The story of Wye salmon

The story of Wye salmon by Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE Executive Director Wye and Usk Foundation


From its position as the most productive salmon river in England and Wales in the ‘80s, the river Wye’s catches plummeted from over 6000 to just over 300 by 2002. In 1994, a water bailiff showed me a small Wye tributary where a huge Oak tree had fallen across and blocked the stream to ascending fish. We cleared the tree and found salmon spawning upstream after an absence of a decade. I was hooked on barrier removal! Next year and in 1996 we organised a full survey of the catchment which revealed that a very substantial number of the Wye’s tributaries were barred to migratory fish including its two biggest. Weirs, flood relief schemes, massive timber jambs, landslides and simply ill-conceived structures related to roads and bridges were the causes.

There were other problems too: acidification of part of the system, diffuse pollution from agriculture and commercial forestry and a high level of habitat degradation in key nursery areas. However, we realised that while these issues were causing some reductions in spawning success, barriers caused a complete failure upstream.

With our partners, the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural Resources Wales, (formerly EA Wales)  we have completed over 19 weir removals, 68 easements or fish passes. There are still a few sites where work is to continue. We are very pleased to record that both salmon and trout numbers have increased significantly. In 2002, just three early spring salmon were caught by the end of April. In 2016, there were 210. Our five year average is now in excess of 1000. We look forward to completing the very last barrier removal!

(Below left Low cost baffle FP; right a baulk easement on an ancient weir (where we were not allowed anything else!) let me know if you want more images or higher resolution)