Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) and The River Exe and Tributaries Association (RETA) are working together to improve access for migratory fish throughout the River Exe catchment.

You can read all about this exciting programme on the Strategic Exe Weirs webpage – we will soon be posting informative videos about the impacts of weirs on migratory fish populations, and an interactive map.

Here is the story of how Strategic Exe Weirs came to be.

Strategic Exe Weirs has been two years in the making, with specific background works beginning in summer 2019.  However, the foundation for the programme has been laid over a much longer time.

WRT has been working in the River Exe catchment for more than 20 years, and have worked alongside RETA on many occasions to work towards shared goals to protect and enhance our precious migratory fish populations and the general health of the River Exe.  Various small scale fish migration improvements had been implemented as part of other projects by the skillfully opportunistic approach of former WRT project officers.

The River Exe weirs, of which there are many, have been known to delay both upstream and downstream migrating fish for a long time.  Though co-existing for hundreds of years, the steady decline in migratory fish stocks, and the ever increasing scientific evidence revealing the negative impacts of weirs on fish populations (more to come on this in later blog posts…), inspired RETA to take the proactive step in 2018 to commission the independent scientific assessment of multiple weirs and associated impacts on fish passage throughout the River Exe catchment, by a fisheries specialist technical contractor.  This enabled an objective assessment of each migration barrier and the beginning of the options appraisal process for each site for fish passage improvements.

What came to light was not necessarily the individual impacts of each barrier, although some do indeed pose a considerable challenge and cause major migration delays, but instead the frequency and proximity of barriers between marine habitats and suitable spawning habitat in the upper reaches of the catchment.  Thus, a project concept was brewing…

WRT had successfully delivered fish passage projects in the River Taw catchment through the Taw Access over Weirs (T.A.W.) project.  Noting this success, RETA approached WRT with the results of the independent surveys, and a partnership was born to create Strategic Exe Weirs.  The programme soon employed a full time project officer (Phil Turnbull) and quickly gained support from the Environment Agency as an approach for meeting mutual goals to protect and enhance the River Exe fisheries.

Designed as a programme of separate bespoke projects to enable flexibility for project development and funding opportunities, WRT and RETA have been busy developing a prioritisation process, speaking with weir owners and site stakeholders, building a foundation of developing projects at various stages, and raising funds from a variety of sources.

The first sites expected for fish passage improvements are now in the design stages, and it is intended that construction will begin on the first bespoke fish passage solutions in summer 2021.

Keep an eye on this project blog for further updates.