Get­ting to grips with rare fish

The Galloway News - - DISTRICT NEWS -

STEPHEN NOR­RIS The Gal­loway Fish­eries Trust has launched a cam­paign to pro­tect a rare mi­gra­tory fish found in just a sin­gle Gal­loway river.

Spar­ling used to run up all ma­jor wa­ter­couses in the south-west but over­fish­ing now means the Cree is its fi­nal refuge.

Thou­sands of spar­ling make their way up the river to spawn over the course of a few days each spring.

The beau­ti­ful siver fish – which grow up to a foot long and smell of cu­cum­ber – can of­ten be viewed from the banks dur­ing their spawn­ing mi­gra­tion.

Poor pub­lic knowl­edge of the fish prompted the trust to take ac­tion – and hopes are high its Sav­ing the Spar­ling project will boost conservati­on ef­forts.

Spar­ling project of­fi­cer Court­ney Row­land said: “To be able to pre­dict the ar­rival of the spar­ling the trust mon­i­tors daily river tem­per­a­tures from Fe­bru­ary 1.

“This year the spar­ling ar­rived on Fe­bru­ary 22 after un­prece­dented warm weather raised river tem­per­a­tures to 8°C to trig­ger the spring mi­gra­tion.

“Dur­ing the early hours of the 24th a small team ven­tured out in the dark along the banks of the river Cree in search of the rare fish.

“It didn’t take long to spot a small shoal of sev­eral hun­dred gath­ered in the main rif­fle sec­tion above the bridge at New­ton Ste­wart, seek­ing refuge be­hind large boul­ders to rest.

“We think the main spawn­ing event oc­curred a few nights later when the num­bers of spar­ling were in their thou­sands.” Ms Row­land is work­ing hard across Gal­loway com­mu­ni­ties to bring spar­ling back into fo­cus through lo­cal events and ed­u­ca­tion.

She vis­ited eight pri­mary schools in­clud­ing all year groups of Pal­nackie, Dal­beat­tie’s eco group, P6 at Gate­house of Fleet, Kirk­cowan’s eco class, Min­ni­gaff P2/3, P5 at Pen­ning­hame and St Ninian’s ju­nior and se­nior classes.

All pupils en­joyed play­ing spar­ling themed games and most even got to meet a live spar­ling.

Ms Row­land has also held vol­un­teer events along the Cree to give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to see live spar­ling as well as learn new skills in preda­tor iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and observatio­n.

She said: “I have been work­ing along­side the vol­un­teers at New­ton Ste­wart Mu­seum to de­sign an ex­hibit ded­i­cated to this won­der­ful and rare species of fish to go on dis­play un­til the au­tumn.

“We will also be host­ing an evening show­ing of the Spar­ling Film at the mu­seum on May 1 at 6pm and 7pm.”

Out of 15 orig­i­nal pop­u­la­tions in Scot­land only three re­main – the Cree, the Forth and the Tay.

Tay and the Forth spar­ling are much smaller and grow to only 20cms.

Spar­ling were his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant for Gal­loway which at one time sup­ported large com­mer­cial fish­eries dur­ing spring­time.

Up to six tonnes were caught an­nu­ally in the 1970s and 80s – equiv­a­lent to roughly 45,000 spar­ling.

The fish form large shoals in the Sol­way Firth but need fresh­wa­ter to spawn.

They mi­grate to the upper ti­dal limit of the Cree to reach the fast flow­ing rif­fle sec­tions which max­imise dis­per­sal of eggs.

After spawn­ing the spar­ling ei­ther die or re­turn down­stream to the firth where they will re­main for the rest of the year.

The Sav­ing the Spar­ling Project has been funded by the Euro­pean Fish­eries Man­age­ment Fund, the Scot­tish Govern­ment and the Holy­wood Trust.

Places for the film show­ing are limited and can be booked on 01671 403011 ar at [email protected]­loway­fish­eriestrust.org.

Any­one with spar­ling knowl­edge or mem­o­ries is also en­cour­aged to get in touch.

Fishy tales Pal­nackie pupils meet a live spar­ling dur­ing one of the school vis­its held by project of­fi­cer Court­ney Row­land

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