The Fishes of Rushcliffe
Fishponds and the consumption of freshwater fish
David Bate has sent me this interesting insight into fishponds and the culinary history of freshwater fish. His research developed from his involvement with the Friends of Fishpond Wood at Owthorpe. I believe it deserves a wide audience.
Recorders: None as far as I am aware. I assume the Environment Agency keep records so reports of anything unexpected should go to them.
Phone:0870 850 6506,
Fishes are not really studied by amateur naturalists. My knowledge of them is based on my angling days and a few casual observations. Some populations are artificially supplemented by angling groups and the EA. My first-hand knowledge of the status of some species (Dace, Rudd, Bleak, Bullhead, Gudgeon and Minnow) is lacking.
My grateful thanks to Greg Chapman who in March 2015 volunteered to fill some significant gaps in the data including the addition of two native species (Spined Loach and Nine-spined Stickleback) and two that are probably transient visitors (Ruffe and Grayling). The initials "GRC" denote information from Greg.
An article in Rushcliffe Local News in summer 2020 seeking information from anglers on fish distribution did not elicit any responses but the mention of fish cultivation for the table brought me this well researched paper; Fishponds and the consumption of freshwater fish: from medieval status symbol to garden ornament, c. 1550-1750 from David Bate. It describes the aristocratic aspect of freshwater fish as a food source in mediaeval times.
European Eel Anguilla anguilla. There is a consensus that Eels are much less common than formerly. I recall watching them in Fairham Brook at Bunny and coming across many half-dead ones following a pollution incident in the same brook near Keyworth both in the 1960s. During my Notts angling days in the 1970s, I never came across them in Notts (though I often caught them unintentionally in Essex in the early 1970s). The distribution map in Davies et. al. show large areas of the Midlands where the Eel was not recorded and Rushcliffe is shown as having no post 1972 records.
Common Bream Abramis brama. Found throughout in gravel pits, lakes and the Trent. Present to large size in the Grantham Canal at Cotgrave (GRC). Occasionally hybridises with Roach. Requires slow-flowing or static, eutrophic waters.
Bleak Alburnus alburnus. A tiny fish that is found in most streams, lakes and slow-moving rivers and which occurs in the Trent but not in great numbers (GRC).
Barbel Barbus barbus. Occurs in the River Trent at Clifton Grove, from Holme Sluice down to Radcliffe Viaduct and also downstream of Stoke Bardolph weir where the water flows rapidly and there are gravelly shelves..... However...
During 2020,I spent several days surveying the River Trent north of Newark for its botanical treasures. Here, I discovered that the seriously camped-out anglers were there for the Barbel and the prospect of a new British record. This was especially true of the 'tidal' section downstream of the weir at Cromwell. I write 'tidal' because it is really a case of the freshwater backing-up the flow, rather that any brackish influence.
I also learned from my angling friend and neighbour, Barry, that Barbel are stocked in some landlocked fisheries. This must be like keeping a Robin in a cage (it puts all heaven in a rage) and it's clear that still-water fisheries can be very artificial. I'm surprised there isn't resistance from anglers to such synthetic fishing. When I fished, I didn't want to be catching a fish that had been farmed elsewhere and chucked in the day before!
Presumably,the Trent is still wild enough for introductions to move, downstream at least, that an overall assessment of its fish composition reflects the habitat and ecological conditions that the species is tolerating. I would not think that a Barbel in a pond or lake would make for a healthy fish.
Crucian Carp Carassius carassius. Apparently absent if NBN Gateway is reliable for this species.
Common Carp Cyprinus carpio. Introduced many centuries ago, perhaps by the Romans, the various forms of Common Carp are in the River Trent, almost all large stillwaters and the Grantham Canal. The smaller, fast flowing streams are unsuitable.
Gudgeon Gobio gobio. Abundant in the River Trent when I used to fish it in the mid 1980s but said now (GRC) to be less so. Also occurs in the Polser Brook.
Chub Leuciscus cephalus. A river and stream species so found in the Trent and the Smite and Devon as well as smaller streams including the upper reaches of Fairham Brook and Polser Brook at Holme Pierrepont. GRC says that big Chub disappeared from the Trent at Radcliffe about 2008 but that small ones are still present. (When I used to fish the mouth of Fairham Brook at night in the early 1980s, Chub to around 2-3lb were hard to avoid.)
Dace Leuciscus leuciscus. Said to prefer clean, fast flowing water such as chalk streams but NBN Gateway has records from the Soar, Kingston Brook and Fairham Brook. GRC describes them as abundant in the Trent at Radcliffe but that this has only been true since about 2005 and this coincided with a decrease in the numbers of Chub. Dace also occur in the Polser Brook.
Wels Catfish Siluris glanis. Casual conversations with anglers in 2020 (from a safe distance!) suggest that this introduced species is well established in lakes and the River Trent.
Minnow Phoxinus phoxinus. Suitable habitat is well oxygenated rivers and streams; They used to occur in Fairham Brook but I haven't found them there in recent years so I'm unsure of their real status since they are rarely fished for - at least by grown-ups! GRC says that he has never seen a Minnow in Rushcliffe.
On one day in summer 2020, I watched a shoal of about 20 Minnows in Fairham Brook at Keyworth Meadow. They were in a shallow fiffle though next day when I visited with a camera, they could not be found.
Roach Rutilus rutilus. Generally abundant and found in both rivers and still waters including the Grantham Canal but doesn't appear to occur in the upper reaches of the smaller rapidly flowing streams.
Rudd Scardinius erythrophthalmus. Rudd are said to prefer shallow, clear-watered lakes, slow-flowing rivers and backwaters that are well vegetated and not so hypertrophic that the aquatic vegetation is too dense. NBN Gateway has the nearest records from the Grantham Canal west of Grantham and the River Witham near Long Bennington (both in Lincs) but GRC says there are plenty in the Lily Ponds at Radcliffe (a natural backwater that has not been stocked) and that they are present also, in the Grantham Canal at Cotgrave (which has been stocked).
Tench Tinca tinca. Most lakes and gravel pits support this species. Slow-flowing rivers are also suitable and this would seem to include the Trent though and though they have been caught there, they seem to be few and far between. There is a record on NBN Gateway from Fairham Brook on Bunny Moor which corroborates a sighting I made as a child further upstream but these are exceptional.
Spined Loach Cobitis taenia. GRC "identified these in 1996 after a friend had been dragging ‘blanketweed’ out of the Grantham Canal at the bottom of his garden in West Bridgford and found them mixed up with the weed. A very attractive little fish."
With this as the only record*, Spined Loach is the rarest fish in Rushcliffe. It is listed as a species of conservation concern because of its limited distribution though by all accounts it can be abundant where it does occur and the populations seem to be stable.
* Greg has subsequently found them in the Lily Ponds at Radcliffe on Trent.
Stone Loach Barbatula barbatula. This species occurs in stony-bottomed streams such as Fairham Brook where it can be found by turning the stones over. It presumably occurs in equivalent habitats throughout and is known from the Trent below Stoke weir (GRC).
Pike Esox lucius. Jack Pike are often visible in the sunlit clear stretches of the Grantham Canal. Bigger ones occur at Holme Pierrepont and in the River Trent.
Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar. This species has returned to breed in the clear fast-flowing rivers of Derbyshire so they must migrate up the Trent and are occasionally reported from there. Rushcliffe's feeder streams are unsuitable for them.
Brown Trout Salmo trutta. May be artificially maintained in some still waters. I had assumed that occasional reports of trout from Fairham Brook were mis-identifications of Chub but Jack Perks believes them to be present in the lower reaches. I suppose Sea Trout running up the Trent may investigate feeder streams but almost certainly find them too warm and insufficiently oxygenated.
Grayling Thymallus thymallus GRC: I witnessed a 12oz grayling caught by a club member in the Trent near Holme Pierrepont in September 2014 but I doubt if they could really be claimed as a Rushcliffe resident.
Three-spined Stickleback Gasterosteus aculuteatus. Probably occurs in all waters and certainly does so in the upper reaches of Fairham Brook from which it occasionally populates adjacent ephemeral ponds after floods. GRC has recorded the species from the Trent at Radcliffe.
Nine-spined Stickleback Pungitius pungitius. GRC found this species in amongst blanketweed dredgings from the Grantham Canal at West Bridgford in 1996 (see Spined Loach above.) This is another very uncommon species; there are a couple of records on NBN Gateway from near Ratcliffe on Soar
Bullhead Cottus gobio. I'm not familiar with this species but NBN Gateway and Davies et. al. show this to be the most widespread fish species in Rushcliffe and implies that they are present in all flowing watercourses in Rushcliffe. GRC has recorded them from the Trent below Stoke weir and at the Hook and based on a photo of a Long-tailed Duck holding one in its bill, they occur in the rowing course at Holme Pierrepont too.
Ruffe Gymnocephalus cernuus. GRC: 'I caught just one, in the Trent at Radcliffe, about twelve years ago (2003). Like minnows and bleak they can be a nuisance to anglers. I am not convinced they are around at present.'
Perch Perca fluviatilis. Occurs in suitable gravel pits, lakes and rivers throughout and common in the Grantham Canal and Polser Brook (GRC). See this short video of a Heron taking a Perch from the canal at Gamston in 2020.