The Freshwater Fishes
of Lancashire, Merseyside & Cheshire
The following is a list of the freshwater fish encountered in the waters of Lancashire and Cheshire compiled by Malcolm Greenhalgh for the 2004 General Report.
Sea Lamprey Petromyzon marinus
Ellison & Chubb recorded captures of this anadromous species from Morecambe Bay and Parkgate (Wirral) and note the Lancashire River Board's Report for 1957-8 detecting 'large numbers in many of the rivers....particularly in the Lune.' Pollution exterminated the sea lamprey as a breeding species from the Mersey. In Lancashire it has been recorded spawning in the Ribble between Walton-le-Dale and Samlesbury (2000-2002) and below Hodderfoot (A. Blezard), and I caught two in the Lune above Skerton Bridge in July 1996. Recorded from the Wyre below Garstang in June 1970. I have no record from the Cheshire Dee.
Lampern (River Lamprey) Lampetra fluviatilis
Ellison & Chubb give two 20th century records from the Mersey at Warrington on 2 October 1909 and 7 December 1909 (three); otherwise they describe it as 'abundant in the unpolluted rivers of our region and there are numerous records from the Dee and elsewhere'. Like all lampreys, this species is easily overlooked. I have recent records from the Ribble (corpses at Mitton in 1981 and from Balderstone in 1995), from the Wyre at Garstang (2000) and in 2000-2001 from the Mersey at Woolston (EA).
Brook Lamprey Lampetra planeri
This small slender species, which is resident in freshwater the year round, is easily overlooked because it spends most of its life buried in silty gravel in the riverbed. Chubb & Ellison stated that it occurs in the following Cheshire rivers: Dee, Bollin, Dane, Aldersey Brook, Baguley Brook, Peover Eye, 'and other small streams'. To these I would add the Dane at Congleton and Swettenham. I have found it in the following Lancashire rivers: the Hodder at Bashall Eaves and Slaidburn, the Ribble at Grindleton, the Wyre below Abbeystead and the Lune below Kirkby Lonsdale. The Environment Agency has records from the Douglas at Squirrel Lane.
Sturgeon Acipenser sturio
Ellison & Chubb gave the following records from rivers and inshore waters of this increasingly rare vagrant: 1700 at Warrington; 1851 below Warrington; 1873 Morecambe Bay; 1891 River Mersey; 17 June 1891, River Dee at Queensferry; 1899 off Hilbre; 1902, two from the Dee; 1904, Morecambe; August 1908, Saltney, near Chester; 20 July 1914, Southport; August 1958, Morecambe lightship; July 1959, off Morecambe. I have unearthed one other record, of a fish netted from the Lune at Glasson Dock in 1903 (photograph in Port of Lancaster Smoke House, November 2002).
Sterlet Acipenser ruthenus
This is an eastern European species of sturgeon that spends its entire life in freshwater. Sterlets are sometimes kept by aquarists until they grow too large to accommodate in tanks or garden ponds. Some have recently been introduced into ponds in the Fylde. DEFRA regulations stipulate that a sterlet caught in Britain must be removed from the water.
Twaite Shad Alosa fallax
An anadromous species that has never been recorded in the freshwater of rivers in our region, despite Ellison & Chubb quoting it being caught 'sometimes in the Dee'. It has been reported very rarely from inshore waters (e.g. four off Formby on 6 June 1863) but there are no dated 20th or 21st century records.
Allis Shad Alosa alosa
I examined a specimen netted from the Ribble below Freckleton Naze in June 1976 by R. Ball. It had the characteristic single dark spot to the rear of the gill cover and a scale count down the side of 81, beyond the range of the twaite shad's 58-70. A scarce species throughout the British Isles, though it is easily overlooked.
Eel Anguilla anguilla
A widespread and common species in rivers where the lower reaches are not excessively polluted. In recent years it has recolonised the Douglas and Yarrow following clean-up and now occurs in the Mersey system at Whittle Brook (Warrington), Sutton Brook, and the Weaver and Bollin systems (Cheshire). Females will travel overland to ponds and reservoirs and there grow to large size (e.g. two at Barnsfold Water weighed 3 and 4 1/2 kg in July 1989).
Pike Esox lucius
This species can be found in canals, mossland drains, reservoirs, meres and some rivers (e.g. deep pools of the Dee, Ribble and Lune). It has been reported from brackish water in the Lune estuary. Ellison & Chubb noted a 12" (30cm) fish from the docks at Manchester on 30 April 1968 which, they stated, was 'the first from the Manchester Ship Canal since opening in 1894'. Pike now occur in the Irwell between Bolton and Salford (P. Wilson). Interestingly, there is no record from Mere Sands Wood LWT Reserve (D. Rigby), suggesting that human introduction is essential for its presence in waters in the region.
Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar
Well-established populations occur in the Dee (2001 declared rod catch 616, though most caught upstream of the Welsh border), Lune and its tributaries (2001 catch 566), Ribble and Hodder (2001 catch 349), and Wyre (2001 catch 11). Much work is being carried out by angling conservation bodies and the Environment Agency into improving these populations. The formerly polluted Calder (Ribble system) now has a small run and in 2002 salmon were prospecting the cleaned Douglas/Yarrow system (Lancashire).
Early in the 19th century the Mersey was still a noted salmon river but by the 1880s the population had collapsed. One was found jammed in a lock of the Ship Canal in 1894, singletons were taken at Warrington in June 1908 and again on 9 April 1912. Ellison & Chubb also noted that in 1926 'a number of big salmon were found dead and dying on a sandbank near Fiddler's Ferry, Warrington'. Even when the river was at its most polluted the occasional salmon nosed its way into the Mersey: in 1962 one was caught in Gladstone Dock on 28 February and another in Brunswick Dock on 3 April. With the cleaning up of the Mersey Basin, salmon are attempting to return: three were caught in a trap at Warrington in 2001, 26 in 2002 (EA).
Brown Trout/Sea Trout Salmo trutta
A sea trout is simply a brown trout that has gone to sea to feed and grow before returning to spawn in the river. The following rivers have stocks of sea trout: Lune (second most productive sea trout river in England after the Tyne, with a 2001 declared catch of 1426), Wyre (small population), Ribble and Hodder (2001 catch 499), Dee (2001 catch 283). Sea trout have recolonised the Calder (Ribble) and Yarrow (Douglas) following the cleaning up of pollution.
Non-migratory brown trout occur in the same rivers; also in the Irwell (Greater.Manchester), Dane and other clean tributaries of the Weaver, and in the Bollin and Gowy (Cheshire). Large numbers of brown trout are stocked into some rivers every year. Brown trout occur naturally in some reservoirs, having been trapped there when the dam was built across a stream holding brown trout (e.g. Stocks, Entwistle). Many reservoirs lacking a wild head of brown trout have been stocked.
Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss
Native to North America, the rainbow trout has been stocked into many reservoirs, gravel-pits, sand-pits and purpose-built pools for angling and to produce fish for the table. It has, in the past, been introduced to some rivers either deliberately or through fish-farm escapes, but today such introductions are considered a form of pollution. Despite rumours, there is no good evidence that this species has bred in the wild in the region. If it has on occasion done so, there is certainly no viable breeding population and without new introductions every year the species would die out here.
Speckled Char/Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis
During the 1980s small numbers of this North American char were introduced to some stillwater trout fisheries to add variety to anglers' catches. I examined specimens from Parsonage Reservoir (Lancashire) and Pennine Trout Fishery (Greater Manchester) during the 1980s where it is no longer stocked nor now occurs. At the time of writing (2002) it may not occur in our region, other than in hatcheries.
Powan/Gwyniad Coregonus lavaretus
The gwyniad is a whitefish found in Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) on the course of the Dee. Ellison & Chubb noted that, rarely, some leave the lake when the river is in flood and are caught downstream as far as Chester (e.g. in 1937 at Groves, Chester; 7 March 1954 at Meadows, Chester). I have no recent record.
Grayling Thymallus thymallus
In Cheshire, this species occurs in the Dee, Dane, Peover Eye, Bollin, Dean, Gowy and Birkin. During the past ten years its range in these streams has been extended through artificial stocking. Grayling also occur in the Ribble and Hodder (Lancashire). Up to the 1980s their downstream range was Hodderfoot, but since the clean-up of the Calder grayling have entered that tributary and colonised 'Big' Ribble downstream of the confluence. A 19th century attempt to stock grayling into the Wyre failed.
Smelt/Sparling Osmerus eperlanus
Although there was a fishery for this small anadromous fish up to the early 19th century in the lower Dee and Mersey (the Rev. Samuel Langley, Rector of Swettenham from 1649-57, described how, in the Mersey at Warrington, 'Ten or even twenty fish are caught at one haul of the seine'), it is now a rare visitor. It may be overlooked for Ellison & Chubb reported a 22.5cm smelt from the Battery Skier (Skear), Morecambe on 12 December 1968 and described the species as 'fairly common' there. In 1977 I found two smelts in the stomach of a sea trout caught in the Pinfold Channel (Ribble Estuary) and in June 2001 examined one washed up on the saltmarsh above Shard Bridge (Wyre Estuary).
Ellison & Chubb (1968) reviewed all the records of a lacustrine population of smelts that occurred in Rostherne Mere, the latest being one found dead on 31 March 1922. None has been found since, despite thorough investigation.
Carp Cyprinus carpio
Primarily a fish of eutrophic lowland lakes, in this region the carp occurs in waters as diverse as the pools in the collection at Martin Mere WWT and Wrightington fish ponds (Lancashire), Bosley Reservoir at Macclesfield, Whirley Mere at Henbury and Marbury Mere and in the pools created at Capesthorne and Tatton Halls (Cheshire) and in the Wigan flashes (Gtr. Manchester). In recent years many small ponds have been dug throughout the region to accommodate this very popular anglers' fish. Carp also occur in the Rivers Dane and Weaver, have been stocked into the Ship Canal at Salford Quays, and there is a tiny population in the Ribble around Salmesbury. Carp have also been stocked into many canals including the Bridgewater, Trent & Mersey and Shropshire Union.
Crucian Carp Carassius carassius
Ellison & Chubb describe the status of the crucian carp as, 'Almost a stranger to Cheshire waters ... In Lancs. this species is rare ... only in a few waters re-stocked by fishing-clubs’. Today it is far more widespread and, though some of the increase in range is because of recent introductions, some is probably a matter of the species being somewhat overlooked previously. I have found it in small weedy ponds at Blackrod and Wrightington (Lancashire), Abram (Wigan), Haydock (Merseyside) and Marton Heath (Cheshire). It also occurs in some canals: for instance, Leeds & Liverpool near Rufford, Lancaster near Catforth, Sankey Navigation near Newton-le-Willows and Bridgewater near Lymm. It occurs in the pools of Martin Mere WWT and at Mere Sands Wood LWT Reserve.
Goldfish Carassius auratus
Although goldfish are occasionally released into the wild, there is no thriving population in the region.
Grass Carp Ctenopharyngodon idella
An Asiatic cyprinid, the grass carp has been introduced to several waters since 1980, partly to clear weeds and partly for angling (e.g. Whalley Trout fishery/Pine Trees fishery at Whalley, Lancashire, and the Lancaster Canal). It is unlikely that they will ever breed in the wild here, so the species' continuing existence depends on continued stocking.
Chub Leuciscus cephalus
This is a common species in the Gowy, lower Dee, Dane and cleaner Weaver tributaries, Bollin and its tributary the Dean (Cheshire), Ribble and its tributaries (Hodder and, since clean-up, Calder, Lostock, Darwen and Yarrow) and the Wyre downstream of Garstang (Lancashire), and Glaze Brook (Gtr Manchester). It has been stocked in some canals (e.g. Sankey Navigation in the 1980s) and lakes (e.g. Worthington Reservoirs, Lancashire, in the 1970s) though it is unlikely that such introductions will result in self-sustaining breeding populations.
Ide Leuciscus idus
This species is not native to the British Isles, and has been introduced from mainland Europe. It is sometimes kept in garden ponds (a variety known as the golden orfe is popular) and has been stocked into several Cheshire stillwaters (EA).
Dace Leuciscus leuciscus
A river species with a similar distribution to the chub; it also occurs in the Lune downstream of Forge Weir. In many streams the populations collapsed in the 1980s and in some the species survives only because of stocking by the Environment Agency. The reasons are not clear. Predation by cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo and the effects on dace foods and reproductive success of the choking of riverbeds with blanket-weed (Cladophora) through increased phosphate levels in the river water, have been blamed. So too has the cleaning-up of organic pollution in rivers that fed the invertebrates on which dace feed. In 2002 the Environment Agency instigated a restocking and habitat improvement programme to improve stocks of dace and other similar declining species.
Roach Rutilus rutilus
One of the most widespread and abundant freshwater fish in the region, occurring in all canals, the middle and lower reaches of all clean rivers, mossland drains, and farm ponds, gravel pits, meres and some reservoirs.
Rudd Scardinius erythrophthalmus
This is primarily a stillwater fish, occurring in the Cheshire meres, farm dew-ponds, and fenlands such as Leighton Moss and Hawes Water. It has been stocked more recently into abandoned sandworkings (e.g. Westlow Mere at Congleton and Mere Sands Wood LWT Reserve), and in the pools in the waterfowl garden at Martin Mere WWT. Rudd can also be found in weedier stretches of canals (e.g. Rufford Branch of the Leeds & Liverpool and Tewitfield section of the Lancaster). It also occurs in small numbers in the lowland reaches of several streams such as the Dane and Weaver, and has been reported from the lower Ribble.
Bitterling Rhodeus sericeus
This small cyprinid is a native of central Europe and was brought to Britain by aquarists fascinated by its unique breeding behaviour, which depends on the presence of the freshwater mussel Anodonta cygnea. The female deposits her relatively few eggs into the mantle cavity of the mussel and there the male fertilises them and they develop. In the 1920s bitterling were released into canals and pools in the St Helens area of south Lancashire and then, in the 1940s and 1950s to small pools on the Wirral. These two areas are still the main centres of bitterling population in Britain. In 2001-2 the Environment Agency also recorded them from the River Wheelock (in the Dane-Weaver system) and in the River Gowy (Cheshire); bitterling also occur at Mere Sands Wood LWT Reserve.
Minnow Phoxinus phoxinus
This small fish occurs in all clean rivers in the region including the Dee, Dane, Bollin, Birkin and Gowy, the upper Irwell, the Ribble, Hodder and Douglas and their tributaries, and the Wyre and Lune.
Bream/Bronze Bream Abramis brama
Although the bream occurs in the slower, deeper reaches of rivers such as the Dane and Ribble, it is primarily a species of lowland stillwaters and canals. It is, for instance, a dominant species in many Cheshire meres and the larger mossland drains. It thrives in the near foetid pools in the waterfowl garden of Martin Mere WWT, devouring bread and grain meant for the ducks. In 1989 it was stocked into the Ship Canal at Salford Quays.
Silver Bream Blicca bjoerkna
Ellison & Chubb gave no records of this species, which does occur in lowland meres and slow rivers in Cheshire and South Lancashire: e.g. Astle Pool, Chelford; Double Woods Pool, Mere; River Mere; Martin Mere WWT Reserve and Mere Sands Wood LWT Reserve. Care needs to be taken when identifying possible silver bream and young small bronze bream, know as 'skimmers' which are very common in some canals (e.g. Lancaster) and are quite silvery.
Barbel Barbus barbus
Ellison & Chubb gave no records for this species. Following subsequent introduction, today barbel occur in the River Dane around Holmes Chapel, the Bollin-Dean system (introduced about 1994) and in the Ribble between Preston (introduced illegally in the early 1970s) and Hodderfoot (there is a 2002 report of them occurring in the Hodder above Winkley Weir). The Environment Agency also has records from the Ribble as far upstream as Settle (North Yorkshire) and from the Yarrow and Savick Brook (Lancashire).
Gudgeon Gobio gobio
This small cyprinid occurs in clean, and some not so clean, rivers, park lakes, canals and mossland drains in the region from the Ribble southwards to the Dane and Weaver, including Prince's and Sefton Park lakes (Liverpool), the Leeds-Liverpool canal and Martin Mere WWT Reserve and waterfowl gardens. Like the dace, gudgeon stocks in the Ribble declined through the last quarter of the 20th century; in the 1970s day-catches of 10-20 were not unusual whereas today catching more than one is noteworthy.
Tench Tinca tinca
A species of eutrophic stillwaters and canals, the tench is commonly found in Cheshire's meres, some mining-subsidence flashes, lowland pools in the Fylde, the Leeds-Liverpool canal especially between Maghull and Scarisbrick, the Sankey Navigation, and the Bridgewater, Trent & Mersey and Shropshire Union canals. I have seen it 'bubbling' at Mere Sands Wood LWT Reserve, and it has been stocked at Martin Mere WWT Reserve and waterfowl gardens.
Stone Loach Noemacheilus barbatula
A species of clean gravel- and sand-bottomed streams that is often overlooked, for it tends to be nocturnal or crepuscular in its habits. It occurs in the Rivers Lune, Wyre, Ribble, Gowy, Bollin and the Dane-Weaver system and their feeder streams. I have no note of this species from the Dee.
[Spined Loach Cobitis taenia]
Ellison & Chubb quoted a record from Wayoh Reservoir, near Bolton on 12 June 1952 and questioned whether the species had been overlooked. I know of no other record and failed to catch one from Wayoh or neighbouring Jumbles and Entwistle Reservoirs in 1983-4. The Environment Agency confirms that there are no Cheshire/Merseyside records. This casts doubts on the Wayoh record and, though Alfred Hazelwood who identified it was unlikely to have made a mistake, the record should be placed in square brackets.
European Catfish/Wels Siluris glanis
This east European giant of a fish has been introduced widely, west to Spain. There have been rumours that it has been introduced to some British waters, including Lancashire. These rumours have been proved correct: the wels has been captured in pools in the Fylde (Environment Agency). Under DEFRA regulations, any wells caught in this country must be removed from the water.
Three-spined Stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus
This well-known species is the most widespread fish in our region. It occurs in most freshwater habitats from dewponds, some reservoirs (since 2000 there has been a late summer population explosion in Parsonage Reservoir, Blackburn), the margins of meres and mining-subsidence flashes (it is common in the Wigan and Pennington Flashes), mossland drains, canals and rivers down to the tide. It appears to be capable of surviving in water so polluted that other fish species cannot survive. Ellison & Chubb recorded the species from a shrimping net in Liverpool Bay (1931), from West Kirby marine lake, and a tidal gutter at Hilbre; I have found it on the Ribble estuary in saltpans on the saltmarshes and from a pool by the sand-winning track across Horse Bank.
Nine- (Ten-) spined Stickleback Pungitius pungitius
Ellison & Chubb described this tiny fish as being widely distributed. However, it is not a common species, seeming to demand very shallow, weed-rich pond margins or ditches. This is a habitat that commonly dried up permanently during the summer droughts of the last quarter of the 20th century (I know of two ponds in the Fylde and three in the Leigh-Wigan area where this happened) or have been filled in by farmers or the builders of housing estates (I know of two close to Leigh where this has happened).
Nine-spined sticklebacks occur on some wetland reserves (e.g. Leighton Moss and Martin Mere WWT waterfowl gardens). It has been recorded in brackish water by the Dee and Ribble estuaries.
Miller’s Thumb (Bullhead or Sculpin) Cottus gobio
This species requires clean, well-oxygenated water and, although it occurs in oligotrophic lakes further north in Britain, in this region it occurs only in streams with loose boulders under which it can hide by day and deposit its characteristic egg-mass. It is a common fish of the Lune, Ribble and Hodder, and Wyre (Lancashire), the Bollin and Dean, the Dane and Peover Eye and their tributaries, and the Gowy (Cheshire). It has recently been recorded from Rainford Brook (Sankey system) and Prescot Brook (Merseyside), the Yarrow (Lancashire) and upper Irwell (Greater Manchester).
Sea Bass Dicentrarchus labrax
This primarily marine fish does penetrate estuaries close to the limit of brackish-fresh water between May and October: Dee Estuary, Ribble to Warton, Wyre to Shard Bridge, Lune to Glasson Dock.
Perch Perca fluviatilis
With the roach, one of the best-known and most widespread of our freshwater fish, occurring in small dewponds, canals, large meres and some reservoirs, mossland drains and the lower reaches of rivers from the Ribble southwards.
Ruffe or Pope Gymnocephalus cernuus
Ellison & Chubbe described this species as 'uncommon'. However, it occurs in small numbers in most (if not all) canals, has been recorded from the slower reaches of the Ribble and Lune (Lancashire), Alt and Sutton Brook (Merseyside), Dee, Dane and Weaver (Cheshire), and from some reservoirs (e.g Bosley and Hurleston in Cheshire and Entwistle and Wayoh in Greater Manchester).
Thick-lipped Mullet Chelon labrosus
Like the sea bass, this is a marine species that penetrates all estuaries during the summer months. On the Mersey it can be seen in Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks, on the Lune below Skerton Bridge, and on the Ribble upstream to Savick Brook and the Douglas.
Common Goby Pomatoschistus microps
This is primarily an estuarine, brackish water species (it has been recorded from saltpans on Morecambe Bay and Ribble saltmarshes and from pools on mussel-beds of the Wyre Estuary); in 2000-2002 the Environment Agency recorded specimens from the canal at Weston (Cheshire) and from Whittle Brook (Warrington).
Flounder or Fluke Platichthys flesus
This primarily marine species penetrates true freshwater in the Dee as far as Farndon, the Mersey into the River Gowy, Rivacre Brook (Ellesmere Port), Weston Canal and Whittle Brook, the Ribble upstream of Salmesbury, the Wyre to Garstang and the Lune to Skerton weir. It is abundant in the brackish estuaries: e.g. salmon netsmen on the Ribble often catch over 100 per tide between Freckleton Naze and Lytham, while Ellison & Chubb described it as 'probably the most numerous resident of West Kirkby Marine Lake'.
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Ellison, N.F. & J.C. Chubb (1962) The marine and freshwater fishes of Lancashire and Cheshire. Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Committee Thirty-second Report, 40: 1-34.
Ellison, N.F. & J.C. Chubb (1963). The marine and freshwater fishes of Lancashire and Cheshire. Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Committee Thirty-third Report, 43: 1-6.
Ellison, N.F. & J.C. Chubb (1968) The smelt of Rostherne Mere, Cheshire. Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Society 53: 7-16.
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