Almost 500 primary school children from across the Avon Valley are taking to the Avon Water and its tributaries this month to set free young fish that they have raised in school.
Children from 21 Primary Schools are participating in Salmon Homecoming, a multi-phase education project that celebrates the return of the iconic Atlantic salmon to their local river, the Avon Water.
Salmon Homecoming is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund supported Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) and Greggs Foundation, and is delivered by the Clyde River Foundation.
The project follows the recent completion of the Avon Barriers project which created two fish passes on the sites of Millheugh and Ferniegair Weirs near Larkhall and Hamilton, South Lanarkshire. Part of Lanarkshire’s industrial legacy includes weirs and other structures which were built to harness water for power. These two large weirs were preventing fish movement upstream and the alterations will open up significant watercourses upstream for migratory fish.
For the first part of the project, children have reared brown trout from eggs to fry, in special classroom hatcheries. Working closely with Clyde River Foundation scientists, the children were responsible for ensuring that hatchery conditions mimicked those of the Avon Water, to prepare their fish for the wild.
Dr William Yeomans, Catchment Manager at Clyde River Foundation explains, “Children have been caring for a close relative of the salmon – the brown trout – in classroom hatcheries before releasing them into the Avon. Brown trout, rather than salmon, have been reared because they are already present throughout the Avon catchment. This will allow us to monitor the salmon’s natural recolonisation of their former spawning grounds when they return.”
He continues, “The children have done a fabulous job so far and we look forward to working with them on the second phase of the project which involves a detailed assessment of the river.”
Salmon Homecoming connects children with their local rivers, from their industrial history to the exciting wildlife they support. It promotes continued stewardship of the natural environment in light of the recent significant investment in improving conditions for migratory fish.
The flagship engineering project, that saw the creation of fish passes at Ferniegair and Millheugh Weirs in 2016, will lead to the upgrading of Water Framework Directive status of eight rivers – six of which will achieve high status. The two new fish passes give salmon and other migratory fish access to 200km of watercourse and make it far easier for them to travel upstream. It is hoped that the first salmon will be visible later this year, leaping up the Avon Water and associated tributaries, as they make their way back from the Atlantic Ocean, following an absence of over a century.
The fish passes project was funded by Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s (SEPA’s) Water Environment Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) and was delivered by Rivers and Fisheries Trust Scotland (RAFTS) in association with South Lanarkshire Council, Clyde River Foundation, anglers and local communities.
“We have been delighted to have been working in partnership with so many agencies to be able to bring about these improvements to the biodiversity of the Avon Water. The work to construct the two new fish passes will help boost fish populations and benefit the wider ecology of the river helping us achieve more for wildlife and the environment” explains CAVLP Manager Donna Marshall.
“This follow on schools project in partnership with the Clyde River Foundation provides a fantastic link to ensure the broader community get involved in celebrating and caring for their river. Rivers are such an important part of our daily lives and yet it is a connection that is easily forgotten. They’ve shaped the landscape in the Clyde and Avon Valley, and local towns have often been designed around them. Given how important rivers are for our everyday lives and our environment, we’ve all got a role to play in making sure our rivers are as healthy and cared for as they can be.”
Avon Valley schools will be involved with Salmon Homecoming over six months. The project will culminate in a series of public events where local communities will be invited to celebrate the river improvements and the anticipated return of this iconic species to the upper reaches of the Avon. Details of these will be released at www.clydeandavonvalley.org.