Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Salmon project plan jumps for joy

The year 2008 will be indelibly marked in the history of the National Trust for Scotland's Crathes Castle Estate.

salmon pass
The system monitors salmon as they battle to reach spawning grounds

For the first time in more than 200 years, salmon have reached their spawning grounds on the Coy Burn, a tributary of the River Dee, under their own steam - thanks to a salmon ladder unique to Deeside.

Set in the Coy, just half-a-mile from the 16th Century Crathes Castle, in Aberdeenshire, the ladder deploys a sophisticated counting and measuring system.

It allows for the critical monitoring of salmon - as well as sea and brown trout - as they tenaciously battle their way back to spawning grounds upstream from the estate Mill Pond.

This ladder, attached to the dam on the Coy Burn, holds back the water which creates the Mill Pond.

This is a complicated project, as the dam has obviously historical and ecological importance
Fiona Milne
Crathes Castle ranger

There has been a dam in one form or another on the pond since at least the 1590s.

With modifications over the centuries, the existing dam has been a permanent structure since the late 18th Century.

Before the pass was built, salmon were caught in nets downstream of the dam and lifted into the mill pond to make their way through it to join the Coy Burn again, swimming further upstream to spawn.

More development work has been undertaken on neighbouring estates, to find further suitable spawning grounds.

Fiona Milne, senior ranger at Crathes Castle Estate, expressed excitement over the success of the ladder.

'Complicated project'

"Earlier in November, I had the joy of standing with the fishery board's water bailiff watching some of the first salmon in over 200 years making their way to their spawning grounds under their own steam - 45 fish had gone through in one week alone," she said.

"This is a complicated project, as the dam has obviously historical and ecological importance, so it not only involved the nature conservation staff, but also the archaeologist and building surveyors."

Salmon pass
The 70,000 project received funding from a number of backers

She said the movement of the fish was a thrilling spectacle that left a lasting impression.

The 70,000 project was funded by the Conservation of Atlantic Salmon in Scotland Project (Cass) and has involved many partners including National Trust for Scotland, River Dee Trust, the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and the neighbouring Leys Estate.

The Cass project, which ran from 2004 until August 2008, was the single most significant salmon conservation project ever undertaken in Scotland.

Mark Bilsby, of the River Dee Trust, said the installation of the ladder under the Cass scheme became a real community project.

"We drew in 17 local schools to be closely involved and created seven fish passes around the Dee catchment area," he said.

"Overall, we also created 37 kilometres of riverside buffer strips and coppiced 21 kilometres too."

Mr Bilsby said it was the most satisfying job he had ever undertaken. "It makes all the paperwork worthwhile," he said.

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