Mashie Burn and upper Spey

The weather was distinctly unpromising this morning but we headed up river to count redds in the upper Spey and Mashie Burn. The light rain didn’t look too serious but the mild weather would have shifted the snow lying on the hills, maybe river levels would be too high? At first sight the upper Spey looked quite big but most of the water was coming down the Feith Talagain, above Garva Bridge water levels were fine. We had already identified stretches of river to count, we just don’t have the resources to try and count everywhere nowadays and indentifiable stretches on the main tributaries would provide an index of spawning numbers. We planned to count two sections in the upper Spey, from Allt a’Chaorainn down to the upper end of the lower plantation and from Sherramore to Loch Spey.

The lower section was out due to the volume of water from the Feith Talagain but we managed to count the upper section. Right where we started we found what appeared to be two redds in a wide riffle where there was a perfect grade of gravel. Recent redds often reveal themselves from the distance as glassy areas in riffles. The photo below shows two such areas just to the left of centre

Glassy areas just below the cross stream riffle

After that initial find it was at least 1.5km before Steve came across another small redd on the inside of a bend.

Small recent upper Spey redd

Those were the only redds seen, no fish either. Three redds in 3.5km is nowhere near enough to saturate the habitat available.

As the lower Spey section was too high we walked the Mashie Burn. Before today I had only seen the Mashie at top and bottom of the 4km section between the A86 and the Spey confluence. What we saw in the entire middle part was quite different to expectations. The Mashie has a regulated flow, i.e. much of the flow is abstracted above the A86 by Rio Tinto, leaving a relatively stable residual flow. That combined with the extensive dredging that had been inflicted left the Mashie in a sorry state.

Typical view of the middle reaches of the Mashie, straightened with unform depth, sides and totally lacking in features or variety

The bottom in most of the dug out section was covered either with extensive weed growth or sand, see photo below.

Sandy bottom and weed growth

We had found two trout redds near the confluence but for the next 2km there were none, the habitat was totally unsuitable for spawning. A bit further upstream the gradient increased slightly and we started to find a few more trout redds in amongst the weed growth, where gravel had started to appear.

Small trout redd in gravel ridge

Up nearer the road the burn started to flow more naturally with a fine gravel/cobble bed. Below a watergate across a cattle drinking point we at last found what looked like a salmon redd. We have an electrofishing site just below the A86 and we find salmon there every survey, although not always fry. The only suitable salmon spawning habitat is in the short stretch below the A86 so I can only surmise that one or two pairs of salmon pass through the uninspiring middle reaches to spawn in the better habitat above. Seven trout redds and one salmon redd in 4km of burn was not good. Our old spawning books show that up to 44 redds were recorded in the Mashie at one time……. there would appear to be considerable scope for a restoration project here.

The solitary salmon redd below watergate

On the banks of the Mashie I came across slime mould colonies. Not sure what species this is but it looks just like melting snow. I used to see this often in Ayrshire at this time of year but this is the first I have seen of it in Speyside. Weird stuff slime mould, it is neither plant nor animal and used to be classed as a fungi. Now it is considered to be some sort of protoplasm or similar. I heard on the radio a while back that a colony had once travelled the length of a cricket pitch overnight.  I haven’t a clue how far that is!

Just like melting snow, a patch of slime mould


There are 12 comments for this article
  1. Peter Graham at 10:47 am

    I hardly dare admit knowing that a cricket pitch is a chain long (22 yards). As a surveyor I have used one and it is made up of 100 links each 7.92 inches in length. It’s an old English measurement; 10 chains make a furlong (contraction of furrow long) and eight furlongs make a mile.
    A piece of land that is a chain wide and a “furrow-long” is 10 square chains, but it’s better known as an acre. In medieval strip architecture each peasant was allocated a strip of land one chain wide and one furrow-long.
    A chain is made up of 4 poles. The ploughman handled the plough. His boy controlled the oxen using a stick, which had to be long enough to reach all the oxen. Hence a pole and thus the development of measurement!
    Best wishes Peter

  2. Andy Holtby at 9:33 am


    Really enjoy reading the blog, very informative and gives a chance for us fish novices to see what is going on, what the SFT does and what the issues are. I was wandering if it would be possible to come out on a redd counting exped on day. I am a complete beginner but am interested to give it a try and help out in some way.

    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:37 am

      Hi Andy,
      No problem, we will be out three days a week from next week on. Just give me a ring when you are available.

  3. John Anderson at 8:27 pm

    Hi Brian
    Enjoy dipping into your blog every week or so. Thanks for the effort, very insightful. I must disagree with many that have responded over the months regarding the hatchery. Unless there’s a very specific reason for stocking then it shouldn’t be done. In fact in my opinion it probably does more damage than good. As your last post points out, use the effort to improve the habitat and you have years of sustainable output with no further input.

    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:44 pm

      Thanks John, comments from all, especially yourself, welcome. Hopefully we can maintain the interest level in the blog.


  4. Brian Poe at 10:54 pm

    Just come across your blog Brian…very interesting,’best job in the world’ bad, but so important..there is probably little chance of satisfying demand for info, but a repeat visit to your various target spawning burns might be worthwhile, although Im sure thats been considered.
    I’ll bet keeping close tabs on a couple of widely different spawning habitats will be, in the first instance, more useful than charging about all over the place.
    I am of the view that keeping a hatchery going is a sound idea…I suspect the accuracy of statistics on previous activity in this direction my be unhelpful in all directions of opinion…the suggestions of later release of young parr makes sense…but of course requires more time and expense rearing – you cant be everywhere.
    Nice to briefly meet you after all these years at Carron last summer – very best wishes on your mammoth task….
    and I look forward to following your blog in the future

    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:37 am

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the comments, the blog has generated a lot of interest so I’ll try my best to make as much info as possble available. I have been ploughing a lone furrow on the blog to date, however there is a wealth of experience and knowledge within the organisation so I will try and get some others to start blogging.

      Redd counting is always a challenge, mainly due to the short days, poor light, high water, etc etc but we will use this period to try and glean as much info as possible about spawning numbers, timing etc.

      The monitoring of the hatchery via the genetic study is being enhanced as you may know with a further three years rod caught fish submitted for analysis. These results will be available late spring and whatever the outcome the study will be very robust. We have done a lot of monitoring of the 0+ parr stocking this year including surveys three weeks after stocking in the Knockando and Mulben Burns. The results will be reported in the 2012 electrofishing report, but they are not encouraging. The electrofishing report, which will be published on the website as soon as it has been approved, will show the state of the fish populations in the mainstem, 2012 monitored tributaries and stocking activities.

      Hope you like the composition in some of my photos, the quality must have been due to those art classes as school!


      • Brian Poe at 9:55 pm

        photo composition impressive of course, …. not nearly as important as clarity though…excellent info…look forward to hearing further info on parr release.
        Its fine me saying its a good idea – when I am not, in the first instance, paying for it….there is no doubt that it has been successful in some situations though – notably on very much smaller catchment areas than the Spey..Wester Ross Carron recently…and 30 years ago, here on the River Alness.
        You will know more about that than me though…
        best wishes

  5. Henry Taylor at 1:29 pm

    Hi Brian,
    Firstly I’d like to say how much I enjoy this blog, thank you for sharing what you and the Board are up to – it is a nice distraction from the desk job!
    I assume you will find a number of examples where the spawning environment is substandard and the fish are therefore not there. Habitat restoration followed by a sensible stocking policy (i.e. 0+ parr) should do the trick – thank God for the hatchery!

    • Brian Shaw Author at 1:54 pm

      Hi Henry,
      Thanks for the comment even though it went downhill at the end! There is a restoration project in the pipeline for the Mashie so hopefully some news on that in the future.
      Best regards


  6. Gordon Mackenzie at 8:14 am

    Is it possible that you were redd counting too early on the Upper Spey?
    I assume you will be planning another visit in a months time because a single visit in early November is pointless?

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