It’s May. The weather is beautiful. And the twaite shad are running!
We spoke to our Volunteer Officer, Tim Thorpe, to get his expert advice on how you can spot your first shad on the River Severn this May.
Where is the best place to spot shad?
The ‘Severn Ham’ in Tewkesbury offer a unique opportunity to see shad, also traditionally known as the May Fish. It is also a beautiful location and a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), designated for its rare ground nesting birds and plant-life. So please be aware of the sensitivity of this site if you are visit and please keep any canine friends under control.
Here is our little video about this beautiful location.
The Upper Lode Weir is a great location to spot shad.
‘Upper lode’ weir is a 140m long structure that crosses the River Severn between the north western edge of the Severn Ham and the lock island on the other side of the river. When the weir was constructed a small ‘notch’ or channel was built into it, adjacent to the river bank, primarily to assist migrating salmon. The weir forces a large proportion of the shad population to migrate through this notch, making them easily to observe from the bank of the river.
What practical info do I need to know about visiting there?
There is free parking on Back of Avon road for a couple of hours. But as it is popular both with shoppers and people wanting to go for a walk on the Severn ham, it is busy and can be hard to find a space. Thankfully there are also a number of pay and display car parks within 5 minute walk of the Severn ham.
From the Quay/Key bridge, follow the path along the river until you find the weir.
VisitTewkesbury.info have some great riverside country walks – both the nature and the history walks take you right pas the weir that you are headed for. You can learn about local history or the nature on the way and use the lovely maps to get your bearings:
When can we see shad on the river?
Shad migrate from the estuary up the river Severn from late April to early June, earning them the colloquial name ‘The Mayfish’. They will wait until the water reaches the right temperature before they start to run; this means the start of the shad migration usually occurs after a period of warmer weather in April and continues throughout May. They also use large tides which raise the water level in the lower river to help bring them inland and get over barriers further downstream.
We have to make an educated guess at the best times to spot shad! This year the peak migration could be around the 17th or 18th May so this is a good time to visit the weir in Tewkesbury.
What is the best time of day to spot shad?
Severn Shad migrate during the day and seem to be most active during the hours of 11am and 7pm. So visiting mid-afternoon in May gives you a good chance of spotting one (or three).
How will I know when I’ve seen one?
Shad vary a lot in size from as little as 20cm to as long as 50cm. Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of the shad is its forked tail, this distinguishes it from most other fish in the river which have flat ended tales (such as chub & salmon). They are also more silver along their sides and you may be able to detect a dark spot on the side of the body just behind the head, this is the first of a row of spots along the side of the shad, but these markings are not always easy to make out.
As shad are shoaling fish, another way to distinguish them is the company they keep; they are often seen attempting to swim over the weir in groups.
How can I help spread the word?
Unlocking the Severn if a major river restoration project to restore 158 miles of habitat for twaite shad and other endangered river species. We are excited about reconnecting people with the natural heritage of the UK’s longest river. If you enjoyed observing this spring migration phenomena in the river, and were lucky enough to see this rare fish for yourself, why not share a photo and help spread the word about this exciting project. Use the hashtag #SevernShadRun and tag us @SevernUnlocked.