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Improving understanding

Improving the understanding of, and awareness about, eels in the River Glaven, with particular focus on engaging with local school children and other members of the local community

Capturing the eel catchers

A local eel-catcher

A local eel-catcher

We formed relationships with local residents during the course of the project and many of the older people had wonderful memories of interacting with eels and eel catchers in their youth. Twelve individuals took part in interviews. We kept the full interviews and also produced a summary audio file of the highlights. The result is an archive of memories which would soon have been lost for good.

A film about the Glaven Eel Project

Illustration for Improving understanding

We were lucky to attract a former ITV film producer and an up-and-coming new film maker to help us to produce a 7 minute film about the Glaven Eel, the Glaven Eel Project and the wider context of the Glaven Valley landscape and ecology. Almost 1,300 people have watched it on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBeh_XGLXOU

'Glaven eel feeding' film clip

'Glaven eel feeding' film clip

During the project, we kept hearing of someone who had the river running through their property and who, each day, went down to it to feed a resident wild adult eel with ham. 

This sort of regular contact with one wild eel is unheard of in eel expert circles and attracted much interest. When we finally tracked down the person, we were delighted to be able to film this unique daily ritual. We have made this 30 second film available on YouTube, called 'Glaven Eel Feeding!': https://youtu.be/kmdocuNOpho

Portable display and a programme of community events

The project delivered a total of thirteen community events via a free programme in 2016 and 2017, aimed at attracting local residents. We presented a mix of information created by the project, including the 'Glaven Eel Project' film, the oral history recordings and photographs of the habitat restoration work, supported by some information sourced from archives.

Guided walk group at Glandford Mill milpond

Guided walk group at Glandford Mill milpond

In 2016, these consisted of three film screenings and two guided walks:

  • Film screening and illustrated talk "Enigmatic, Charismatic and Mysterious – the curious life of an Eel". Tuesday, 9th August 7.30-9:30pm at Bodham Village Hall.
  • Film screening and illustrated talk "The River Glaven – a Norfolk chalk stream and its eels". Thursday, 11th August 7.30-9:30pm at Blakeney Village Hall.
  • Film screening and illustrated talk "The Last of The Great Eastern Eel Catchers". Thursday, 15th September, 7.30-9:30pm at the Meeting Room, Church of St Andrew the Apostle, Holt.
  • Guided Walk "Roamin' in the Glaven – a waterside walk". Saturday, 17th September, 10:00am-12:30pm, Cley Spy shop, Glandford.
  • Guided Walk "Live streaming of two tribute acts – discovering the River Glaven and its tributaries". Saturday, 17th September. 2:00-4:30pm, Holt Country Park.
Illustration for Improving understanding

In 2017, these consisted of one exhibition day, three film screenings and four minibus tours / walks:

  • Cley Fish Migration Day – to celebrate the amazing lives and incredible journeys of the European eels which are found locally in the Glaven valley and to explore these fascinating creatures as well as learning about other forms of mysterious pond life. Sunday 21 May 11:00am – 3:00pm at Cley NWT Visitor Centre.
  • Enigmatic mystery tour, part 1: a minibus tour of eel habitats in the south of the Glaven Valley to visit some of the best wildlife sites in Norfolk to see the habitat improvement works carried out by the project. Saturday 3 or Saturday 17 June 9.30am-13:00pm meet in Holt.
  • Enigmatic mystery tour, part 2: a tour of eel habitats in the north of the Glaven Valley to visit some of the best wildlife sites in Norfolk to see the habitat improvement works carried out by the project. Saturday 3 or Saturday 17 June 2:00-17:30pm meet in Blakeney.
  • 'The secret life of a Norfolk eel': film screening and illustrated talk to discover some of the still hidden life cycle of a once very familiar animal. Thursday 8 June 7.30-9:30pm, meeting room, Church of St Andrew the Apostle, Holt.
  • 'In their own voices - The Last of The Great Eastern Eel Catchers': film screening and illustrated talk, including the first chance to hear newly recorded interviews with some of the last of Norfolk's eel catchers. Friday 9 June 7.30-9:30pm, Blakeney Village Hall.
  • 'The Making of an Eel-friendly River': film screening and illustrated talk looking at how the Glaven Eel Project has transformed the Glaven into a safe haven for eels. Friday 23 June 7.30-9:30pm, Blakeney Village Hall.
One of the evening talks

One of the evening talks

Archive film of an eel catcher

Archive film of an eel catcher

The events were supported by a portable display about eels which consisted of:

  • A 2:00mx0.60m banner about the lifecycle of the eel.
  • Written and photographic images about eels.
  • Examples of the traditional tools used by local eel catchers over hundreds of years, including fishing spears and eel nets and traps.

On the trail of the Glaven eel

Our new Glaven Eel Trail was created using existing public access and, as sections are not accessible, it focussed on creating 'hotspots' along the river, where people could get close to the river and find out more about eels.

Altogether, we developed seven sites:

  • Selbrigg, a spring-fed pond close to the source.
  • Baconsthorpe, a moat surrounding a 15th century fortified manor house.
  • Letheringsett Mill, a fully-working water mill.
  • Natural Surroundings, a local nature reserve with the river at its heart.
  • Bayfield Lower Meadow, a picnic area overlooking freshwater marshes and newly created scrapes and pools.
  • Cley Marshes, Norfolk's oldest nature reserve.
  • Blakeney, a mix of fresh and salt water marshes before the River Glaven enters the sea at Blakeney estuary.

We involved 2 artists; Susan Purser-Hope, a local established fused glass artist who has won awards for her community work (http://purserhope.co.uk), and Henry Stephens, a local young metal sculptor (http://hjstephenartist.com/).

Susan worked with two of the project primary schools to help the children to create their own individual pieces of art, inspired by their classroom and site-based earning about eels.  She transformed their art pieces into fused glass tiles and formed these into three group pieces which are displayed on the Trail, on the bird hide at Natural Surroundings.

Susan also created one larger piece of artwork in glass, inspired by her experience of being involved in the Glaven Eel Project, and this is also displayed at Natural Surroundings, mounted next to a bench by the pond-dipping area.

School children's fused glass tiles

School children's fused glass tiles

Eel in glass, Susan Purser-Hope

Eel in glass, Susan Purser-Hope

Illustration for Improving understanding

Henry created 3 metal sculptures which were placed at Bayfield Lower Meadow and Blakeney Freshes.

(right) Henry at work 

Each piece of art is accompanied by a plaque explaining its presence and inspiration (below).

Metalwork eels

Metalwork eels

Accompanying plaque

Accompanying plaque

We produced a trail leaflet and placed site-specific interpretation boards at each of the trail locations (below).

Trail leaflet

Trail leaflet

Illustration for Improving understanding
Interpretation board at Blakeney Freshes

Interpretation board at Blakeney Freshes

An active Twitter site GlavenEel

An active Twitter site GlavenEel

Website and Twitter

We created a project website within the Norfolk Coast Partnership main website, at http://www.norfolkcoastaonb.org.uk/partnership/the-glaven-eel/1105, and an active @GlavenEel Twitter site with over 950 followers, more than 6,000 tweets and over 6,800 likes.

Aspinall Centre

Aspinall Centre

A permaent display

The new Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes Reserve Visitor centre opened as the Glaven Eel Project was initiated. 

We placed a permanent display in the Centre, with eels highlighted in their wall display and the film on permanent loop, with other similar content, on their large projector screen.

Engaging with local school children

Astley school site visit 2016

Astley school site visit 2016

An important aspect of the Glaven Eel Project, right from its inception, was to engage with and involve local school children. The project was preceded by work with local schools to investigate their requirements and identified their three top priorities for children's learning as:

  • Experience.
  • Skills.
  • Knowledge.

They were keen to see cross-curricular approach covering:

  • Science, biodiversity and environment.
  • Geography, landscape and changing habitat.
  • History and cultural significance.

Once underway, the project engaged with six local primary schools over a period of three school years, 2015-2017 inclusive:

  • Sheringham.
  • Blakeney.
  • Astley.
  • Hindringham.
  • Holt.
  • Walsingham.

With the smaller schools (Blakeney, Astley, Hindringham and Walsingham), all pupils across all years were able to take part in all activities within the school environment and onsite visits. For the two larger schools (Sheringham and Holt), Year 5 pupils took part in the site visits, though the whole school was involved in assemblies, presentations and other in-school activities.  

Thus, each year we involved over 400 pupils directly with the whole schools programme and over 1,000 more in the wider school-based activities.

The programme of classroom-based learning was designed to fit with the requirements of the national curriculum and was supported by a programme of site visits which reinforced the learning.

A peg eel

A peg eel

Through the tales of 'Elvis the Eel', the children:

  • Learnt about the problems eels face travelling up the river.
  • Studied the biology and aquatic life of the river.
  • Leant about food chains.

On the site visits they reinforced this learning through the experience of:

  • River dipping to find invertebrates with, for example, one group catching a stone loach and a stickleback.
  • Played a food chains game.
  • Making their own pet eels using pegs and googly eyes.
Eels in a fish tank

Eels in a fish tank

Eels in the classroom

A highlight of working with the schoolchildren was the opportunity to have a tank of eels in each school in 2015 and 2016. Each school was provided with a fish tank and these were stocked with glass eels in the spring. The schoolchildren took responsibility for raising the eels until release in July. In the months between they learned about various aspects of the eel and how to look after them.

Eel release

Eel release

On the release day, each individual child had the opportunity to release at least one eel into the river and watch it swim away.

Some also combined their trip with a visit to the Bayfield Fishing School where they had an angling taster session run by Norfolk Rivers Trust and volunteers.

Exhibition of children's art at Cley

Exhibition of children's art at Cley

Fused glass art

One of the two artists involved in the project, Susan Purser-Hope, worked with the school children from two of the schools, Walsingham and Hindringham, helping them to create individual pieces of art about eels and then used those drawings to create panels from fused glass which were assembled into one of three fused glass pieces, all inspired by working with the children and permanently on the Glaven Eel Trail.

The individual pieces were exhibited at our 2016 event celebrating World Fish Migration Day, hosted by Norfolk Wildlife Trust on the 21 May at their Cley Marshes visitor centre.