Rescue operation continues for Grand Western Canal collapse fish
Hundreds of fish washed out of a collapsed canal in Devon have been returned to their former home.
The Grand Western Canal at Halberton breached its banks last month after two 100ft sections collapsed under the weight of water from two days of unprecedented rainfall in the area.
A two-mile section of the 200-year-old canal drained through the hole left in the bank between Halberton and Sampford Peverel after a month's rain fell in 48 hours.
Fish, including pike, bream, roach, tench, perch and eels were washed into a lagoon that quickly formed in surrounding fields.
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A team of Environment Agency officers helped by members of the Tiverton Angling Club battled challenging conditions of deep mud and sub-zero temperatures to net around 400 fish and return them to the canal.
Before the rescue could start they had to break through ice on the surface of the lake, which prevented them from rescuing hundreds more fish.
The operation was delayed earlier last week because the lagoon had not sufficiently reduced in size.
At first it was thought it would drain naturally, but after a few days the lagoon showed little sign of dissipating.
Fire crews began pumping water to reduce the size of the lake that still measured approximately 150 by 60 metres and is up to 7ft deep in places.
Devon County Council, which owns the Tiverton Canal, installed two temporary dams to prevent further loss of water, and these will remain in place until the bank repairs have been completed.
The breach was initially thought to have caused considerable damage to fish stocks and other wildlife.
Nick Maye, of Environment Agency, said: "The bigger fish were particularly important because they will be laying eggs in the spring."
He said that some of the big pike and tench that were returned to the canal were at least ten years old. "There was a lot of live and good fish that went back in the canal."
Rescuers involved in the operation had to watch out for hazards under the water's surface, including barbed-wire fences. Mr Maye added: "It's heart warming how many volunteers helped with the rescue."
Devon County Council has pledged £10,000 for a repair fund for the canal, although is estimated that the total bill could be as much as £5million.
The Environment Agency plans to rescue the remaining fish today.