A PROJECT to improve fish populations on the River Derwent gets underway today.

A rockpool fish pass will be built at Shotley Grove weir, near Shotley Bridge, to provide a route for fish to move past the 2.5m structure, opening up more than 12km of previously inaccessible river.

A range of species such as lamprey, eels, grayling, brown trout, sea trout and salmon have not been able to freely move up and down the River Derwent at Shotley Grove since the weir was built 300 years ago to a power a mill.

The Tyne Rivers Trust project is the final piece in the jigsaw for enabling fish movement on the River Derwent following fish passes at Derwenthaugh and Lintzford which have already proved a success with a greater diversity and density of fish species now found upstream of those sites.

Jack Bloomer, deputy director at Tyne Rivers Trust, said: “Every year, fish move through our river systems to colonise new areas, exploit different resources and spawn but obstructions like this two and a half metre high weir make it impossible for this to happen.

“The construction of fish passes downstream at Derwenthaugh and Lintzford, mean that Shotley Grove Weir is the last remaining major obstruction to fish on the River Derwent.

“This work ensures that all fish populations within the River Derwent will be connected to one another, increasing the gene pool. “

Work on the fish pass is expected to take around six weeks. The main path next to the river will be closed during this time but alternative paths along the route will still be open.

The project is being led by Tyne Rivers Trust, working with Durham County Council, and is funded by the Environment Agency and the Marine Management Organisation.

Niall Cook, fisheries technical officer at the Environment Agency, said: “The River Derwent going from an industrialised river system to a haven for fish and wildlife to flourish is a real success story.

Last year surveys revealed young salmon as far upstream as Shotley Bridge for the first time in 300 years.

Alan Farbridge, secretary of Derwent Angling Association, said: “Any work to improve habitat is good news for the river and the wide variety of species that live in it.”