Allt an Fhithich

The Allt an Fhithich, or as it is otherwise known the Milton Burn (one of many such named burns in the Spey catchment), is a small burn which enters the Spey at Cromdale Bridge. Like many of the burns in this part of the Spey is it accessible to migratory fish over its entire length. It has a reputation as a good spawning burn, although adult fish numbers are somewhat lower than observed in the past. A few weekends ago I spent a pleasant few hours getting to know the Fhithich.

The Spey is already a big river at Cromdale so the Fhithich makes only a minor contribution to the flow. The Fhithich joins the Spey on the left bank just below the trees on the right of the photo below.

The mighty Spey; Ranunculus and all!

The average width of the Fhithich is only about 2-5m in the lower reaches but the habitat is generally first class.

Lower reaches of the Fhithich, one water vole spotted here.

In the pools there were an abundance of parr. I remember from my boyhood days walking up the side of the burn behind the house and the shoals of parr would go ahead before turned back at the top of the pool, scattering as they shot past. To see such numbers of parr is always a good sign, every pool in the lower Fhithich held its own shoal.

A shoal of parr, mostly trout I think?

I stood still and watched one shoal for a while. Eventually they started rising to small flecks on the surface. This one looked like the dominant fellow in the pool but he was probably only about 6″ in length. At that size it was quite likely to become a sea trout smolt next year.

The biggest trout parr in the pool

I walked up to the Grantown – Tulchan road. The habitat in that area was really good although there was some evidence of cattle access in the middle reaches but the impact was light.

The instream cover in this pool was mainly cobbles and pebbles with some weed but the overhanging bankside cover available is sufficient to support a high fish density

Mixed landscape like this is so typical of Speyside burns

Further upstream the habitat was if anything even better and high numbers of parr could be seen in the pools. I came across an old weir, no surprise on a “Milton Burn”, but it had decayed and was no problem to fish passage.

Remains of old weir

A pair of roe deer were grazing in what would have been a farm field but another sign of the times are the many previously cultivated areas which are now reverting back to wild land.

Grazing roe deer.

The deer are standing in the shade of a conifer plantation on the west side of the burn.  A few years ago the Spey bailiffs cleared the conifers from the immediate edge of the burn to let in more light. We surveyed the burn comprehensively this summer including two sites in the habitat improvement area where we found naturally spawned salmon fry; none had been present in 2011. The survey sites in the habitat improvement area are LB1b and LB1c in the table below. LB1 is close to the confluence with the Spey, LB1a just below the Grantown – Tulchan road and LB1d is in the upper reaches below Huntlys Cave.

Allt an Fhithich electrofishing results

Trout numbers remain good/excellent at all sites. There were more salmon parr present in the middle of the burn but there appears to be a reduction in salmon parr numbers in the lower site? The middle reaches were stocked last year so some of the salmon parr present in the upper three sites may be from the stocking. However it was good to see naturally spawned salmon fry present this year, hopefully they will be present every year from now on in the habitat improved areas.

Allt an Fhithich electrofishing site LB1 – opposite the layby on the Grantown road, excellent density of salmon fry present here.

A short distance above our middle survey sites the burn become deeply entrenched and narrow with steep sides. Walking along the bank I spotted a couple parr which I watched for a while. I couldn’t make out what they were at the time but I got some reasonable photos with the zoom lens and the polarising filter. I’m sure this one was a salmon parr. What do you think?

Salmon parr?

Small burns such as the Fhithich are prime trout habitat and I would expect it to be well used by spawning sea trout with salmon in the lower/middle reaches. The Castle Grant ghillies reported low numbers of spawning salmon last year when they visited in the autumn but our findings are encouraging, naturally spawned fry were present in good densities throughout the area that I would expect to be used by salmon.


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