What wild Atlantic salmon’s decline tells us about the whole ecosystem — and what it can tell delegates at COP26

With COP 26 to begin on October 31, Jamie Blackett suggests delegates take a moment to reflect on the plight of salmon, a great species in decline — and one that is an indicator species that can help us gain a holistic view of the whole ecosystem.

The long-anticipated COP26 conference in Glasgow is upon us. The word crisis has seemingly been attached to anything environmental during its protracted, Covid-postponed run-up, evoking anxiety and cynicism in equal measures. But for anyone with an interest in our rivers, we have clear evidence that salmon numbers are in sharp decline, despite numerous measures to help.

Extinction of the wild Atlantic salmon during our lifetimes is a very real possibility. This is by any definition a crisis, not only for the species itself, but because the salmon, as it migrates from small upland streams through river systems and estuaries to the Arctic Circle and back again, touches on more different species and environments than almost any other. As it grows from parr to smolt to grilse, it feeds birds ranging from kingfishers to ospreys, and mammals such as otters, dolphins and seals.

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