Gordon and I headed to the upper Ayr catchment today to see if we could see trout spawning or any salmon moving into burns but on the whole we were too early. We walked the Ponesk right through the opencast site and into the old channel above. We saw an occasional trout but very few and no redds. On the way back down we had a look into the void left by the opencast that awaits restoration. It appears to be filling and I’m concerned about what happens with this water in future. It is an issue I’m going to raise with SEPA and Scottish Coal.

This is the void left by the opencast that is gradually filling. The water has a strange colour to it.

We left the Ponesk and looked at the West Burn but again no signs of spawning yet. This is a very small burn with great water quality and it runs crystal clear off of moorland. We also looked at the mainstem of the Ayr between the Ponesk and the West Burn. I am concerned about the condition that we found this in and especially so at spawning time. The water had a greenish tinge and an opaqueness to it (similar to the colour of the water in the photo above). The river bed was coated with algae and moss indicating enrichment. Conductivity readings taken in this area a couple of weeks ago would support this. With salmon and trout spawning at this time of the year I am concerned about egg survival in such conditions and we intend to research this over winter but I will also seek SEPA’s opinion on the cause of this.

Hardly what you would call clean gravel.

We headed to Glenbuck next to see the Hareshaw and Stottencleugh Burns. These burn feed the loch which is the source of the River Ayr. The Stottencleugh is a problem as it suffers from high conductivity as a result of mine discharges (both historic and recent). The conditions we found the burn in today add weight to my fears that this is in fact the source of the enrichment in the Ayr. Glenbuck loch will act as a sink for some nutrient but not all. Weed growth on the loch is an increasing problem for anglers and this is hardly surprising given the conductivity levels we record upstream regularly. I will ask Natalia to sample the outflow to see what the conductivity level is there. This is the water that I suspect supplies the nutrient responsible for the algal growth we saw downstream a mile or so. Unless there is another discharge from the opencast elsewhere between the two points we visited, then I think the Stottencleugh is almost certainly the source.

Condition in the Stottencleugh are poor to say the least. Iron Oxide precipitates out and coats the substrate. At a time when the brown trout in Glenbuck Loch are looking to cut redds, then this burn doesn’t meet their requirements. That doesn’t mean they won’t try and in fact we saw a lot of trout in the burn and a few redds too. Survival in these redds will I’m sure be poor at best. This is another area for research this winter if we secure the necessary funding (we are awaiting a decision at the moment).

The Hareshaw Burn enters the Stottencleugh just above the estate bridge and despite its short length available to the trout we saw three redds and have previously recorded some of the highest trout fry densities anywhere in Ayrshire. I’m sure the reason for this is it is the only clean water and gravel available to the trout from Glenbuck loch.

A trout redd in the Stottencleugh. Egg survival is likely to be very poor.

This level of pollution may meet with SEPA consent limits (it may not) but it certainly doesn't benefit the fish population. The Hareshaw enters from the right in the centre of the photo. Upstream the iron oxide deposits appear even greater. The Hareshaw is diluting the concentration.

I will speak to SEPA about the problems we saw today in the next few days. I’ll keep readers posted.

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3 Responses to Upper Ayr pollution

  1. Brian says:

    That picture of the redd amogst the iron oxide is quite sad, really.

    • Very sad and disappointing that this still occurs on the Ayr. I’ve spoken to SEPA about this today but am not convinced it will make any difference. Our research project is our hope for improvement. If we can pinpoint the problem areas and the chemicals involved then show that there is a decline in juveniles as a result, then we may have a chance. It is a pity that SEPA are only concerned with consented discharge levels.

  2. robert brown says:

    Hi Stuart
    i can remember the Coyle when the water from mine workings came down it was a slate grey colour and river bed was often covered with algae it always looked like a wee dead river but the fish somehow survived and now it is much cleaner with loads of lovely trout and occasional grayling in it.
    so there has to be hope for the burn and the fish you never know what will happen given a few years .