Due to the exceptional aquatic habitat of the river Wye and its tributaries it is no wonder that the AONB possesses a wealth of fish species. The River Wye and many of its tributaries are designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the European Habitats Directive.
Protection was given partly because of internationally important populations of certain species of fish including salmon, twaite shad and bullhead, as well as three species of lamprey; river, brook and sea. All of which occur within the AONB. The bullhead is resident in the AONB stretches of the river, the other species are migratory and either come into the AONB to spawn (such as the twaite shad) or move through the AONB on passage to their spawning areas upstream. Except for the salmon all of these fish still maintain healthy populations in the high quality environment of the river Wye and its tributaries.
Salmon - The salmon’s decline in the Wye has been dramatic. The Wye was once considered to be one of the finest salmon rivers in the country and was particularly notable for its very high proportion of multi sea winter (MSW) fish. At its peak, rod catches of salmon exceeded 7,000 a year and in 1988 it was 6,401. However, between 1998 and 2010 only once did rod catches exceed 1,000 fish. In 2010 it was a mere 451.
A Salmon Life Cycle animation film
Coarse Fish - In addition to the protected species the river contains brown trout and many coarse fish species including stone loach, chub, dace, barbel, roach, eel, grayling, gudgeon, pike, minnow, carp, three spined stickleback and rudd. Flounder inhabit the lower reaches, particularly the tidal parts of the river and have occasionally been recorded further upstream.
Sturgeon - A very rare visitor to the Wye is the sturgeon, which hasn’t been recorded since the 19th century. In 1846 a massive sturgeon 2.2.m long and weighing 182lb was caught at Hereford. The remains of which are still on display in Hereford Museum. This may not have been the biggest however, as curiously a New Zealand newspaper dated May 3 1884 reports:
‘..W.G. Gates – Precisely the same question was recently answered in our contemporary, the Canterbury Times, as follows:- The largest sturgeon caught in the United Kingdom (at Llandogo, above Chepstow) as recorded by the late Dr Buckland, was 9ft 6in long, 3ft 1in in girth, and weighed 3.5ew’ 1
1Sourced: National Library of New Zealand
We have not been able to verify this record however and would like to hear from anyone who has more information..
Lamprey - Lampreys are some of the most primitive vertebrates alive today. They are known as cyclostomes, which means 'round mouths' and refers to the fact that they are jawless, having instead a round sucker-like mouth. A further primitive characteristic is that the skeleton consists of cartilage and not bone. Lampreys are similar in shape to eels, and have a series of uncovered round gill openings (known as gill pores) on the sides of the head. The river lamprey can be distinguished from other lampreys as it has two separate dorsal (back) fins, and just a few teeth around the mouth. It is bluish grey or green on the back and sides and the underside is white. The larval stages of different lampreys are very similar in appearance.
A partnership between the AONB Unit, Ross-on-Wye Town Council and Natural England have started tree management work on the banks of the Wye where it passes through Ross, to benefit biodiversity and create river views.
If you are 14-18 years old and love exploring the countryside of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, then the Wye Valley AONB Youth Ranger programme is looking for you! Come along to our Taster Day on September 30th.