Pre-historic Fish Seen In England's Rivers
A pre-historic blood sucking fish, that pre-dates dinosaurs by 200 million years, has been seen in England's rivers for the first time since the 1800s.
The worlds oldest living vertebrates, Lamprey, are snakelike creatures with a circular disc of razor sharp teeth instead of jaws. The largest of the UK Lamprey species - the sea lamprey - can grow up to 1 metre in length and the smallest, the brook lamprey, up to 15cm. Once a common sight in our waterways, river and sea lampreys are now endangered across Europe and are a conservation priority at a national and international level.
The previous decline of the fish was largely due to the pollution caused by the Industrial evolution, along with the construction of mill weirs that blocked their migration.
But lampreys are slowly returning to their old habitats, thanks to the lowest levels of pollution for more than 100 years and the Environmental Agency's work to remove some river weirs. Where barriers cannot be removed, lamprey "tiles" have been fitted to them to enable the fish to move upstream using their sucker-like mouths to anchor themselves.
The fish have been seen in the upper reaches of rivers such as the Ouse, Trent and Derwant. As well as being a fascinating ancient species, lampreys are ecologically important in helping to process nutrients in rivers as well as a food source for fish and birds, such as herons and sawbill ducks.
Lampreys have been regarded as a luxury food throughout history - they are recorded as being eaten by the Vikings, poached in red wine by the Romans, and eaton in lamprey pie by the British monarch on special occasions. King John is said to have fined the City of Gloucester the equivalent of £250,000 for not delivering his Christmas lamprey pie and Queen Elizabeth II was sent a lamprey pie from Gloucester for her diamond jubilee in 2012, though the fish were imported from the Great Lakes in North America.
Lamprey pie also features in the TV series Games of Thrones. In "The Prince of Winterfell" Tyrion Lannister dines on lamprey pie whilst talking over plans for the Battle of the Blackwater with his sister Queen Cersei.