The River Chess is home to a number of important species for UK wildlife including the brown trout; a species also much loved by anglers. However, habitat degradation and drought have reduced trout numbers along several stretches of the river. The Chilterns Chalk Streams Project (CCSP) is working with The River Chess Association and Impress the Chess, to pioneer an exciting project in local schools teaching local children about brown trout and the streams in which they live.
In 2009 the Chalk Streams Project set up Trout in the Classroom projects in two schools in the Chess valley, Waterside County Combined School in Chesham and Rickmansworth Park School. The project has been very successful in introducing children to their local river and the wildlife that lives there.
Trout in the Classroom runs for 10-12 weeks each year, beginning in December with the installation at each school of a specially designed aquarium was installed to recreate river conditions. In January, 100 brown trout eggs are put into the tanks (kindly supplied to us each year by the Berkshire Trout Farm) and entrusted into the loving care of the pupils. Under teacher supervision, the children look after them removing any dead eggs to prevent the water from becoming contaminated. After about a week or so the eggs hatch and the fry, known as alevins, swim into the gravel at the bottom of the tank. For the next two weeks the alevins remain in the gravel feeding on their yolk sacs. Once the egg sac is used up, the alevins swim up from the gravel and begin to look for food. For the next 8-10 weeks the children keep the tank clean and feed the young fish, while learning all about their life cycle and chalk streams like the Chess.
Just before the Easter break, pupils are able to release their trout into their local river at specially designated sites. In the first year of the project pupils at Waterside Combined School released their young trout into a recently restored stretch of the river at the Meades Water Gardens in Chesham. As part of the project, in summer pupils are treated to a return visit to the river to participate in a number of activities aimed at helping them learn more about the wildlife that lives there.
Trout in the Classroom has attracted national interest with the BBC filming Waterside School’s trout release for the BBC One programme Countryfile in 2009. The programme’s presenter, Julia Bradbury, waded out into river to help the children set the fish on their way.
This highly successful project now operates in five schools in the Chess Valley and has now been expanded to a further school in the nearby Wye Valley. It is hoped that more schools will become involved in the project across the Chilterns in future years.