SMALL fry have become a surprise hit in Millburn Primary School.
The pupils were given more than 100 salmon eggs to look after as part of a major Rivers Agency environmental improvement scheme at Anderson Park in the town.
The youngsters released the tiny fish into the Lodge Burn which runs through the town after rearing them from eggs in their classroom.
The project is part of flood alleviation work on the Lodge Burn which is nearing completion. As well as providing new flood defences for local residents, the work will significantly improve the physical condition of the river and the movement of migratory fish.
The eggs were kept in fridge in their classroom and pupils had to ensure the young ones were not stressed.
Teacher Audrey McKee gave her pupils full marks for achieving a survival rate of more than 90%.
“The children actually came in in the morning checking the fridge, checking the temperature, taking out any hazards and removing anything that shouldn’t be in the water. So they were fantastic. I’ve done nothing,” she laughed.
“But if you love something, you have to let it go… and if it comes back it was meant to be.”
Pupil Luke Clements said: “Some did die, but at least we got quite a lot of them out.”
Classmate, Rachel Devenney, agreed: “I feel quite happy that we are releasing them.”
Dr Gareth Greer, Conservation Officer with the Rivers Agency was instrumental developing of the environmental project.
He said: “The Lodge Burn, being close to the River Bann and Atlantic Ocean, has historically supported a good population of salmon and trout. However, over time through catchment development and pressures on water quality, there has been a severe negative impact on migratory fish.
“Weirs and culverts have limited the movement of fish throughout the catchment, while periodic pollution events have also had a devastating impact.
“But the flood defence scheme provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reverse some of these impacts through changes to the physical structure of the river.”
The work involved the removal of two weirs which were forming a pond in Anderson Park and restoration of the natural river channel which recreates the type of habitat that is beneficial for small fish.
Pipes were removed from under the Coleraine Leisure Centre car park and replaced with a large box culvert with a natural stone base to help fish move upstream. A large drop from the culvert outlet will also be replaced with a series of step pools created to allow the upward movement of adult fish into the catchment.
Dr Greer said the involvement of Millburn was a way in which to involve the local community in the scheme.
He explained: “The children from Millburn have helped plant trees in the area visually complimenting the environmental aspect of the scheme.
“In February they also began a Salmon-in-the-Classroom project to rear 100 salmon eggs which we have now been able to release into the river. This local interest in the river will hopefully continue and with completion of the new flood defences the environmental aspects will be enjoyed for many years to come.”