New Inner Solway Marine Conservation Zone Designated to Protect Smelt
6th Dec 2019 by Courtney Rowland
The Galloway Fisheries Trust is working with Natural England to produce a detailed Smelt Restoration Management Plan for the inner Solway Firth, to be the framework for European smelt (sparling) recovery in designated Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around England and Wales.
In May of 2019 the inner Solway was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). This inshore site covers approximately 45km² of Cumbrian side of the inner Solway and was specifically designated for European smelt which some readers will recognise as sparling. Forming part of the UKs network of marine protected areas, these designations aim to protect typical, rare or declining habitats and species found in our seas.
European smelt have been recorded in 53 riverine, estuarine and coastal bodies in England and a further 15 around Scotland. Smelt were once abundant around the UK but after significant declines due to pollution, barrier construction and over-harvesting less than 20 are known to remain.
GFT have been studying smelt over the past few decades to increase our understanding and aid in the recovery of this culturally significant species which is considered at risk and endangered. The majority of work has so far focused on riparian habitat improvements to ensure sufficient spawning habitat is available for the sparling during their short spawning period in the spring, as well as studies into population size. Working on a project such as this signifies the importance of the marine environment, where smelt spend the majority of their life. The shoaling of smelt along the coasts and in the Solway Firth could mean that a recovery of the inner Solway smelt populations could also lead to boosts in other Solway populations, i.e. the Cree sparling or the recovery of extant populations such as those that used to be in the Annan or the Urr.
This week, as part of the project we travelled to Cumbria to survey the River Waver and the River Wampool within the MCZ designation, in search of suitable spawning habitat along the tidal reaches of these rivers. We hope to use these surveys, as well as the collection of historical smelt records, to piece together the unknown puzzle of current or historical spawning locations in the area. This allows informed management decisions to be made when designing the framework for smelt recovery around the UK.
We hope that this short term project, to be delivered over the forthcoming months, will have positive impacts on local and national scales for smelt in the years to come!