Environmental teams have been put on stand-by to oxygenate England’s rivers in a bid to protect fish in the event of a heatwave.
The Environment Agency (EA) says it has recorded “hundreds of fish kill incidents” already this year – with drops in oxygen levels in rivers and canals blamed.
The Angling Trust claims it has also seen a “spike” in fish deaths in recent weeks, with the North West of England thought to be one of the worst-hit areas.
It comes after a hot spell in June – expected by the Met Office to be the warmest on record.
The EA says it has made its fisheries teams available “around the clock” to respond to fish kill incidents, including using aeration equipment to help restore the levels of dissolved oxygen in rivers and canals.
The agency is already investigating fish kill incidents at Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, and a stretch of the River Mole, in Surrey.
It believes high temperatures and low atmospheric pressure as a result of thunderstorms – causing low dissolved oxygen levels – are to blame.
However, the Angling Trust, which has received reports of fish kill incidents in the North West, South West and South East of England, as well as the Warwickshire Avon, warns such an approach is “complacent”.
The trust says “poor water quality, pollution and, in places, over abstractions and low flows” are contributing to the incidents.
“While it may be the loss of oxygen that is causing the devastation, the blame does not lie solely with the hot weather,” the trust says.
“What we have is another wake-up call for the EA and Defra. These fish kills are yet more evidence of the appalling abuse our rivers face daily.
“As our climate changes, our rivers simply do not have the resilience to function in anything like a natural freshwater ecosystem.
“A period of hot weather and thunderstorms is a tipping point, it is not the cause.”
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The EA’s emergency plans were discussed on Wednesday at a meeting of England’s National Drought Group – which includes senior decision makers from the Environment Agency, government, water companies and key farming and environmental organisations.
The group heard how water levels are currently higher than they were this time in 2022 – the warmest year on record in the UK.
“However, the natural environment continues to take time to recuperate from the impacts of last summer and the Environment Agency is also focusing ongoing efforts on monitoring how fish and invertebrates are recovering from drought,” the group said in a statement.