A look into the work of the River Dee Bailiff team
Water Bailiff's duties used to be 100% policing the river and being the strong hand of fishery boards throughout the country. They would spend their time patrolling the banks hiding in bushes in the dark looking for poachers. Fun though that sounds it did not do their reputations much good and those days are now past. A modern Bailiff's job is a far more diverse occupation.
Although policing and anti poaching operations are still a large part of our work, we are now more involved in a large variety of other tasks to enhance and protect the stocks of salmon and sea trout in the river Dee. This blog will give an insight into our daily duties and the life of a River Dee Bailiff, starting this week with redd counting.
From late October through to mid January the Bailiff team are involved in redd counting. This means recording the amount of salmon and sea trout redds in the main river and tributaries running into it.
A redd is the name given to the nest a salmon or trout makes in the bed of a river or stream. The hen fish cuts a hollow into the bed causing at times a large bank of stones and shingle to be piled up behind it. The hen will then release her eggs while they are fertilised by the cock fish. The hen fish then knocks stones over the eggs to protect them. This leaves a noticeable "nest" in the bed of the river which we look out for and record. Along with fish seen in the area both alive and dead (more on this later).
The information we collect on redds is very important as it shows any differences in spawning each year and we can see if fish are making it into new areas of the river to spawn. With this data the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and River Dee Trust can base plans on improving habitat and opening up areas of the river the fish may not have access to.
The two pictures below show redd counting on the Aven which is a rocky attractive tributary running into the river Feugh.
Redd counting is usually done by two people walking in parallel on each bank, and at times wading through the water. The equipment we use for this is a pair of thigh waders, polaroid glasses to cut glare and a big stick...your best friend to save you falling and also for moving through the river safely.
Familiarising yourself with how a redd looks takes time. The below photo is of a redd; its hard to see but you can make out the hollow in the river bed with the larger key stones in the middle with the wash of shingle trailing behind it
Perfect spawning conditions in the main stem of the river. The characteristics we are looking at are small to medium sized shingle (golf to tennis ball sized) with a good flow of water to oxygenate the eggs.
Another good area in the main river. Great for fish but not so great for us, it takes an extra chunky Bailiff to withstand the force of the flow here.
A large salmon can make a very noticeable redd. They can move a lot of stone at times and you would be forgiven for thinking they are man made. Here the shingle is almost out of the water.
A common sight around spawning grounds. An unfortunate cock salmon has fallen foul of a crafty otter looking for an easy lunch. Otters often only take certain organs and you can see where the fish has been relieved of some of them. A whole fish on the riverbank does not last long as other animals will eat the rest, from birds to foxes this is a once a year bounty for them. Life isn't easy for a salmon.
A sad thing to see. The eggs from a hen salmon killed before she could spawn. No doubt picked off in the shallow water by an otter or mink. The salmon are more concerned with spawning and are fatigued after their long trip to the spawning grounds making them prone to attacks by predators. Some of the eggs can be seen turning a milky colour, this is a fungus that kills them and spreads from one to the other. The live unfertilised eggs have a pink clear complexion
Another otter casualty. You can see the ragged fins and scrapes to the top of its body where the fish has battered itself up through rocks and possibly from a bit of fighting with other males.
Some large redds on the main stem that can be seen from the road. The shingle mounds can be seen as lighter colours in the water. It tends to be the larger fish that spawn in the main river, the larger the fish the larger the redd.
A fantastic spawning ground on the main stem of the Dee
Prospecting a smaller burn on Invercauld estate, we will at times walk large areas of water to see if the fish are using any of it to spawn. The fish will often travel a very long distance from the main river to return to the place of their birth and to find good spawning areas. On this burn, we found none in the middle sections but higher up areas redds and fish were found. You can see how fish will travel up very small water courses. It's quite eye opening when you are new to the job to see full size salmon in a such a small stream.
Invercauld estate the end of our prospecting trip.
Opening Up the River Dee for Salmon, 21st Nov 2013
The River Dee has flowed 80 miles from the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains into the North Sea for over 10,0000 years. Along the way it is joined by 17 major tributaries and flows under 24 bridges on the main stem. The River Dee flows through different land uses from moorland in the upper reaches to forestry and agriculture in the middle and through the oil capital of Europe in the lower until it reaches Aberdeen Harbour.
Salmon returning to the River Dee to spawn make a truly amazing journey back to the same spot where they themselves hatched and grew. When explaining this to primary 5 children at Banchory Primary School last month they thought about it for a moment and all asked together 'how'. How do the salmon know the way back to the Dee, and the same tributary? It is a very good question and the answer is that when the young salmon, called smolts, leave the river to go to sea they memorise the scents of the River to be recalled when they return to spawn.
It is often easy to forget that adult salmon found in the River Dee have navigated their way through Aberdeen Harbour and up the river to find the spot where they hatched.
Both male and female salmon returning to the river are very focused on travelling upstream and spawning to complete their life cycle. To ensure future numbers of salmon, it is important that as many fish as possible are able to spawn. However preventing some salmon from completing their spawning migration upstream are manmade obstructions including weirs, poorly designed bridges, vehicle fords and culverts under roads. Some are completely impassable to fish and others are impassable in lower flows.
Since 2007 the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and the River Dee Trust have removed or eased 21 manmade obstructions to fish migration from the River Dee's tributaries. The aim of the work is simple; to allow fish to gain access to their natural spawning grounds.
The Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and River Dee Trust work together to ease or remove obstructions and this October they completed two fish passes at Glen Muick and on the Glenshee Road and both can be seen from the road.
The obstructions are both long, concrete aprons in the watercourse, designed to protect the footings of road bridges. However, the water flows fast and shallow over these aprons and fish struggle to swim over them. The Trust carried out surveys above and below the aprons and concluded that very little spawning occurs above the aprons and they are indeed an obstruction to fish.
The fish passes installed consist of low, wooden ‘steps’ below the apron, which cause water levels to be higher and form pools that allow fish to rest in between steps and reduce the height of the third step making fish passage much easier. Before the fish pass was installed (Clunie)
The materials to create the fish passes were paid by the River Dee Trust and the physical hard work was undertaken by the Fishery Board’s water bailiffs, all with the support of Aberdeenshire Council who are ultimately responsible for the bridges. Already, sea trout have been seen using this improved route and we hope surveys in 2014 will show much improved spawning above both bridges.
The River Dee Trust online auction is continuing throughout November to raise funds to allow us to continue to protect the River Dee and carry out restoration projects to improve it for future generations. Two new lots have been added to our auction including fishing trips and fishing equipment, a bespoke kilt, a luxury riverbank picnic for eight, Glen Tanar venison and a painting by local artist Howard Butterworth. For more information on all lots and to place a bid visit our website www.riverdee.org.
After the fish pass was installed (Clunie)
Autumn on the River Dee, 11th Nov 2013
By Joanna Dick
Autumn has truly arrived with much darker nights and a chill in the air but it does give us some beautiful autumn colours up and down the River Dee from the tops of Braemar to Aberdeen city.
If you are walking along the tributaries and main stem of the Dee at this time of year you may be lucky enough to spot spawning salmon. The word 'spawning' means to release or deposit eggs and mid November is the peak spawning time in Deeside.
The best places to look are where the river is shallower and where the water takes on a riffled or broken surface. These areas have clean gravel and lots of oxygen and will ensure eggs can develop over the coming winter months. Polarised sunglasses will make the world of difference and cut out any surface glare from the water. Try not to disturb the fish and do not enter the water to get a better look as you may damage previously made nests that are called redds. If the fish move on, wait a few minutes and they will return in no time because they are so focused on spawning.
If you’ve found a spot with fish spawning you may see fish darting around to gain territory, the odd tail protruding above the water and if you are lucky you may see males thrashing as they fight with each other over females.
The eggs will lay dormant in the redds developing over the winter until hatching out as fry in spring next year. Spawning is an incredible drain on both male and female fish and they often perish as a result or become prey to otters and birds. This may seem a waste but it is a welcome boost in food availability at this time of year and a big bonus for the otter.
Last November the BBC filmed spawning salmon on the River Dee and the footage was used in the Autumn edition of the Great British Year broadcast two weeks ago on BBC1. Two days footage lasted just a few minutes in the programme but it was great to see.
This week I met with Cairngorms National Park staff to discuss new education projects for children who live in the Park. Encouragingly the Cairngorms National Park has just created a pilot travel grant to allow schools and community groups that don't live within the Park to visit. The high cost of travel is often a barrier to city schools and community groups getting out in to the countryside so this grant (worth up to £250) is a great incentive. For more information contact the Park office in Grantown on Spey or visit their website (www.cairngorms.co.uk).
A new member joined the River Dee Trust team this week as our Biologist; Jamie Urquhart will be working on monitoring fish populations to guide restoration projects on the Dee and a work programme to remove invasive non-native species. Jamie and I will be writing on the River Dee blog and for the tweeters among you we are now on twitter. Follow us @RiverDeeTeam for news, updates, photos and to guess where on the Dee our Friday photograph was taken each week.
The River Dee Trust is a community-based charity and we are holding an online auction this November to raise funds to allow us to continue to protect the River Dee and carry out restoration projects to improve it for future generations. Among the 37 lots there is something for everyone including fishing trips and fishing equipment, a bespoke kilt, a luxury riverbank picnic for eight, Glen Tanar venison and a painting by local artist Howard Butterworth. For more information on all lots and to place a bid visit our website www.riverdee.org.
Work Experience with the Trust, 21st Sep 2012
Hello, I’m Daniel Green, a fourth year pupil from Aboyne Academy. I have just finished my week of work experience at the River Dee Trust. On my first day I met most of the River Dee team. They were all very welcoming and I knew I was going to enjoy my week there. Lorraine Hawkins, my supervisor first took me to see a fish pass just outside of Aboyne. By making small steps up a steep bit of river, fish were able to get up the pass and get further up the river to spawn. I found this very interesting as I had never seen one before. On Tuesday I went to help out with electro fishing on the Balmoral estate. Although I wasn’t allowed to actually fish, I helped by measuring the fish the team caught. I enjoyed this. I felt that I was contributing the Trust’s research and that made me feel happy. I also learnt how to read Salmon scales using a microscope. We read the scales because the can tell us how old the fish is. On the next day I did more Salmon scale reading on my own which felt very satisfying and enjoyed. Then in the afternoon I got to see how invasive plant species along rivers banks were dealt with. I really didn’t know how many invasive plants there were along Scottish rivers but learning about it was really interesting. Thursday was my favourite day as we went out electro fishing for the whole day. Again, I felt like I was helping the team with their research. Thursday was a very long tiring day but was confident that I had done something useful and was pleased with this. The week was now coming to an end and on Friday I mapped a river survey on GIS which I had never even heard of before.This was a nice quiet task for my last day and I enjoyed that too! Overall my week with the River Dee Trust was great. Everybody was really friendly and I thought I learnt a lot during my week there. Lastly, I think that the work that everybody does at the River Dee Trust is fantastic. I have had a great work experience week and If anybody were to ask me where they think they should go for their work experience, I would definitely recommend the River Dee Trust.
(pic: 5'10" and swamped by Japanese knotweed!)
A Day in the Life, 18th July 2011
By Geordie (electrofishing assistant)
My day starts with a rude awakening at eight in the morning, a cup of tea and some toast, soon followed by the short journey to the river Dee office for 9AM. Walking through the door, i am kindly greeted by Adrian Hudson, my boss, the unlucky man who has to carry the electro fishing unit all day! We load up the back of the jeep with all the kit we need for the day: Nets, buckets, waders, clipboards, spare batteries for the electrofishing equipment, and a variety of other bits and pieces!
After this process is complete, we then drive to our site, gear up, and enter the water! Once in the water, Adrian activates the electrical current and thoroughly sweeps the water, the electrical pulse stuns the fish and causes them to move towards the origin of the electrical field, allowing us to scoop them up with hand nets and deposit into a bucket for measuring later on! Once we have fully swept an area and caught as many fish as we can, we anaesthetise them with clove oil, a non toxic anaesthetic. Once the fish are sedate, they are measured on a measuring board and recorded! After this the fish are released back into the river, and a habitat survey is taken, which involves measuring river width’s, lengths, vegetation types, water conductivity and temperature etc! In a normal day (weather permitting) we will usually repeat this process four times at different designated sites. The day is rounded off with the (usually!) short journey home.
Electrofishing starts, 5th July 2011
Last week was the start of the electrofishing season for the Trust. This year we have a 10-week programme devoted to investigating juvenile salmon and trout stocks in the catchment. We started our surveys on the Crynoch burn (a tributary of the Lower Dee) to determine whether installation of a fish pass on a redundant weir (see photo) had enabled spawning adult fish to migrate upstream of it. We found juvenile salmon (both 1 and 2 year old fish) above the weir, showing that the fish pass has been a success.
Towards the end of last week we moved on to the Coy burn, where we fitted a fish pass to an impassable weir back in 2008. Salmon and sea trout have made it through the fish pass in every spawning season since so we are following their re-colonisation of the burn (after 250 years!) and hope to see it reach its full potential for fish production in a few years time.
Education marathon, 14th June 2011
The RDT attended Dunecht Estate Open Day on Sunday 12th June, where we ran an information tent about the River. The event was open to the public and saw more than 5,000 people pass through the gates. We spoke to lots of people who visited us and enthused many children with our finds from a pond dipping excersise.
The following day was an event organised by the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative to introduce secondary schoold children in NE Scotland to different rural sectors, including forestry, game keeping, farming and river management. In a whistle-stop tour for the groups of children who rotated between the different sectors, we spoke to over 300 children about the river. Exhausting!
Adrian is busy with more educational visits this week; firstly taking Durris primary school children to Raemoir fishery (who welcome the school groups at no charge) on tuesday to learn through pond dipping and try their hand at fly fishing. On friday, a class from Aboyne primary school will be visiting the Aboyne Castle fishing beat to see electrofishing demonstrated and learn more about the river.