Axe Vale Rivers Association

We, the Friends of the Axe Catchment, bring together the combined interests of the local community, landowners, anglers and everyone who has an interest in protecting this precious natural resource. We are an integral and supporting member of the network of regional associations that collectively form the South West Rivers Association.

Our aim is to restore the Axe and it’s catchment to its former status as one of the very best fish and wildlife habitats in the United Kingdom. We will do this through a concerted programme of engaging with local schools, collaborating with farmers and landowners, coordinating with regional and national agencies and strategic fund-raising.

We have been witnessing an increasing degradation of the river catchment to the serious detriment of the plants, insects (terrestrial and aquatic), amphibians, fish, birds and mammals that depend upon the quality of their river habitat. The threat has come from the excess run-off of silt and pollutants into our rivers from changes in agricultural practice; the spread of invasive plants, which includes himalayan balsam crowding out our native vegetation; and an increased use of heavy machinery affecting the course of the river beds. This in turn has contributed to very serious reductions in the numbers of migratory salmon and sea trout, resident brown trout, and resident coarse fish that used to be endemic to our rivers (such as Bullheads and Lamprey which are included on the Axe S.A.C. citation list).

We recognise that we can’t change everything and certainly not on our own. Some of the threats are on a global scale with intense local flooding widely attributed to global warming events. However we plan to do everything practical to help improve things locally through river preservation, habitat improvements and educating those who live and work in the catchment. Our fish and wildlife deserve so much better.

We see our primary purpose as being to influence, inspire and help coordinate everyone involved with the river Axe and its catchment so that together we can undertake a shared journey to restore the river system to its original health. This is our river and no one else will be as passionate about its restoration than us. Our challenge is to ensure that the needed actions are communicated, readily understood, and welcomed by all involved.

One of the principal measures of our success will be to see salmon and sea trout numbers return again on a sustainable basis without the need to maintain an artificial hatchery operation. This matters not only for the preservation of these important species but also because if the river is healthy enough for salmon and trout to thrive continuously then the surrounding environment must by definition be in good shape and able to support so many other native creatures and plants including the otter, the water vole, mayflies, kingfishers and rare grasses.

We are seeking the enthusiastic support of local people and businesses who would like to support our work through membership of AVRA or alternatively can offer time, resources or funding to help us .

Our currently active projects

Hatchery – we maintain a hatchery operation at Hook to rear approximately 40,000 swim up fry annually from river Axe native sea trout broodstock. The broodstock fish are caught humanely at a dedicated trap in Weycroft and are later returned to the river unharmed. The purpose of the hatchery being to provide a boost to natural spawning numbers, helping ensure their future survival during these difficult times of poor water quality.

River corridorsWe are committed to improving the whole river system and believe that tackling the headwaters and tributaries first are absolutely key to this objective. We are working with a one mile stretch of the main river at Seaborough to be used as a sanctuary for spawning and young fish and to set a model example of what can be achieved to improve and restore the river and bankside habitat. This stretch is being surveyed for us by the Wild Trout Trust who will set a plan for the habitat improvement and restoration that needs to be done. A similar project, linking the landowners on a three mile stretch of the Synderford Brook tributary is also being coordinated by AVRA and will form a flagship project for habitat management along a sizeable and continuous section of river corridor.

Schools education programme – For 2020 there were four participating schools (St Mary’s, Musbury, Shute and Chardstock Primary Schools) who have all helped rear and release a small quantity of sea trout swim up fry. Equipment was provided by AVRA and educational presentations to the students were provided by Westcountry Rivers Trust. Our intention is to increase this programme to more schools in the future.