RiverLife: Almond and Avon

by Helen-Jane Shearer

Konect West Lothian editions March 2017

The biggest programme of river works in Scotland is planned for the Almond and Avon Rivers over the next four years.

I met with Jamie Ormiston, Community Engagement Officer from Livingston who works for the River Forth Fisheries Trust, to learn about their plans. “The Trust carries out vital environmental protection and improvement work on rivers in the whole of the Forth catchment,” he explains. “RiverLife: Almond & Avon is the Trust’s team focusing on our local rivers, and we’ll need local communities involved over the next few years.”

The first major project is the rehabilitation the Almond’s fish migration route, to make it possible for salmon and sea trout from the North Sea to migrate up the river to spawn after their sojourn in the ocean. The industrial heritage of the Almond left barriers in the form of weirs which prevent fish from successfully navigating to spawning grounds. This upstream migration is essential for the survival of fish population and to the overall health of the river’s ecosystem. A lot of work has been done on the Almond over the years by various organisations to address industrial pollution, and wildlife is gradually returning. If you’re lucky you can even spot otters in Murieston Water, one of the tributaries. The Almond Barriers Project builds on this work and will have a major impact on the ongoing health of the river.


In migration season (May to October) you can observe fish jumping weirs but their success rate isn’t as high as it should be - they’ve been filmed at Mid Calder Weir continually hitting the rocks and getting exhausted. The cumulative impact of all the weirs on th eRiver Almond  means that very few fish are making it to the upstream sections and tributaries of the river. Fish passages were constructed on some of the weirs a long time ago but are not working well.

The first barrier fish encounter is the Fair-a-Far Weir at Cramond, where the Almond flows into the Forth. Construction of a new fish passage there commences shortly, along with repair work on the weir. Work is needed on six other weirs: at Mid Calder; Kirkton Weir at Almond Valley Heritage Centre - where a viewing area will be built as one of the attractions at the heritage centre; Howden Bridge Weir in Livingston; the Rugby Club Weir in Livingston; and Dowies weir. Proposals for most of these are in early stages and there will be consultations with local communities. For each of the different sites the best option for easing fish passage has been identified. It could be a fish pass (in principle like a disabled ramp for fish to get over the weir), a rock ramp (rocks are used to build a ramp of pools and riffles up the writ so fish can pass over it) or a channel for the fish which goes around the weir.

The Trust works with local angling clubs to collect river data. “Anglers are our eyes on the river,” says Jamie, “and are very helpful with submitting their observations to us.” They have been asked to submit sightings of redds (salmon nurseries) as well as collecting salmon scale samples. Scale samples allow the biologists at the Trust to track the migrating salmon and see if they are returning to the same river to spawn or if they are straying into other rivers.

Work on the River Avon, being in more agricultural areas, has a different focus and includes addressing bank erosion and the spraying of invasive species like giant hogweed.

There are many other projects in the pipeline, including cleaning up the Killandean at Kirkton Campus in Livingston and the eventual creation of a park there with benches and artwork; and the Boghead Burn which runs through Bathgate is earmarked for work to encourage fish to move into it. They will be working on the stretch of Bogburn between Whitburn Road and Glasgow Road. “Once the fish move in you’ll see kingfishers and dragon flies. It will be good to see such wildlife in the middle of Bathgate,” says Jamie.

GETTING INVOLVED:

Volunteers are needed for all projects. To get involved, head to the RiverLife website (http://www.fishforth.co.uk/rfft/riverlife/) and there’s a sign up link at the bottom of the page.

A Small Grants Scheme exists for local groups or individuals to carry out projects to do with the river. If could be anything from practical environmental works on “your patch” of the Almond or Avon or one of their tributaries, to arts or theatre projects. Grants from £250 – £5000 are available. See http://www.fishforth.co.uk/rfft/riverlife/small-grants-scheme/. First applications close 31st March 2017

River Forth Fisheries Trust is a charity registered in Scotland (SC040311).

See http://www.fishforth.co.uk for more information and follow RiverLife:Almond & Avon on facebook.

All photos courtesy of River Forth Fisheries Trust