Video: UK biotope - why envy the Amazon?


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Ever wondered what the PFK team gets up to at lunchtimes? Nathan Hill and Jeremy Gay offer up some underwater footage of a UK biotope that's heaving with life - and which happens to be situated just a few hundred yards from the office.

It started innocently enough. While indulging a post-lunch stroll along the banks of the River Nene in Peterborough, we were suddenly passed by a man swimming straight down the middle of it. "Come on in," he called, "the water’s lovely!"

We didn’t need a second invite, and what an experience it was!

Don’t try this at home!

I’m going to be very careful here, so I’m not suggesting for an instant that people start plunging into rivers across England. People are drowning in droves during this heatwave, so I want to be very clearly on the record saying don’t try this at home. If I had to be completely open, I had a few scares myself on the first swim.

Not only did canal boats come careening around bends at mighty speeds, but a whole confederacy of plants conspired against me, wrapping around ankles and wrists with equal aplomb, and making me wonder if I would make it out of the drink on more than five occasions. On the flip side, I do have to admit that I had a great time.

Jeremy and I have been stalking the Nene banks for years now, catching glimpses of 'unidentified silvers' flashing in and out of shadows. Now, armed with shorts, recklessness and a waterproof camera borrowed from the guys on Practical Photography magazine, we’ve had our up close and personal experiences with the Nene inhabitants, and identified more than a few.

The first, and by far most striking thing to note about the river is the overwhelming volume of biomass. This river is literally boiling with life! Within seconds of taking the plunge, shoals of fry crowd downriver, picking up on sediment stirred up by our more than clumsy movements.

One thing that always hits us at PFK when we watch videos from the Amazonian waterways, or African lakes, or even Asian streams, is the rampant volume of fish. They seem to be everywhere. Well, bad news, world. The UK is not only prepared to match you on fish numbers, but it’s flexing a few muscles and showing you how it’s done properly.

In a short stretch of 50m or so, we clocked at least six species of fish (plus others that were shadows and blurs moving away from our presence). What we can state with certainty is that we found Roach, Gudgeon, Bleak, Dace, Minnows and Perch – and what a sight Perch are to behold! With such a prize of food, it would be more than safe to say that there were a few Pike lurking out of sight somewhere too.

Plants were equally rampant, sharing dominion between species, based on flow and depth. In the main river, Sagittaria, Nuphar and Typha accounted for nearly everything, though the shallower, faster and slightly warmer waters of an adjoining, smaller stream yielded huge trains of Ranunculus, as well as native Myriophyllum and clusters of Fontinalis willow moss. To say the Ranunculus strands were in excess of two metres would be no exaggeration.

And of course, other life came in tow. Damselflies flew in a thick stew of insect life above the waterline, and the occasional passing leaf would be carrying a Nerite snail or two.

But then, don’t take my word for it. I have evidence to back this up. We did, after all, have that waterproof camera with us, and so I couldn’t help but to put together some footage (scroll down for video). Note how close we are at all times to the fish, and just how many were present.

Note also the abundance of fry later in the video. These were a chance find, hugging a riverbank that I stumbled on as we swam back to our exit point. These clusters easily spread for a good three or four metres either side of where I was filming.

I’ll take the opportunity again to point out that this isn’t something you should try at home for yourself. Swimming in open bodies of water can kill, and does. Leave it to those like Jeremy and I who can’t resist a chance to get thoroughly embedded with fish – wherever they may be.



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