Looking downstream on the River Cree
Looking upstream on the River Bladnoch
Felling of commercial forestry in Galloway Forest Park
Looking upstream on the River Luce
North American Signal Crayfish
The sandy beach at Loch Grannoch
Belted Galloway Cattle, or 'Belties'
Fly fishing on the River Cree
A small upland burn
The High Cree, looking towards Cairnsmore of Fleet
A small waterfall on the Buchan Burn
A salmon from the Kirkcudbrightshire Dee
It is known that the main restraint on freshwater production of salmon in the River Cree system is acidification. Long term exposure to low pH will kill fish, with salmon being particularly at risk. The juvenile life stages are the most sensitive to low pH impacts. Out of a recognised 242 km of acidified running water in Galloway, 82.93 km is in the Cree catchment, mostly on the High Cree and its tributaries. To find out more about acidification see http://www.gallowayfisheriestrust.org/research-projects.asp
Acidification is definitely improving across all of Galloway’s rivers now. This does not mean that salmon can yet survive in all these headwater areas but the area supporting juvenile wild salmon is increasing year on year. Trout, which are more tolerant of low pH, are showing greater signs of recovery too. Large areas remain that are unable to support juvenile salmon which is significantly reducing the smolt production from the rivers.
GFT’s main priority work is to address acidification in Galloway. This is not an easy thing to do or ever going to be a quick job. We work to address the main causes by:
• The move away from fossil fuel burning, scrubbing of pollutants from power station chimneys and cleaner car exhausts have all helped improve air quality. It is predicted that air pollution levels will continue to fall over the next 10 years.
• GFT works to identify ‘at risk’ catchments and to reduce Sitka spruce cover on them by opposing new planting schemes and influencing new forest design plans (e.g. change of tree species and more open space round watercourses).
• It is now recognised that the ‘buffering’ lost from the soil during the worst years of acidification will take a long time to recover naturally. GFT has been undertaking various liming works aimed at increasing the water pH in 2 rivers (High Cree and Water of Fleet).
The High Cree liming project (initially started as part of the GFT River Cree Rare Fish Project) is looking at the practicalities and benefits of undertaking targeted limestone gravel addition to locally improve salmon spawning opportunities and success in the High Cree.
It is known that adult salmon are again spawning in parts of the High Cree but the survival rate of their eggs and alevins are still low due to acid flushes. The younger life stages of salmonids are the most vulnerable to acidification. Limestone gravels (of the sizes used by salmon and trout for spawning) have been added to the river to create spawning beds. The increased water pH and calcium levels within the interstitial spaces aims to improve the survival of salmon eggs and alevins in redds within the gravels.
The initial limestone gravel work was focussed on the Cairnderry Burn (49 tonnes added), then 500 tonnes was added to the High Cree around Dalnaw. This autumn a further 766 tonnes was added to five sites in the Dalnaw / Barjarg area. To assist with this year’s site selection and to assess the success of the previous limestone addition, Professor Newson (of River Catchment Services), an expert geo-morphologist, spent two days on the High Cree with GFT.
Monitoring is an important part of the overall project. Initial research found encouraging water quality results in the limestone gravel beds; raised pH, increased Calcium levels and reduced toxic Aluminium levels. Interestingly, monitoring suggested that the benefits are found even when the added limestone mixes in with natural gravels. Following these findings, the project now introduces the limestone gravel just upstream of where it is wanted to mix into natural spawning beds which should be more sustainable in the longer term.
Egg box experiments have been less conclusive but electrofishing results have been very encouraging. This summer out of three liming sites surveyed, two contained good densities of wild spawned salmon.
• High Cree by Barjarg (GR:232442 577812) was a limestone gravel site and contained 10.3 trout fry, 13.2 trout parr per 100 m2 water but no juvenile salmon.
• High Cree by Dalnaw Bridge was a no limestone gravel site (control) (GR:232143 577116) contained 30.5 trout fry, 1.1 trout parr, 3.2 salmon fry and 1.1 salmon parr per 100 m2 water.
• High Cree near Balnahoin Cottage (GR:231942 577051) was a limestone gravel site and contained 19.3 trout fry, 1.4 trout parr and 15.9 salmon fry per 100 m2 water.
• High Cree behind Dalnaw Farm (GR: 232057 576580) was a limestone gravel site and contained 9.7 trout fry, 0.7 trout parr, 52 salmon fry and 1.5 salmon parr per 100 m2 water.
Signs are definitely encouraging regarding wild salmon starting to return to the High Cree once more. It was the mid 1980’s when anglers reported the disappearance of salmon around Dalnaw. This summer, members of the High Cree Game Fishers have reported catching salmon parr while trout fishing. A local farmer reported seeing salmon on spawning beds near Dalnaw Bridge in winter 2012. Adult salmon have started to be caught in the High Cree; two in 2012 and on the 28th September 2013 a 5.5 lb cock salmon was caught by Frank Brierley near the liming sites. Monitoring of the project by SEPA and GFT will carry on and it is hoped that this will show salmon continuing to repopulate the High Cree. This is encouraging but this recovery is still at an early stage and large areas remain upstream where no recovery has occurred in fish populations at all. Future restructuring of the extensive conifer plantations in the High Cree catchment must take account of this acidification and remove conifers from the most sensitive sub-catchments if water pH levels are to recover in the long term.
The total cost of the High Cree limestone gravel project, including the required monitoring, has been roughly £80,000. This year’s work has been part-financed by the GFT, Scottish Government and the European Community, Dumfries and Galloway LEADER 2007 – 2013 Programme and the SEPA Water Environment Fund and indirectly – through their support of GFT – by the Cree DSFB. It is planned that similar work will continue locally to assist the on-going recovery of the Galloway rivers headwaters.