BASINGSTOKE MP Maria Miller escaped the office on a sunny Friday morning to try her hand at a spot of electro-fishing in the River Loddon in Old Basing – part of an important environmental health check.

Mrs Miller joined Environment Agency scientists in counting the number of fish present in a 100-metre stretch of the river at Barton’s Mill.

The specialist officers used electric rods to “stun” fish in the river. They then measured their length, and weight and took scale samples to determine the fishes’ age, before releasing them unharmed.

The survey is part of research to determine the health of the river. It follows an announcement last year that hi-tech pollution detectors will be installed in two sections of the Loddon at Old Basing.

The most up-to-date figures show that levels of toxic phosphate is six times higher than the European Union allows.

Mrs Miller, who was joined on the trip by borough and county councillor Elaine Still, said the latest research will help to ensure that future housing development in the borough will be environmentally sustainable.

She said: “It is really important that we have monitoring information like this to enable the right choices to be made in relation to decisions on future house-building levels.

“We have been building in Basingstoke at an incredible rate for more than 10 years and, going forward, we need to be building at a truly sustainable level so that we do not cause further harm to our natural environment.”

Following the survey, John Sutton, the Environment Agency’s fisheries officer, said the initial results were encouraging.

The team counted dozens of wild brown trout, bullheads, and sticklebacks.

“There are wild trout, born in the river rather than being stocked and that is an excellent indicator of the health of the river,” said Mr Sutton.

“There were two runs with the electro-fishing gear and a total of 100 fish. That’s very typical of this type of environment.”