A brown trout parr reared at Waterside School - image courtesy of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project
An exciting environmental project for Chesham started at Waterside in 2009 and has been running every year since in schools along the Chess. The town’s Impress the Chess partnership and the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project have brought trout back to the town through an educational project that started at Waterside County Combined School.
The “Trout in the Classroom” project involves the installation of specially designed aquaria at schools to recreate the conditions fish would experience in the River Chess. During the winter trout-breeding season, fertile trout eggs are put into these tanks and left to the care of the pupils.
Under teacher supervision, the children oversee the hatching, nurturing, feeding and progress of the young fish. Not only does this give the students the chance to learn about the River Chess and the trout life cycle, but it also helps to inspire an interest in caring for the local environment.
In 2009 and 2010, the pupils released their batches of successfully reared trout into the recently restored stretch of the Chess in Meades Water Gardens. Both releases were organised by Allen Beechey, Chilterns Chalk Streams Project Officer, who brought Trout in the Classroom to Chesham. The project attracted national interest and the first fish release was filmed for the BBC One programme Countryfile, with presenter Julia Bradbury wading into the channel to help see the fish on their way.
The filming of the trout release at Meades Water Gardens in June 2009
The project has been so successful that schools have undertaken site visits to the Chess to learn more about their local river and the project has been extended to a number of other schools along the river. Not only does the project bring educational benefits to local children, but it also meant that brown trout were reintroduced into the upper reaches of the Chess for the first time since the river dried out in the 2006 drought. Unfortunately, the 2011-12 drought caused the river to dry out again within the town and these trout will either have moved down to the lower reaches of the river, or may even have died. One of the long-term goals of Impress the Chess is to remove obstructions to fish movement along the Chess so that fish can naturally recolonise stretches of the river after periods of drought. Impress the Chess is also supporting the investigations into low flows in the Upper Chess to better understand why the upper reaches of the river appear to be drying out more frequently. Since the 2011-12 drought, all trout releases have taken place downstream of Lord's Mill, to ensure that the fish do not become victims of the upper stretch drying out.
The Trout in the Classroom project was instigated by the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, with financial assistance from Impress the Chess.