The Brown Trout [Salmo
, the native trout of Wales, breeds
every summer at Plas Farm and can often be seen leaping for insects
that fly low over the mountain stream that runs past the holiday
cottages. They have returned to the clean river gravels in which
they were born to spawn once more and complete the circle of life.
Spawning tends to take place in September and October as water temperatures
begin to fall for the winter. The female digs a shallow redd into
which the eggs are deposited. The eggs take approximately 150 days
to hatch, the longest time of any Welsh freshwater fish. The young
fish spend at least a year in the natal stream before moving downstream
to the sea. The growth of trout is very dependant upon the environment
and the trout at Plas Farm rarely grow bigger than eight inches
in length and weigh less than a pound. Staying small helps them
to avoid predators like the dreaded heron which occasionally makes
an appearance in the stream outside the holiday cottages.
The River Clydach
I should perhaps mention at this
stage something of the river itself. Its name, the River Clydach,
means “a river flowing through a shaded place”. It
begins as small springs in the bog depressions high on the flanks
of Mynydd Marchywel where many gullies link to form a small stream.
It then passes through Plas Farm, and continues to run within
the confines of the Dyffryn Trough, the small valley that interconnects
the deeper-lying Swansea and Neath valleys. The river ends at
its confluence with the River Neath at Neath
Abbey, site of a great 12th century Cistercian Abbey famously
described by John Leland in the 16th century as “the fairest
in all Wales”. The abbey is a great place to visit if you
are holidaying at one of our cottages.
European Eel Anguilla anguilla
The only other species of fish that has ever been spotted at the
farm is a big European Eel [Anguilla anguilla], which lived
for a while in the pool shown above, which we call 'the dingle'.
It certainly gave swimming in the river an extra bit of excitement!
At the time, I used to poke it out from under it's rock with a stick
to the amazement of my childhood friends. If I had realised its
life story I may have thought twice. For it had travelled far to
make its home in this little corner of Wales.
It was born in Sargasso Sea (so named because there is a kind of
seaweed which lazily floats over its entire expanse called sargassum)
in the Mid Atlantic, somewhere between the West Indies and the Azores.
Still only a larvae, and looking a bit like a curled leaf, it hitched
a lift on the Gulf Stream and begun a three year journey to the
coasts of Europe, drifting slowly amongst the plankton. In the departure
lounge of the Gulf Stream, the young larvae underwent metamorphosis
and became a young eel, albeit a transparent one (known as a glass
eel). It then darkened in colour and found nice freshwater stream
to migrate up, just like the one outside our holiday cottages. Now
known as an 'elver' the young eel measured about 50mm in length.
The eel, now called a 'brown' or 'yellow eel' grew in the freshwater
spending between 6-12 years and 9-20 years in the freshwater depending
on whether it was a male or female. Towards the end of this time,
it became sexually mature; turned a silvery colour and migrated
back towards the sea on a dark, moonless and stormy night; during
this time they are known as 'silver eels'. Either that or it became
annoyed with a little boy constantly poking him out of his hiding
place. Remarkably, it may even have spent several hours traveling
overland on one dark rainy night to get back to the sea. Upon returning
to the sea, the eel lived in mud, crevices, and under stones hiding
from predators, including cormorants and gulls, as well as a number
of species of fish. And then it began it's big journey home - back
to its childhood playground in the Sargasso Sea. There it probably
found a partner and after a 'special hug', more larvae were born.
The eel that once spent a long holiday at Plas Farm, may well still
be out there in the Mid Atlantic for all I know. With a life expectancy
of 85 years it will probably still be there when I am gone too.
Sorry old boy. No harm intended.