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Welcome to the River Forth Fisheries Trust Spring 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.


 

Fankerton weir : high flows inundating the fish pass

Infrastructure and protection of the fish counter and hydro scheme
ACE Ltd installing our long awaited fish counter.
The smolt trap has been deployed the 18th March, so far no smolt have been caught.  
Jo with an attentive audience.












































































 

Gunpowder Weir.
 

View upstream of the weir.
 

Bank collapse at the site of Gunpowder weir

New gravel beds formed on the North Esk in Roslin Glen












































 

Aerial footage from Dunruchan Farm peatland restoration project.

A couple of peat dams, over 600 peat dams are now completed.

Tough day for Lawrence!
 

But he had to be there to follow the ongoing work




























 

One the A9 culverts (Buttergask Burn) concerned by the barrier easement project. 

A dam on the Rhynds burn.


















 

American Mink print with 2p for scale
A water vole latrine



























 
One of our attendees to the Pesticide Course. 
One of our Forth Invasive Non Native Species Biodiversity Kits. 

TRUST CATCHMENT MANAGER’S UPDATE
(Alison Baker)

Its been a busy time over the winter months, 2015 was a year of expansion for the Trust and we are looking forward to a bit of stability in 2016.  We have been working hard on funding to ensure that we can maintain the current levels of staffing and deliver the work which has been in the pipeline and also look at new projects.  In the current economic climate this is not easy and I would like to say a particular thank you to the Forth District Salmon Fishery Board for its continue support.  The FDSFB has for many years provided a donation to the Trust and has agreed to continue to do so again this year.  This donation is the largest contributor of funding to our core fisheries management works without which we would not be able to take a strategic view of the District as a whole nor be able to feed into the changes which are talking place at national level.
 
The largest project moving forward is the RiverLife: Almond & Avon Project and we are working with Scottish Government, West Lothian and City of Edinburgh Councils as well as Heritage Lottery Fund and also now ERDF Green Infrastructure funding to move to the delivery stage.  We will also be continuing to look at the delivery of easement of barriers in a strategic way. However we are also keen to build on the achievements of the smaller projects such as Dollar Weir Fishpass Improvements and the Fankerton Fish Counter Installation.  A number of local groups, clubs and associations have already been in touch regarding projects they would like to take forward.  As always lots to do and plenty of opportunities to continue to improve the Forth District’s rivers and fisheries  


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)

Fankerton Interactive Salmon Project
(Jo Girvan)

We now have infrastructure in place at the new fish pass at Fankerton Weir to receive our new fish counter. This includes a niche within the fish pass, cabling, protective fencing and a bomb proof cabinet to house our software. Unfortunatley the foul weather in December and January meant the installation had been cancelled three times! Finally, the 8th March ACE Ltd installed our long awaited fish counter. The new access path is under way, as are the interpretation boards that will link salmon watchers to our website and the live results from the fish counter.

Horseshoe Heck Smolt Trapping Project
(Jo Girvan)

The Trust has been teaming up with Scottish Canals (SC) to develop a smolt trapping project on the River Almond. There are concerns that salmon smolts descending the River Almond may be directed by a weir into a heck at Almondell and Calderwood Country Park. From here, they cannot reach the sea, but would instead end up in the Union Canal. To see if this is the case, we will be starting to trap smolts at the mouth of the heck in March. SC are helping to fund the project and providing man-power for the regular trap checking that will be required. Salmon productivity in the River Almond is so low that we can’t afford to lose any to the canal.

Fish in the Classroom
(Jo Girvan)

We are running our classroom project for the sixth year in a row, and are working in ten schools. We really rely on local environmental groups and anglers to help fund and implement this project. This year, for the first time, we are working in two Fife schools. This is thanks to partners from Lochore Meadows Country Park and the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership who we met at the park’s open day last summer. We also have new schools in Haddington and Slamannan.
All our classes have shown as much enthusiasm as ever, and a few have had to get past some high mortality rates from this year’s eggs. But all are now doing well and all have enjoyed the release days.


Forth Returning Adults Project
(Jo Girvan)

This project commenced last season, with a plan to collect scales from rod caught salmon on the Rivers Devon, Forth, Teith and Allan Water. The aim is to determine by genetic analysis whether these fish are returning to their river of origin, or straying to a neighbouring river. 
Unfortunately, the fishing was not great in some areas last year and so we only managed to get a fraction of the samples we needed. More effective measures are being planned for this season, including some netting at barriers and incentives to anglers on these rivers. Thanks to George though, who with his colleagues, caught so many fish that he had to come back to get more sample bottles!



River Life : Almond - Avon 
(Jonathans Louis)

A lot has progressed over the past few months as the development phase  of this project has continued. One of the main changes which occurred was the project name. After careful consideration, the Trust decided to change the name of the project to RiverLife: Almond & Avon. The name change was required as the original name was misleading and it sounded as if the project was trying to reconnect the rivers Almond and Avon.
All sub-projects have been progressing well with designs starting to be agreed with landowners, the Trust and other stakeholders. Designs for the Bathgate Water Restoration Project were completed in January and we ran a community drop in session so members of the public could come and view the proposals. If you would like to view the proposals, please click on the following link.http://www.fishforth.co.uk/rfft/bathgate-water-restoration-project/  . Once designs are finalised for other projects we will aim to add them to our website.
Sadly, the Gogar Burn Reconnection Project had to be removed from RiverLife. The scheme aimed to de-culvert 1.3km of the Gogar Burn which runs under Edinburgh Business Park. Due issues with SEPA funding it was not possible to develop this project further.At this stage, we do plan to continue pursuing the development of this project through other means and hopefully one day all stretches of the Gogar Burn will be de-culverted.
We are now in the final few weeks of the development phase of RiverLife: Almond & Avon and we are in the process of submitting final application to our funders.  It is expected that we will find out if the Trust has been successful sometime in June. Once we find out we will make an announcement.
 If you would like to find out more about RiverLife: Almond & Avon, please visit our website http://www.fishforth.co.uk/rfft/riverlife/



Midlothian Esks - project update
(Tommy McDermott)

It has been a winter of change on the Midlothian Esks, especially on the North Esk. The extremely high flows, combined with never-ending rainfall led to major valley destabilisation and numerous landslips and land slides.  While these events are all natural events in a rivers calendar, the trees which fell into the channel do have the potential to damage structures, and this appears to have happened at both Polton weir and Gunpowder weir.

Although there was a minor collapse of Gunpowder weir in 2014, there appeared to be a restabilisation of the river in the area.  However, it collapsed further over December 2015, with the result that at sometime in January all the lose gravels and cobbles which were stored behind it moved and were carried downstream. This caused the collapse of the banks upstream as the bed was lowered by over two metres, and the site is still currently very active.

Polton weir was a decrepit structure in appearance but it was still successfully fulfilling its weir duties. This was until February, when the frame was exposed and fractured by high river flows and repeated strikes from trees, which built up on the weir and was probably caused by landslips upstream. As the weir collapsed and the water level fell, it revealed a huge volume of cobbles and boulders which had become stored behind it over time. Although a bed collapse as seen at Gunpowder has not come to pass, the Trust is monitoring the site and passing information to the local council authorities, who are also investigating the site.

While these events may seem dramatic, they are enormously beneficial to the river. Firstly, fish are now able to move freely upstream from Bonnyrigg to Springfield, and from above Springfield to Auchendinny for perhaps the first time in over 300 years. This permits them to leave areas where habitats may be less productive for better reaches which will allow greater breeding and survival success, boosting trout and lamprey populations in the river. Secondly, instead of ponded, still waters, the river has renaturalised, becoming faster and better at creating various habitats for fish, insects, mammals and birds. This renaturalisation of the river will also help limit the impact of invasive animals like the bullhead, which thrive in the slow muddy water caused by weirs.  

The release of gravels from behind Gunpowder and, to a lesser extent, Polton, has let to the creation of enormous sections of fantastic spawning habitats on substantial areas the North Esk.  It is expected that resident brown trout and lamprey populations will respond very positively to this new habitat.

Unfortunately, although these developments are exciting and are further examples of the fantastic change in the Esks from industrial powerhouse and drainage ditch to a dynamic and natural river system, the barriers downstream continue to prevent access by sea-trout, salmon, and sea and river lamprey.  The Trust has been working very hard over the winter with a number of specialist consultants to remove Dalkeith weir and put a fish pass on Montagu bridge weir.  We are now almost finished the work needed to allow contractors on site and enable fish to migrate into the lower reaches of both the North and South Esk.  Unfortunately, we were unable to apply for SEPA funding to undertake construction as new Terms and Conditions were an unacceptable risk. We are in discussions with SEPA to find a common way forward and are therefore confident that the Esks Barrier Easement Programme will be back on track very soon.
Allan Water Improvement Project
(Lawrence Belleni)

The Allan Water catchment has been a busy place the past few months with 54 hectares of peatland restoration being completed recently in the headwaters of the River Knaik and a study looking at the barriers to fish passage in the catchment nearing completion. The two projects have allowed me to cut my project management teeth, so to speak, on running two projects simultaneously, which has been an experience in itself!

The Dunruchan Farm Peatland Restoration Project was part funded by SNH’s Peatland Action Fund and is situated on an upland blanket bog on a hillside just below 300m above the Braco-Comrie road in the Knaik Sub-Catchment of the Allan, named Meall a’Choire Odhair on OS maps. The name itself translates from Gaelic to English as the Mound of the dun coloured cauldron, and it was the cauldron part of this name we were looking to restore. Unfortunately, this hillside has suffered from decades of agricultural land drainage attempts to improve the grazing of the bog. However, the drainage works after those decades have led to minimal grazing improvements, and resulted in eroded gullies and ditches causing the farmer access issues and creating a risk to livestock fatality. In addition, the ditches resulted in high water run-off rates contributing to downstream flood risk; loss of carbon from the site; and carbon based sediments entering an important tributary for salmon and sea trout spawning below. Unlike many restoration projects, this is still an actively farmed bit of hill sheep ground and therefore buy in from the farm tenant and estate was paramount to the success of the project. The work on the peatland involved over 10km of ditch and gully reprofiling, installing over 600 peat dams; 6 wooden sediment traps; a trench bund; and 7 dams reinforced with plastic piling. The aims of the work were to:
  • Reduce dissolved and particulate organic carbon (D/POC) from leaving the site and impacting on water quality and fish habitat in the River Knaik;
  • Restore the natural functionality of the peatland by raising the water table and providing the opportunity for carbon sequestration to occur to contribute with the battle against climate change;
  • Create a slower pathway for water leaving the peatland to contribute to attenuating downstream flood risk;
  • Improve the tenant farmer’s access across the site and reduce the risk of livestock fatality by reprofiling steep gullies and ditches;
  • And to leave a positive legacy from the project that will generate further interest in more peatland restoration work in this area in the future;  
The next stage of the project will be to start the discussion with Stirling University to attract research interest in the site to further our knowledge and hopefully confirm the achievement of our project’s aims. However, a portion of this will also come down to the farmer’s personal experience working on the site post restoration. It has been an exciting project and it will be interesting to see where the work from this will lead.

The other project ongoing in the catchment is the Allan Water Barrier Easement Project Phase 1, which is part funded by SEPA’s Water Environment Fund. This project is a study that carried out by Royal Haskoning looking at the barriers to fish passage in the catchment. The study provides a technical assessment of 11 barriers to fish passage in the catchment that are contributing towards the downgrading of the Ecological Status in a number of classified water bodies under the EU’s Water Framework Directive. The technical assessment will produce an information sheet for each barrier, describing the structure, constraints, and providing the most suitable options for improving fish passage at each barrier. In addition to that, the contractor will look at a further 6 barriers and include all 17 barriers in a wider catchment scale plan and rationale for improving fish passage throughout the catchment. The rationale for the catchment plan will be based on ease of achieving fish passage improvement and the quality and quantity of fish habitat available upstream of each structure. 

Other upcoming and pending projects include a small 0.9ha riparian woodland creation scheme and volunteer days for: brash bank protection on an eroded meander typical of the middle reach of the Allan Water; protecting and improving a natural bypass channel that has formed around a historic weir that was a barrier to fish passage; helping spread sphagnum on the peatland restoration site; and the control of giant hogweed in 2016, which will begin fairly soon. Therefore, there is a lot going on and to look forward to in regards to environmental improvements in the Allan Water Catchment, and plenty of upcoming opportunities to get involved in the work also, so keep an eye out on our facebook page!




The Trossachs Water Vole Project
(Ryan Greenwood)

The TWVP conducts surveys each spring and summer to monitor the dispersal and survival of the reintroduced water voles. In 2015 the surveys were extended to include areas of good habitat well outside the known range of the voles to try and ascertain how far they have managed to spread. Surveyors, including 17 volunteers, checked carefully selected water courses for latrines and other field signs over a huge area from April to September.

We are pleased to say that several new populations were confirmed this year with water voles successfully colonising new habitat in almost every direction. This is really significant as it proves that the project is making progress in re-establishing water voles into areas which they occupied in the past but had become locally extinct. Best of all the voles are doing it all by themselves with no need for humans to physically move them around. All they need is time, good habitat and for American Mink to be kept under control. Major progress has been made on the subject of the TWVP’s ever expanding area of American Mink monitoring and control. Several new landowners became involved in 2015/16 with 2015 having the highest number of mink captures recorded since 2008.

The TWVP will continue to engage with local people to increase the area of effective mink control so that water voles have the best possible chance of re-colonising suitable habitat in the area.
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)
 
The third year of the Forth Invasive Non Native Species Programme (FINNS 3) has been successful in tackling the spread of invasive species through the catchments by continuing a strategic approach of top-down catchment control. With the control season for FINNS 3 having been completed in October last year, the winter months were dedicated to providing opportunities for learning. The Trust has been working hard to organise workshops and training events to get people ready for the next control season and to help the public develop skills with regards to correctly spotting and controlling INNS.

The Trust has completed 6 workshops including a workshop that will consist of members from Fife Councils’ Park Teams. These workshops have focused on the identification and treatment methods for the most notable Invasive Non Native Species (INNS) that we actively control in the Forth District. This includes giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, skunk cabbage, American mink and North American signal crayfish. The workshops also include an interactive element where we have a session in identification of INNS when compared to other similar looking plants that may be encountered. A practical element is also included where the attendees can try out working with GPS and recording real stands of Invasive Species. 

Within the FINNS 3 programme we have also provided 5 more people with formal LANTRA qualifications: PA1 and PA6aw which is the safe use of pesticides including application in or near water. This means that the Trust will have more volunteers who wish to tackle INNS within the Forth District in the 2016 control season. Congratulations to our 5 newly qualified pesticide handlers. We hope to keep increasing our current number of fully qualified volunteers by providing more training opportunities in the coming year.

Over the Winter period we have also further developed our Biosecurity kits that contain items to help the user tackle the spread of invasive species. This kit is aimed to decrease the likelihood of transporting INNS between catchments and increase our biosecurity within the Forth District by providing Virkon tablets and brushes/cloths etc. These will allow the users of our rivers to ensure that they have thoroughly checked and cleaned any equipment that may be affected such as fishing tackle and walking boots or waders. If these kits are of interest, then please get in touch with Amy Fergusson at a.fergusson@fishforth.co.uk for more information.

 
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