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Special Areas of Conservation

1149 Spined loach Cobitis taenia

Vertebrate species: fish

Description and ecological characteristics

The spined loach Cobitis taenia is a small bottom-living fish that has a restricted microhabitat associated with a specialised feeding mechanism. They use a complex branchial apparatus to filter-feed in fine but well-oxygenated sediments. Optimal habitat is patchy cover of submerged (and possibly emergent) macrophytes, which are important for spawning, and a sandy (also silty) substrate, into which juvenile fish tend to bury themselves.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with species 1149 Cobitis taenia. Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

The spined loach Cobitis taenia has an extremely wide distribution across Europe and Asia. Even with such a broad range and ecological niche it is generally regarded as threatened, if not rare, in Europe.

UK status and distribution

In the UK, spined loach Cobitis taenia appears to be restricted to just five east-flowing river systems in eastern England – the Rivers Trent, Welland, Witham, Nene and Great Ouse, with their associated waterways (Perrow & Jowitt 2000). Within these catchments it appears to occur patchily in a variety of waterbodies, including small streams, large rivers and both large and small drainage ditches. Little is known about its occurrence in open water, although it is known from a number of small lakes and gravel-pits. With limited means of dispersal, the UK populations are largely genetically isolated from each other.

View UK distribution of this species.

Site selection rationale

Five sites within the core area of spined loach Cobitis taenia distribution in the UK have been selected. These sites include examples of rivers and artificial drainage systems where good population densities have been recorded. While the SAC series makes a contribution to securing favourable conservation status for this Annex II species, wider measures are also necessary to support its conservation in the UK.

Site accounts

  • Baston Fen Lincolnshire
    The Counterdrain, a large drainage channel running alongside Baston Fen, contains high densities of spined loach Cobitis taenia. It is an example of spined loach populations in the Welland catchment. The patchy cover from submerged plants provides excellent habitat for the species.
  • Nene Washes East Anglia
    Moreton’s Leam, a large drainage channel running along the eastern flank of the Nene Washes, contains the highest recorded density of spined loach Cobitis taenia in the UK. There may also be thriving populations in the smaller ditches of the Washes. The site represents spined loach populations in the Nene catchment.
  • Ouse Washes East Anglia
    The Ouse Washes represent spined loach Cobitis taenia populations within the River Ouse catchment. The Counter Drain, with its clear water and abundant macrophytes, is particularly important, and a healthy population of spined loach is known to occur.
  • River Mease Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire
    The River Mease is a good example of a riverine population of spined loach Cobitis taenia. It is a small tributary of the River Trent and has retained a reasonable degree of channel diversity compared to other similar rivers containing spined loach populations. It has extensive beds of submerged plants along much of its length which, together with its relatively sandy sediments (as opposed to cohesive mud) provides good habitat opportunities for the species.

SACs where this Annex II species is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.

Please note that the map shows sites where the presence of a feature is classed as ‘grade d’, but these sites are not listed. This is because ‘grade d’ indicates a non-significant presence.