GFT data shows that degraded habitats in Galloway’s rivers and burns are limiting the numbers and health of juvenile salmon and smolts. This needs to be addressed if local salmon stocks are going to survive in the long term. Organisations need to work together in partnership to identify opportunities for habitat enhancement at a catchment scale, particularly within wider work programmes.
There are good opportunities and willingness for significant partnership working to be undertaken. This is the main focus of the project.
Habitat utilised by salmon have been degraded by human activities and need to be restored for salmon to survive long term. GFT has a good understanding of fish stocks, water quality and instream / riparian habitats in Galloway river catchments. This data highlights that degraded habitats are limiting the abundance and natural distribution of salmon, and should be addressed. Due to limited resources to restore degraded habitats, it is important that there is a robust methodology to prioritise areas for habitat restoration to deliver maximum benefits for salmon populations at a catchment scale. It is also essential organisations work in partnership, sharing advice and expertise, for habitat restoration to occur at a significant scale. This project will deliver a new approach of a catchment scale habitat enhancement programme, with clear and well explained methodology to identify and prioritise the most important areas for habitat restoration, delivered by partnership working with key stakeholders and the local community.
Therefore, the main aims of the project are to:
European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the Scottish Government funded a 2 year post to develop and start the project (i.e. to complete the first 2 bullet point actions above).
Project update: August 2021
Dr Jess Rodger was employed for the first year (2019). She created a prioritisation method to highlight where habitat restoration work should be focussed to deliver the greatest benefits for local salmon populations. The prioritisation method aimed to draw together data available to GFT and local knowledge to rank sections of watercourse and highlight the top priority sections for habitat restoration in a river catchment. Jess used this data to create a set of maps covering the Luce, Bladnoch, Cree, Fleet, Dee and Urr river catchments highlighting 40 prioritised watercourses to focus on.
Phil Dowling started in early 2020, and started to undertake walkover habitat surveys on these prioritised rivers and burns to identify what issues are present that may be negatively impacting upon salmon numbers. The project was put on hold for three months due to Phil being put on furlough but he restarted the project in early July 2020.
Over 40 watercourses across Galloway were surveyed by Phil throughout 2020 and 2021, identifying potential issues that may be contributing to the limitation of salmon numbers. A variety of issues such as erosion, lack of riparian deciduous tree cover, instream barriers and poor water quality were identified. Phil produced reports covering the key catchments with advice and input from the project’s steering group which included the following key stakeholders: Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), SEPA and the Crichton Carbon Centre. The reports detail the findings from the walkover surveys as well as recommendations for restoration works that would improve the prioritised watercourses for salmon.
GFT will not deliver all the restoration actions alone and the project relies on working closely with others in partnerships. Some of the habitat restoration works identified will be relatively easy to arrange and deliver, this has already begun with instream habitat restoration techniques already undertaken in areas of the Bladnoch and the Upper Luce as well as large areas of riparian deciduous tree planting planned which will provide dappled shade to watercourses helping them to remain cooler in increasingly hotter summer months. Other restoration works planned include livestock fencing along watercourses to prevent bank erosion in the Bladnoch catchment, riparian tree planting and instream habitat enchancement in the Upper Urr catchment and along the Black Water of Dee, and woody debris addition to the Water of Minnoch. Some restoration works will be longer term such as making changes to Forest Plans, peatland restoration or larger scale engineering works, and we are working closely with FLS staff to create future work programmes to benefit watercourses on their land. Although the funding for Phil’s post has now finished, Phil remains at GFT and a large part of his remit is to continue to deliver the recommended habitat works on the priority waters.
We are already seeing that undertaking targeted instream and riparian habitat works is having a benefit as salmon and trout fry have been observed using recently installed large woody debris as instream cover during post project monitoring. These works will not only benefit salmon but also numerous other species that rely on the same habitats and require good water quality.
As December is right around the corner, I am sad to say that my internship here at GFT is nearly over. However, I am grateful for my experiences at the trust and there is still plenty for me to get up to before it does come to a close.