YOUNG salmon have been found on a stretch of river for the first time in 300 years.

More than 30 juvenile salmon have been recorded on the River Derwent at Shotley Bridge, near Consett during routine sampling by the Environment Agency.

The find provides the first evidence of salmon spawning so far upstream since a number of large weirs were built to provide power for local industries during the 18th Century.

Around £750,000 has been spent over the past decade to build fish passes at four of the weirs to allow fish to reach upstream spawning grounds of the Derwent, an important tributary of the River Tyne.

The latest, built a year ago at Lintzford, was immediately successful, with adult fish seen using it within hours of its completion.

As well as juveniles caught during sampling upstream at Shotley Bridge, record numbers of juveniles were also found at three other locations further downstream.

Phil Rippon, from the Environment Agency, said: “The presence of young salmon this far upstream has shown the immediate impact and success of the new fish pass.

“To find them so soon after the completion of the pass and during a single routine survey shows that significant numbers have spawned upstream.

“It’s also likely that many more sea trout and brown trout will also have been able to access their historical spawning grounds”.

Efforts have now started to build a fish pass at the only remaining large weir on the Derwent, further upstream at Shotley Grove, which could date back to the 14th Century.

The Environment Agency and Tyne Rivers Trust have completed preliminary design work for a fish pass and are now looking for funding for the estimated £275,000 building costs.

Douglas Phillips, from the Tyne Rivers Trust, added: “With more funding, the Derwent could become a fantastic example of how intervention on a whole river system can improve spawning rates and the health of the river as a whole.”