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Extinct in the UK for nearly three decades: could the burbot swim again in our rivers?

Scientists at the University of Southampton are to carry out a feasibility study on the possibility of reintroducing burbot, a freshwater fish, to UK rivers, and are conducting an online survey to hear the views of members of the public.

The burbot is the only freshwater member of the Gadidae (cod family) and was relatively common in this country until the latter part of the 20th century. The last confirmed capture of a burbot in a UK river was in September 1969, in the Old West River at Aldreth, Cambridgeshire. Despite sporadic reports of subsequent captures, it is generally accepted that there are no longer any burbot (Lota lota) in British rivers.

The Southampton team, Dr Paul Kemp, Dr Patrick Osborne and PhD student Tom Worthington of the University's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will be looking to identify causes for the burbot's extinction in the UK and examining the feasibility of reintroducing it from Europe in the future. The project will also look at whether any future risks threaten the species.

Their research will examine the species' biological and ecological requirements, genetic lineage and critical life history traits as well as the public's views on a possible reintroduction.

"Opinion is divided over the reasons for the loss of this species," comments Dr Kemp. "Climate change, over-fishing, pollution and habitat destruction have all been advanced as possible causes. However, no research has been carried out to fully quantify the burbot's decline. This study will examine the role of changes in water temperature, habitat connectivity and river discharge in the burbot's extinction."

In order to examine the views of interested parties to a possible reintroduction, a questionnaire is available online until 31 August.

"We would like to encourage members of the public, particularly those who have a close relationship with our rivers and waterways, to take time to complete the survey, as opinions gathered will be a vital component of our research," adds Dr Kemp.

The feasibility study follows the structure of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) guidelines on species reintroduction (IUCN, 1998).

To access the questionnaire please go to the website Alternatively a paper copy is available on request, please see website for contact details.

Sarah Watts | alfa
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