I've spotted a sturgeon

Help us save the UK's native Sturgeon

Dinosaur fish on the brink of extinction.
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Save The Sturgeon Sturgeon and The Uk

STURGEON AND THE UK

Two species of sturgeon were once common in the UK’s rivers and coastal waters (over 5,000 reported captures in the UK Sturgeon Database); the Critically Endangered European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio) and the Near Threatened Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus).
Save The Sturgeon The Dinosaur Fish

THE DINOSAUR FISH

These prehistoric fish have been around for the past 200 million years. Due to being so well evolved, native sturgeon have had little reason to change since they first appeared.
Save The Sturgeon Our Largest Freshwater Fish

OUR LARGEST FRESHWATER SPECIES

European sturgeon can reach sizes of six metres and live for over one hundred years. Atlantic sturgeon can grow to almost five metres in length and live for a similar time.
Save The Sturgeon Gentle Giants

GENTLE GIANTS

Although their large size may seem scary, native sturgeon are gentle giants who pose no threat to humans. They are bottom feeders who eat things like worms, mussels, and crabs.
Save The Sturgeon Most Critically Endangered Group

MOST CRITICALLY ENDANGERED GROUP

Sturgeon belong to the family of fish known as Acipenseridae. Today, sturgeon represent the most Critically Endangered group of species on the planet. A long history of human impacts, like habitat destruction and pollution, has driven these incredible animals towards extinction.

Sturgeon Lifecycle and Facts

LIFECYCLE NEW@2x

THE DECLINE OF OUR STURGEON

Archaeological records suggest that hunting and fishing of native sturgeon began in the Bronze Age. There are the remains of massive fish traps which used to span large rivers to catch these big fish as they migrated upstream. Sturgeon’s armour-like scales, scutes, have been found in ancient middens (rubbish dumps) throughout the UK showing that these fish were a significant part of our diet. Eaten by all, sturgeon were highly prized for their protein rich meat.

Although exploitation was an issue, greater declines in sturgeon numbers came with the widespread construction of weirs and dams for river navigation and milling. Sturgeon are anadromous, migrating from the sea into rivers to spawn on clean gravel beds. Barriers meant that they were unable to reach their spawning grounds.

As mature individuals were either removed from the rivers or blocked from reaching their spawning habitats, the decline of native sturgeon was inevitable. The last officially recorded river capture was in 1993 in the River Tywi (Afon Tywi) in Wales. However, individuals have begun to return to our coasts in recent years because of reintroduction projects in France and Germany.

HISTORIC MAP OF RANGE

Sturgeon are likely to have inhabited most major/large rivers and estuaries within this range. However, the decline shown here has been based on literature with recognised knowledge gaps. It is likely that they disappeared from a significant number of rivers without ever being recorded. As such, these images may not be accurate to the actual decline.

Sturgeon Historical Map 1896
Sturgeon Historical Map 1921
Sturgeon Historical Map 1946
Sturgeon Historical Map 1971
Sturgeon Historical Map 1996
Sturgeon Historical Map 2021
Year
  • 1896
  • 1921
  • 1946
  • 1971
  • 1996
  • 2021

How can we bring them back?

  • Rivers & Estuary Health:
    Ensuring that rivers and estuaries are in a healthy condition is paramount to not only the lifecycle of sturgeon, but to the health of all other species in the ecosystems. Reducing pollution will help return our river and coastal habitats to healthy states supporting a vast array of wildlife.
  • Spawning Habitats:
    Sturgeon spawn in freshwater, in deep, well-oxygenated pools over clean gravel beds. In some instances, these habitats may have been removed due to dredging or altering the river channel over time. Restoration of gravel beds to natural conditions is one way to ensure successful spawning.
  • Migration Routes:
    River barriers, such as weirs, that are no longer in use should be removed, and those still in use, bypassed with fish passes large enough for sturgeon. The Unlocking the Severn project has done this for many weirs on the Severn to ease passage for twaite shad.
  • Legal Protection:
    The European sturgeon is strictly protected under UK legislation including the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (2019) and Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (2019). Sturgeon are protected throughout their entire range as a species of principle importance through the Habitats Directive (1992). They are also a Biodiversity Action Plan (1994) Priority Species.
  • Pet Trade:
    The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Commission) states that the largest current threat to sturgeon restoration globally is the presence of non-native sturgeon in the wild. These non-native species have been accidentally or intentionally released into rivers from private, ornamental or angling lakes and ponds. Their entry into the UK came via imports for the pet trade. To successfully restore native sturgeon, further restrictions and enforcement surrounding non-native sturgeon in the pet trade must come into place to stop more entering the wild.
  • Public Awareness:
    A key component of sturgeon restoration is public awareness and education. Some behaviours, such as getting stranded in rivers at low tide, need to be understood by the general public so they are aware how they should act - in the case of stranded fish they should be left alone. Anglers, fishermen, and the general public can report sturgeon sightings to further help sturgeon restoration and research. The UK should be proud of these gentle giants and encourage their return.
  • Restoration:
    Sturgeon restoration is not a quick fix, but it is possible. Sturgeon are now returning to rivers in France and Germany after many years of restoration efforts. Through conservation effort, native sturgeon could return to the UK in the not-too-distant future.
  • The UK Sturgeon Alliance:
    Created in 2020, the UK Sturgeon Alliance is a coalition of organisations working together to help restore our native sturgeon species. Members include Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM), Severn Rivers Trust, Nature at Work and Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE). Links to each individual organisation can be found below.

Anatomy of a Sturgeon

Save The Sturgeon Anatomy Of A Sturgeon 01
Save The Sturgeon Anatomy Of A Sturgeon 02
Save The Sturgeon Anatomy Of A Sturgeon 03
Save The Sturgeon Anatomy Of A Sturgeon 04
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