Final trainee blog

31st May 2022
by Jamie Ribbens

Trainee Vicky's final blog describing her time at GFT

Vicky with a lovely Brown trout
Vicky with a lovely Brown trout

My time at the Galloway Fisheries Trust (GFT) has sadly come to an end.  I’ve spent 3 months here as a ‘Working on Rivers’ trainee placement learning about and being part of the vast range of incredible projects GFT is involved with.  Since my last blog post I’ve been involved in smolt tagging, took the lead on an INNS survey and control programme, conducted a fish survey, taken part in felling conifers, and been to an eel conference!  It’s been such a wonderful 3 months and I’m so grateful for the opportunity and experience I have gained working here.  After this placement I’ll be moving to another fisheries trust a bit closer to my home, the Nith Catchment Fishery Trust, a job I wouldn’t have got if it hadn’t been for this 3 month placement.  Now to tell you a bit more about the last few weeks.

First off, the smolt tagging.  Salmon smolts are salmon that are on their way out to sea for their big migration.  The University of Glasgow in partnership with the Atlantic Salmon Trust has a massive project underway in which they tag migrating Salmon smolts, install tracking receivers along the coast, and monitor where exactly the salmon are heading to once they leave our Scottish waters.  Salmon numbers have severely decreased, with 70% of the population being lost in the last 25 years.  Out of every 100 salmon smolts that leave our waters, less than 5 return at adults.  This drastic drop in numbers is painting a dire picture for Atlantic salmon and this project aims to find out what exactly is happening out at sea that is preventing the salmon from returning.  All in all, we tagged 100 salmon smolts in the Bladnoch River which will add vital data to the wider project.

The INNS control programme I already mentioned in my previous blog post is aimed at creating a management plan for the Giant Hogweed on the lower River Urr.  The Dalbeattie Angling Association was awarded a grant from the Crown Estate Scotland for a 2 year management programme for which they contracted GFT to deliver.  I took the lead on the phase 1 works (with support from fellow GFT staff Dan and Kacie) and learnt so much by managing my own project.  From getting landowner permissions, to developing surveying skills, writing a project report, liaising with funders, and learning the hard way not to touch any Giant Hogweed plants!  I was even interviewed for a TV news segment.  This project will be really beneficial to the management of the Giant Hogweed on the River Urr and I am so pleased to have been a part of it.

The fish survey we took part in was for Scottish Water who are considering decommissioning one of their reservoirs.  It was important to know if the fish species that are present in the reservoir were non-native or invasive as that makes a difference what would need to be done with the fish if the dam was removed in the future.  How do you survey a reservoir, you ask?  Well, we basically went fishing for two days!  What better way to find out what’s in the water?  We did every kind of fishing imaginable: seine net fishing, electrofishing, baited traps, fyke nets, fly fishing, bait fishing, and spinning!  The spinning was most successful with all of us catching brown trout - which made for an exciting day and made working until 10pm a lot of fun.

Felling conifer regen (naturally seeded Sitka) is a really important task.  Conifers are not allowed to be planted close to water courses, (between 5 – 20 m depending on burn width) but being plants, their seeds often end up germinating and growing in areas much closer to the water.  Having conifers grow within this boundary can result in increasing acidification, loss of native plants, bank erosion and over shading, so we headed out with chainsaws and silky saws to cut these trees down from along the Tarf.  This will allow our recently planted, native deciduous trees to grow in the absence of the shade produced by the conifer regen.  I am not chainsaw certified so my job was to cut down the smaller trees and cut some of the lower branches so the chainsaws could get at the larger trees to cut them down.  It’s amazing what a difference it makes to a riverbank when the conifers are removed. I also enjoyed using the silky saw which looks like a little sword!

The Scottish Eel Conference was in Edinburgh and organised by Jack Wootten (a former GFT intern) of the Forth Rivers Trust.  It was enlightening to learn all about Eels from different organisations and industries all over the UK and Europe, and even one from South Africa!  It involved talks on illegal wildlife trade including trade in eels, a company that’s creating high-tech fish passes that can photograph, measure and count passing eels, ground-breaking research in eel migration from the Azores Islands, the eel fishing industry in Loch Neagh, and mapping fish barriers through river networks in the UK and finding that they are grossly underestimated.  I didn’t know a lot about eels before I went, but by the end of it I had learnt a lot and met so many interesting people.

All-in-all it’s been a really productive trainee placement.  I’ve learnt a lot, gained valuable experience, and come out of it with a job offer.  The ‘Working with Rivers’ trainee placement was delivered by NatureScot, with National Transition Training Fund support from Skills Development Scotland.  Thank you to them for funding the placement, and to Galloway Fisheries Trust for the wonderful 3 months.



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