One of the key challenges in conserving freshwater species is that few people ever get to see them. If they do it is often out of the water, where it is difficult to get a true appreciation for these aquatic animals. As a result of sediment suspended in the water, rivers, lakes and even streams are often turbid and unlike marine environments it is tricky to see clearly underwater. Consequently, it can be difficult to shine a light on the species that live there. Out of sight and out of mind – it’s hard to protect something (or even to want to protect something) that you can’t see.

One man working to change this in the UK is Jack Perks. Jack recently completed the feat of seeing, and importantly, filming all 54 species of the UK’s freshwater fish species. You can see these species for yourself in Jack’s latest video which includes some stunning and even comical footage of these species from around the country, or in Jack’s newly released book: Freshwater Fishes of Britain (available here). We caught up with Jack for a quick interview about some of his observations over the last seven years under the surface of Britain’s rivers, lakes, and streams.

Banner: Jack diving with a Pike (c) Jack Perks

Grayling, River Allen (c) Jack Perks

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen during your dives?

Well in terms of non-fishy things, I’ve found everything from guns, iPads and even a sex toy! Fish-wise, one surprise was fairly recently finding a good-sized bass 10 miles inland considering it’s mainly thought as a sea fish!

What changes have you seen in the river systems during your time diving around Britain? 

We constantly hear that rivers are getting better, but when you think most were open sewers it doesn’t take much to be better. They are in a real poor state with lots of pollutants, chemicals and plastics in many of them and anglers are often the first people to notice these things. I only got ill once from rivers while filming and I’m convinced it was from a manky river in Devon that shall remain nameless!

Brown Trout, River Lathkill (c) Jack Perks

Not many people get to see freshwater fish up close or underwater. What was it that got you interested in freshwater fish?

I think it’s the mystery of them that intrigues me most, that hidden nature. I’ve always had a fascination with the natural world and started fishing when I was 11. I then turned to photography at 16 and seemed the perfect combination to try and photograph fish.

Which is the species which you enjoy seeing most?

Grayling are my favourite species though barbel come a close second. They look just magnificent in the water with the dorsal fin moving in the current and the splendid breeding colours of kingfisher blue and ruby reds.

Smelt, River Tamar (c) Jack Perks

What are some reasons to feel optimistic about the future of freshwater fishes in Britain?

People are certainly more aware of the problems these habitats and species face: look at the Blue Planet effect with plastics for example, so there is hope but it takes action, not just sharing a post on social media to really make a difference. And it doesn’t have to be big things: use a little less water, reduce your single-use plastic, and eat sustainably caught fish.

What’s your next project?

I’d like to do another book, maybe on the places, people and fish I’ve come across, as well as try to film more marine fish. Some of the European fish like Cozimo barbel, Amur pike and huchen sound like a challenge too.

Perch, River Trent (c) Jack Perks

Click here to see all 54 species