Barbus barbus

Barbel, Courtesy of Jack Perks


Barbel are a powerful, ‘bullet’ shaped fish that are ideally suited to live in fast flowing water. The name barbel comes from the Latin Barbula which means Little Beard. This comes from the four whisker-like features on the corner of its mouth. These feelers (which include taste buds) are ideal for helping them search for their food that lives in and amongst rocky, gravelly substrate. Many fish species have these barbula, but these are very prominent and more visible in barbel than in most other fish species. 


Barbel are predatory and mainly feed on high protein invertebrates. Like most bottom dwelling species their diet largely consists of shrimps, nymphs and larvae. Once mature barbel are able to tackle larger prey like Crayfish and have been known to eat small fish. Adult barbel can grow very large (up to 1.2m in length) and are considered by anglers to be very elusive, yet hard fighting and unpredictable, therefore an extremely rewarding fish to catch. Because of their eventual size and power mature barbel are rarely predated. 

A Barbel Being Introduced to the Severn in 1956


This fish requires the fast flow, and the shallower gravely areas, of the upper reaches of rivers which enable them to spawn. In the River Severn barbel were not present until the 1950s. An initiative by the Angling Times magazine was largely responsible for these fish to be introduced to the Severn. The then known “River Severn Authority” stocked the river in 1956 with hundreds of barbel between Bewdley and Shrewsbury (see picture below). The largest barbel caught in the Severn was caught in 2014 and weighed 16lbs 11ozs (7.57kgs).  

Did You know?

Tagging studies of barbel show that this species can be a long distant migrant travelling upward of 30km to reach suitable spawning grounds, entering smaller gravel rich tributaries to complete their life history. In winter barbel will retreat to the larger main river to see out the cold spells. The Unlocking the Severn project will help this species by increasing connectivity past the navigation weirs on the River Severn allowing them to reach their optimal spawning grounds. 


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