WTT supports a bid for project funding in West Lothian

The Wild Trout Trust carries out Advisory Visits all over the UK. Our reports and advice are well respected and provide an excellent basis for funding bids to improve habitat. Our new Conservation Officer, Jonathan Grey, recently visited a burn in West Lothian with colleague Gareth Pedley. Here is a short report of his trip.

For more information on Advisory Visits and how to request a visit, click here

Thinking that WTT could provide some credible ammunition in a funding bid for restoration work, we were recently approached (at very short notice) to undertake an Advisory Visit in West Lothian. Since we are keen to expand our portfolio of contacts and work in Scotland, especially on the back of the recent, well received, IBIS-funded Practical training in habitat improvement’ workshop we ran with Argyle Fisheries Trust, I made a few calls, shuffled the diary, picked up Gareth Pedley, and hared up the M6/74/8/9 to the banks of the Forth. 

The relatively short burn was a real curate’s egg: fine sediment clogged the gravels or coated the whole bed where flow was insufficient, and that inadequacy in flow was all too often a function of livestock access and grazing causing over-widening of the channel. The usual suspects of sewage discharges, invasive species, obstruction to fish passage, and unscrupulous land management’ made cameo appearances. Despite these however, long sections without livestock access were rough and ready (and beautiful). Plenty of woody debris of all sorts of shapes and sizes provided channel form diversity, cover, and bug food. And bug food made bugs. There were sedge larvae fattening on the cleaner stones, occasional freshwater limpets and shrimp, and plenty of mayflies emerging… just no salmonids sipping them down! Why weren’t’t they there?

Walking further downstream, we eventually found some, and there could not have been a clearer watershed’ point as to why they were suddenly easy to spot, and why two WTT COs and the Estate gamekeeper had failed to see any (well, one only) above that point. The lower two kilometres to the sea were wooded or with long-established stock fencing. Hence, there was natural channel form, ideal cover and varied instream habitat. Not too dissimilar to what we had seen further up then. However, in between, there was a terrace in the landscape which had been used long-term for cattle grazing. The channel was over-wide and generally uniform in depth, with the banks either bluffs due to block failure or poached into a silty quagmire. There were one or two trees, but no new saplings along the banks and meagre plant diversity compared to downstream.

The degradation of that 750m stretch through one field had essentially fragmented the trout population as effectively as a concrete weir! Perhaps not surprisingly, our quick win suggestion was fencing.