A haven for one of Britain’s rarest fish species has been created at Kielder Water amid fears the breed could become extinct in its native Cumbrian habitat.
The Environment Agency has used the biggest man-made lake in northern Europe to provide the so-called Ark site for the rare strain of Arctic char.
The project has been described as an insurance policy, because of a growing threat to stocks of the fish in their native water at Ennerdale, in the Lake District.
It aims to help safeguard populations of the important species for the future. At Ennerdale, surrounding pine woodland is affecting the lake by increasing the acidity of the water, which in turn causes problems for Arctic char reproduction.
A re-wilding scheme is being carried out at Ennerdale to move the pines further back.
While this is happening, about 10,000 juvenile Arctic char are to be released in Kielder Water to establish stocks there. The young fish have been reared at the Environment Agency’s Kielder hatchery and their release into the lake is possible thanks to an agreement with Northumbrian Water.
The release was intended to take place yesterday, but heavy rainfall in the Lake District meant water conditions were unsuitable and it has been postponed until later this week or early next week. Richard Bond, hatchery manager at the Environment Agency, said: “These fish are unique.
“There are around 20 populations of Arctic char in the country, and since the last Ice Age they have all adapted to their individual environments because they don’t return to the sea and mix with other populations.
“Arctic char prefer cold water conditions and deep lakes, so Kielder Water provides the perfect environment for the fish. We hope the stocked fish will grow and ultimately breed in the streams that enter Kielder Reservoir, preserving and protecting this rare strain.”
Ennerdale has been stocked by fish reared at the Kielder hatchery since 2006, but this will be the first time they have been released into Kielder itself.
Any anglers who catch char at Kielder must return them unharmed and then inform either the Environment Agency or Northumbrian Water immediately.
This will allow information on the survival and distribution of the species to be gathered.
The Arctic char is a member of the salmon and trout family.