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Welcome to the River Forth Fisheries Trust Summer Newsletter 2016
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Remit of the Trust
 
The aim of the River Forth Fisheries Trust is to advance the conservation of all species of freshwater fish and the habitats they live in for the benefit of everyone. The area we cover includes all the rivers  flowing into the River Forth, the Forth Estuary and the Firth of Forth as well as coastal areas within the Firth.
 
We also have an interest in providing education to  the public and any association, local authority, governmental agency or public body in:
 
the understanding of aquatic ecosystems, including their fauna, flora and economic or social impacts, and river catchment management;

and
 
the need for, and benefits of, protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of aquatic environments.









 

Adult salmon being returned to the water


 


 


 


 


 
Scales from a salmon caught in the Forth District. Salmon scales are like the rings on tree stumps, they show the age of the fish and key moments in its lifecycle. 

 


 
Jonathan, Sylvian and Amy moving the plants to a more secure location, ready for planting in 2 days time. 

 
Flowerbed ready for planting

 

Sylvian helping George, an angler from the Avon, plant flowers
 
volunteers finishing planting

 
The flower bed all planted up waiting to bloom. Check out the interpretation panels along the River of Flowers. 

 
watering the bed

 


 
Williamston Primary School out releasing their trout fry with Jo in the Murieston Water

 
all set up to look at some invertebrates from Westquarter Burn

 
section of river bank to be protected

 
Fence posts hammered in to kick start the bank restoration

 
volunteers weaved willow between the fence posts

 
running back and forth to our willow site with the trailor
 
Volunteers packing brash aquired from local forestry works. Green brash was donated in the form of christmas trees.

 


 
bank protection completed. Thank you to everyone who turned up to help.

 

the buttergask burn
 
A small Weir on the Buttergask burn which is now redundant and overgrown

 

Large woody debris on the Buttergask Burn
 
A section of cattle poaching on the Buttergask Burn before fencing

 

The same section of cattle poaching on the burn. Fencing has been erected to mitigate cattle poaching. 
 
Contractors installing the fencing on the Buttergask burn

 
Severe poaching up to the waters edge on the buttergask burn

 


 
A mink raft out on the Forth system

 
mink prints on clay

 
A water vole from the Queen Elizabeth Forest

 
Lawrence out with a volunteer on the Allan Water

 
Massive patch of giant hogweed

 
The team out spraying Giant Hogweed on the Allan Water

 
Euan out spraying Giant Hogweed supervised by Jo and Amy.

 

TRUST CATCHMENT MANAGER’S UPDATE
(Alison Baker)

The changes anticipated with the new Wild Fisheries Reform continue to move slowly, the Trust Biologists (with support from the Forth District Salmon Fishery Board) and feeding into the process with Marine Scotland to start to flesh out the requirements in more detail – See Jo’s post later in the newsletter.

At a more local level, the Trust has just been commissioned to undertake and appraisal of Loch Ore and the surrounding water courses to advise on a more sustainable future which could involve not stocking and returning the loch to a natural fishery including opening it up to migratory species.  This will be the first time the Trust has actively engaged in ‘all species’ management as the loch contains species such as brown trout, pike and perch.  The work will support the decision making for angling development and feed into some of the work that Sport Scotland has been funding in Fife.  This is very much the remit of the new Wild Fisheries Management Organisations.

We are still waiting for confirmation of some funding for this year and some of this is EU funding, so we are, like many others, keen to see what the response will be on the continuance of important environmental legislation which although EU derived is embedded in UK legislation. 

Catchment Manager - Alison Baker
Senior Biologist - Jo Girvan
Biologist - Sylvian Barry
Developement - Jonathan Louis
Project Officer (Allan Water Improvement Project) - Lawrence Belleni
Project Officer (Trossachs Water Vole Project) - Ryan Greenwood
Project Officer (Forth Invasive Non Native Species Programme) - Amy Fergusson
Ecology/Morphology - TrexEcology (Tommy McDermott)
Forth Returning Adults Project
(Sylvian Barry)
If you’re lucky enough to catch a salmon this season, we need your help! We are collecting scale samples from salmon returning to the Rivers Forth, Teith, Devon and Allan Water so that we can determine if the fish have returned to the river they originated from, or if they have strayed into a neighbouring river.
 
The Forth Returning Adults Project aims to investigate ‘straying’ using genetic analysis. Juvenile salmon in these rivers have already been analysed to determine their genetic make-up. The results showed that fish could be matched to each river with a reasonable level of accuracy. Now, we can do the same for returning adults, by comparing their genetic make-up to the juvenile populations. All we need is a sample of around five scales from as many rod caught adult salmon as possible.
 
If you would like to be involved in helping to collect this information get in touch with Sylvian ( s.barry@fishforth.co.uk ) or by calling 0131 4451527 then we will provide you with a sampling kit and leaflet which explains how to collect the scales and what information you will have to collect.
 
All anglers returning scale samples will be entered into our prize draw, with top prizes of a £50 voucher for Angling Active and a bottle of Macallan single malt, plus various runners up prizes. Winners will be contacted directly and announced on our website at the end of the season.

Scale reading – what can we learn?
(Sylvian Barry)
As you probably know it is possible to determine the age of a fish from a scale sample. To understand how it works here is a quick review. The scale consists of a focus which is the scale center then the circuli are the dark concentric rings. The space between each circulus is linked to the fish growth rate. During the winter, the fish grow very slowly and this corresponds to narrow spaced circuli called winter band and therefore rapid growth during warmer period are represented by wide spaced circuli called summer bands. A summer and a winter band together represent a year of life and is called an annulus. Then there is a difference of growth rate between fish being in freshwater or at sea. The sea growth rate is much higher; this is due to greater food abundance. So from a scale you can spot the difference between anadromous fish and freshwater fish such brown trout and sea trout.

A scale reading study gives you quite a lot of information about the population dynamic that you are studying. You can assess the freshwater growth rate per catchment or subcatchment, determine the age of smoltification and again you could see a different pattern per catchment or sub catchment. Then the sea phase gives you valuable data about growth rate and how long fish spend at sea. It gives you the opportunity to estimate the ratio grilse/salmon which is important to appreciate the grilse error which is used to calculate the conservation limits. It also allows us to see some interesting things such as the percentage of multispawnner or older fish (3, 4 or more years at sea). Scale reading provides an overview of the dynamic population of salmon or sea trout. In a long terms perspective, it is possible to notice any change in the pattern of the population. The results of these studies can then be use to manage the fisheries. For example, the Forth Fisheries Foundation carried out a study in 2002 and it suggests that spring salmon (2 winter or more at sea) run was dominated by salmon that had smolted after 3 years in freshwater (80% of this sample). Then if you compare these data with electrofishing data you can find out where the 3 year smolt are from and therefore work on those areas to improve the smolt output and then the spring salmon stock.

River Life : Almond - Avon 
(Jonathan Louis)

RiverLife: Almond & Avon's development was completed and our second round HLF bid was submitted at the beginning of March. A separate update will be given in July on the outcome of our application. 

River of Flowers Project
(Jonathan Louis)
The River Forth Fisheries Trust has started an exciting new project alongside the River Avon Federation. The Trust and anglers have decided to create a “River of Flowers” in the town of Linlithgow to promote the River Avon and why it is important.

The serpentine bed in Linlithgow runs from the high street, weaving its way down to Linlithgow loch next to the Forth Area Federation of Anglers hut. The flower bed has been turned into a river of colour with reds, oranges and yellows at the top symbolising how the River Avon used to look when the leather tanning industry was active in Linlithgow. It then changes colour to whites, light blue and then dark blue symbolising how the river has recovered over the years. Half way up the river, there is a stone wall which symbolises a weir.

Along the flower bed, there are four interpretation panels telling the story of the River Avon and how the Anglers along with the Trust have helped to improve it for fish and wildlife.

The bed was planted on the 4th June by Trust staff and anglers, we were lucky with the weather and it turned out to be a scorcher of a day. In total, there were 10 helpers to plant the bed and we managed to finish planting by 1pm.

Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped plant the bed. A special thanks to Harry Millar for buying all of the volunteers a cake from the local bakery. We would also like to thank the local resident who also brought us a cake on the day and thanked us for our hard work.
If you are in Linlithgow, pop by and see our handy work. It should be in full bloom within the next few weeks.


Engaging with Scottish Government
(Jo Girvan)
The Fisheries Trusts of Scotland have been asked to give their help and input into deciding how many fish caught in our rod and line fisheries may be retained, and how many must be returned to the water. This is known as conservation limit setting, and a panel of around 10 Trust biologists, including the Forth, have been meeting regularly with Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government to try and agree an improved method of doing this. In the past, limits have been set based purely on adult catch returns and more recently, the length of each river that can technically be accessed by migratory salmonids. The drawbacks to this method is that rod catches depend largely on fishing effort which can vary a lot. In addition, habitat that is accessible to adult salmonids is not necessarily suitable to support juveniles (especially in our District!). Other measures of the fish populations and their components at different life stages need to be considered in order to set more accurate limits. Following a lot of discussion, it was decided these should include;
  • Grilse error – the misreporting of one sea winter fish as multi sea winter fish,
  • Returning adult data from fish counters - for comparison with rod catches, and
  • Juvenile productivity as measured by electrofishing surveys.
The question is how to generate the right kind of data and a standardised way across Scotland and how to combine all of these measures into a single categorisation for each river. The Trust have been involved with deciding what kind of electrofishing data needs to be collected and how standardised surveys should be carried out. The best methods will be determined by the end of 2016, to be put into practise during the 2017 season so that data can be generated for accurate conservation limit setting the following year. We have recently had confirmation that each major river within the Forth District will be considered individually instead of the current way where the whole District is treated as one.

Fish in the Classroom
(Amy Fergusson)
Over the Winter and Spring months the Trust, working alongside a number of partners and other bodies, undertook another year of the Fish in the Class project in several schools around the District. During the project we delivered fish tanks to a total of 10 schools together with the trout alevin. The alevin were then reared in to trout fry over the course of several weeks. The pupils cared for the fish over this time ensuring that as many survived as possible. They were also given workbooks to fill in and a trout diary to complete where they could draw the progress of the fish as they grew.

After several weeks we went back to the schools and the entire class went down to the river to release the fish. The children enjoyed carrying their individually bagged fish down to the river for releasing. At the same time, we had kick samples taking place to ensure that the children got to see the invertebrate life in the river that the fish would survive on. This involved members from many groups who came along to do the kick samples and ensure that the children had a good time. This project was a great success and we had many tanks that contained hundreds of healthy trout fry thanks to the teachers and pupils involved.
Allan Water Improvement Project
(Lawrence Belleni)
Brash Bank Protection
Over the past couple of months I have been working with Sylvian to organise and carry out brash bank protection work on a 35m stretch of eroded bank at Mid-Cambushinnie Farm on the Allan Water that was causing the landowner concern. The bank is located in the mid-section of the Allan Water, which has a lot of issues with bank erosion as a result of historic dredging, and according to some, the removal of a natural rocky pinch point at Kinbuck Bridge to lower the water table for agricultural improvements during the war. Unfortunately, as a result of man’s alterations the Allan Water sits lower in the channel than it naturally should be, resulting in high eroding banks, disappearing fences and lots of fine silty sediment going into the river.

Brash bank protection is a relatively novel approach to stabilising banks and it was definitely a learning curve for the Trust, as this was the first time we had attempted to carry out such work. We received advice and recommendations from the Wild Trout Trust on what was required to stabilise the bank and also provide refuge habitat for fish in the process. The work involved using posts hammered into the toe of the bank in the river with living willow weaved around these posts. Then an additional line of posts was put part the way up the bank with the gap in between the posts being packed tightly with brash. After this was done fence wire was attached between the two sets of posts that are in the river (bank toe) and higher up on the bank to hold the brash in place. The idea is that the brash should dissipate the erosive force of the water before reaching the bank as opposed to deflecting the erosive force to the opposite bank resulting in erosion elsewhere. I was particularly keen to see if this would be a low-cost alternative to dumping rock onto river banks to control erosion, which unfortunately is a common low-cost approach adopted by landowners the length and breadth of the country.

Sylvian and I were able to obtain brash and willows locally from Noble Nordmann Forestry and a local farmer, and we organised our call to arms for volunteers for the 27th & 28th of May to help us achieve the brash bank protection work at this site.

Thankfully, over the course of the two days we had 14 local volunteers plus Trust staff there to carry out and complete the work. The volunteers on both days and were fantastic and smiled and laughed throughout no matter what brash related challenge they came across. In addition, representatives of the Allan Water Angling & Improvement Association, the River Avon Federation, Slamannan Angling Protective Association, Linlithgow Angling Club, and East Lothian Angling Association were also present to learn, as we were, from the experience.

As we finished the work on day 2, the fly life became more noticeable, including a large Ephemera danica also known as the Green Drake. As a result, so did the number of trout rising in the pool beside us, which as you can imagine kept the fishermen present distracted!

Over the coming weeks I will sow the bare bank face with grass seed and fence off the top of the bank to exclude cattle from the site to finish the job and help the river bank’s recovery. It will be really exciting to watch and monitor how this piece of work develops to reduce bank erosion for the farmer, but also improve biodiversity and fish habitat in what is quite a bare and fine sediment rich section of the Allan Water. However, the true test is yet to come and hopefully it can withstand the Winter’s floods. Many thanks again to all who were involved, particularly the volunteers.

Tackling small barriers - opportunities on the Allan Water
The Allan Water Barrier Easement Project Phase 1 study, which looked at the passability and potential solutions to barriers to fish passage in the catchment was completed at the end of February by Royal Haskoning and funded by SEPA’s Water Environment Fund. Since then, I have been taking forward the findings from the report to deliver fish passage easement on structures highlighted, which will allow fish species to access the natural range of their habitat in the catchment that they are currently unable to access, or have limited opportunity in reaching.

The majority of the work has been the initial engagement with structure owners from private individuals to Transport Scotland to get the ball rolling and start dialogue. However, despite what may sound like the start of a long painful process, there has been gains for fish passage improvements already. One of the barriers is getting a technical fish pass put in and funded by its owner Tullibardine Distillery; one barrier owner is in communication with SEPA about improving fish passage to their structure; and another barrier has vanished in a flood event. Therefore two of the barriers from the study are in the process of, or have been addressed already, and hopefully it will not be long before a third one joins them. The latter barrier located on the Buttergask Burn that vanished is possibly the most interesting to talk about just now.

The Buttergask Burn structure was contributing to the waterbody’s ecological status of bad due to it being deemed impassable to fish. This designation is given by SEPA as part of their commitments to achieve good ecological status for all its waterbodies by 2027 to meet the Water Framework Directive target. As a result of this, structures like the Buttergask Burn are deemed a priority to address if they want to achieve this target. The barrier however looked more like a thick collection of woody debris. However, there was hard standing concrete at the downstream base of the structure and it was suspected there may be something engineered in there also to justify SEPA’s classification of the structure as important.

During the Allan Water barrier study that took place over the winter however a bypass channel had formed around the structure. This was great news, as this meant with a simple amount of management, which would cost little in comparison to environmental contractors, nature had made the structure passable to fish.

Following suggestions in the Barrier study report when it was complete, I obtained agreement from the landowner to fence off the area around the structure, including the bypass channel with a local fencing contractor to secure fish passage at the site. The Buttergask Burn at this location suffered heavily from cattle poaching and as a result there was a risk that the cattle may reduce the fish passability by destroying the passable channel when walking through it. Therefore we organised a date for the beginning of June to fence it off.

However, when the day came to fence the structure, I discovered that there was no structure left. The structure had been washed away resulting in the flow going down the main channel and leaving a de-watered bypass. This was very fortuitous as the main channel now is far easier for fish to pass,and the habitat in the burn has improved greatly with some fine sediments being washed away to expose gravels. Because of the damage done by cattle to the bank we decided to fence off the area anyway to reducing diffuse and source pollution from cattle going into the burn. The effects of the cattle poaching diminishing the quality of habitat in the burn were clearly visible still with lots of fine sediment and even cow pats present in the slack water.

Now the site is fenced off from cattle It will be interesting to monitor how this site reacts over the coming months, and hopefully improvements to the A9 road culvert downstream in the future, which also has fish passability issues, will allow for salmon and sea trout to return to their natural habitat range upstream of the A9 in the Buttergask Burn once again. We will electrofish the site later this summer, so if salmon did not get up the A9 culvert below during this wet winter, then it is a good indication that fish passability improvement works should be a priority for SEPA on this structure also.

The Trossachs Water Vole Project
(Ryan Greenwood)
The project’s annual programme of water vole surveys is well underway and there have been several successes already. Water vole presence has been confirmed in lots of sites including several which were newly discovered last year. This gives us hope that these outlying populations will be able to persist for years to come and produce young that will continue to disperse further into the landscape.

We have also discovered our first new colony of the season just to the South of Loch Venachar. This population represents the furthest known expansion of water voles to the North-East of the Loch Ard Forest re-introduction area and is a whopping 8km away from the nearest release site. An expansion of 8km in less than 8 years is really good going and shows just how well water voles can do when given a chance.   

One survey did turn up some less good news with American Mink prints being recorded on a river bank right in the middle of an area which we think was only recently colonised by water voles. Fresh sign of water voles was also present so it seems that they have managed to survive the invasion for the moment and we are making every effort to trap the mink. This example demonstrates the need to keep extending and improving the mink control efforts in the area so that water voles have the best chance possible to reach new areas and create stable populations for the future.

The project relies on the voluntary effort of local individuals and organisations. If you think you might be interested in getting involved then please contact TWVP Project Officer Ryan Greenwood at:
Ryan.greenwood@forestry.gsi.gov.uk   Or      07909892460

 
Forth Invasive Non-Native Species Programme
(Amy Fergusson)
We have moved on to the next phase of the Forth Invasive Non-Native Species Project (FINNS) thanks to grants from SNH, SEPA, FET and LLTNP. These funders have provided us with another years funding to continue the works around the Forth District tackling the invasive species in and around our rivers.

We have started the season off with battling the Giant Hogweed spraying up on the Allan water and around the River Almond. The Allan Water catchment is one the Districts most heavily infested areas for giant hogweed from Greenloaning down to the Firth of Forth. This stretch of river has been treated by the Trust and several dedicated volunteers who handle patches within Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. Treatment along the river has been successful thus far in the season.

Treatment along the River Almond has been concentrated on the Gogar Burn and the main stretch of the Almond along the lower reaches. These stretches are incredibly dense with GH even after several years of treatment. This is due to the heavy infestation and reintroduction from the roads and railway lines in this section. Keeping on top of this patch has been a priority of the FINNS programme as these sections are among populated areas and along public footpaths and cycle ways.

We would like to thank the volunteers who have managed to contribute some time to both the Allan Water and the Almond Catchment so far this year. As always we appreciate all the hard work and effort that our volunteers put in to the FINNS programme and we are always looking for more help. For information on volunteer opportunities within the FINNS programme you can contact Amy at a.fergusson@fishforth.co.uk.
 
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