A WEST Dorset business has won a national award for its work helping baby eels.

Kingcombe Aquacare, based at Hooke, near Beaminster, impressed judges at the Environment Agency Project Excellence Awards for its engineering solution to enable the elvers to migrate up UK rivers.

The company used a mixture of 21st and 18th-century technology to find the answer to how the elvers could cross a man-made weir with a 4.5 metre drop in the middle and nine-metre walls on each side.

John Colton, managing director and founder of Kingcombe Aquacare, said: “This eel pass is British engineering at its best.

“Working closely with the Environment Agency, we’ve produced a successful working prototype that has significant implications for similar sites across the UK and abroad.

“There are 26,000 recorded obstructions to fish passage in the UK. About 500 could be resolved using this solution.

“It could also be used at thousands of other sites across Europe. It’s carbon-neutral, sustainable, and cost effective.”

Kingcombe was asked to collaborate on an eel pass project on the River Boyd near Bath by the Environment Agency’s North Wessex Area team.

Kingcombe staff built sections of the pass in their workshop, then fixed it to the river’s steel walls.

They hoped the eels would be attracted to the constant flow of water coming down the pass and that they would be helped to climb up it by the placing of bristles along the bottom, for grip. Within 24 hours of its completion, several baby eels were filmed on the site’s CCTV cameras going up the channel and reaching the upper waters of the river for the first time in about 50 years.

The cameras are powered by a special fuel cell and solar panels, to get round the problem of no mains electricity.

Gareth Varney, Environment Agency project manager, said: “This was a challenging project that called for an innovative solution. We knew that if we could design and install an eel pass at this site we could put an eel pass in anywhere.

“We are very pleased our efforts have been recognised through the Environment Agency’s Project Excellence Awards 2014 for Innovation.”