Polmont schools bring life back to rivers

Children from St Margaret's Primary prepare to release the trout
Children from St Margaret's Primary prepare to release the trout

Trout stocks around the Polmont area were increased this week thanks to a group of schoolkids.

Children from St Margaret’s Primary School said goodbye to the baby fish they’ve been breeding in class for the past five weeks studying life cycles.

The P5 pupils have nurtured the fish from eggs to alvin to fry (tiny fish) and sent them on their life journeys in a burn leading to the River Avon yesterday (Wednesday).

The initiative is part of a wider project to reinvigorate the river following years of industrial damage from open cast mining and paper mills, which almost destroyed the habitat for local wildlife.

However, pupil Mairi Cifelli (9), believes it’s a cold business to be in. She said: “We’ve watched them grow from eggs to fry and it’s been fascinating.

“I’ve never had fish or go fishing so I’ve learnt a lot about fish, especially trout and salmon. It’s been quite challenging because we had to keep the water at 10 degrees every day and keep putting ice in the tanks.

“We started off with about 200 eggs and released about 100 fish so we did quite good, I think.”

Fishing club, Slamannan Angling and Protective Association (SAPA) have been the driving force behind the project and have secured £90,000 so far to restore some areas of the Avon to preserve and allow wildlife, and the river, to flourish again.

The group, backed by Dr Jo Girvan from Forth Fisheries Trust, SEPA and Falkirk Environmental Trust (FET) among other private companies such as Avondale and WREN, is on its final phase of the project in the upper reaches of the River Avon.

It took five years to get the project up and running and excellent progress has been made in adding gravel beds and new boulders for an improved habitat which allows salmon and trout to spawn.

SAPA secretary, George Mackintosh (67), said: “The Avon was dug out and canalised in 1976 and this almost destroyed the habitat for fish, birds, invertebrate, water voles and otters.

“Gravel beds were removed, boulders were taken out, bends were filled in and the river course was straightened out. Pools were non-existent.

“Industries like open cast mining really took their toll on the river and its wildlife and the angling club felt the river needed some help to recover.

“We have made great progress, but there is still much to do. We are working steadily and are in our fourth phase, but need around £46,000 to finish off the work, which we are in the process of applying for.

“The river is teeming with life and we are hoping to open the children’s eyes to what goes in their local burns and rivers. It’s very interesting.

“I’ve filmed salmon in the Culloch burn. Not a lot of people know there’s salmon up there and we are talking about re-introducing water voles, which used to be very popular round here.”

Mr Mackintosh’s grandson, Christopher (9), who was part of the class taking part in the trout project added: “I go fishing with my grandad a lot. Maybe I’ll catch one of the fish we put in the water one day in the future.”