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. 

Three fish are pictured in a river.