A RARE blood-sucking fish said to have been responsible for the deaths of two English kings has been found in a North-East river.

The Environment Agency has confirmed reports from local anglers that the River Wear at Chester-le-Street, County Durham, has become a spawning site for lamprey.

So far the Environment Agency has identified 12 spawning sites, known as redds, which measure up to a metre across, and a total of seven adult Sea Lampreys have been spotted in them.

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Scientists are continuing to search for more of the jawless fish as they are extremely rare and provide a good indication of the high quality of the river water.

Paul Frear, Environment Agency fisheries officer, said: "We were thrilled to discover lampreys back in the River Wear as these rare blood-suckers show us that the water quality in the river is very high. Lampreys are extremely selective with their spawning sites and will only nest where the water quality is optimal.

"Today, only three species of this blood-sucking creature remain in Britain and their habitats are protected by an EC directive."

The lamprey is an unusual creature, using its suction-cup like mouth to attach itself to the skin of a fish and rasping away tissue with its sharp probing tongue and teeth.

Outwardly resembling eels, as they have no scales, an adult Lamprey can range from 13 to 100 centimetres long, with large eyes, one nostril on the top of its head and seven gill pores on each side.

During the Middle Ages lampreys were widely eaten by the upper classes throughout Europe, especially during fasting periods since they taste much meatier than other fish.

A "surfeit of Lampreys'' has traditionally been blamed for the deaths of King Henry I and King John who overindulged in them.

The River Wear provides an excellent habitat for these protected creatures and anglers who spot any lampreys are asked to report their sighting to the Environment Agency by e-mailing paul.frear@environment-agency.gov.uk