Tulchan Burn redd count

The conditions weren’t too promising but we are running out of time for redd counting so together with three Tulchan ghillies a redd count was completed in the Tulchan Burn. Aside from the lying snow it turned out to be a lovely day for the task. I met the ghillies at the bottom of the burn before we set off for the upper reaches by the track that follows the burn.

Three Tulchan ghillies, A, C and D getting ready for redd counting

We started just below where the burn starts to split into hill burns, at an altitude of 330m (1000ft). Just to add a little spice to the day we had a wee sweep on the drive up to see who could guess the number of redds we would find. I knew what had been recorded in the past but not wanting to show myself up in front of three esteemed ghillies I went for a very conservative 40, the most ambitious guess, although I expected more.

The Tulchan Burn up here is only about 4m wide but it wasn’t long before we found the first salmon redds, and the occasional lonely looking cock salmon. Habitat quality was first class although there were no big areas of gravel for spawning, but the fish were utilising any little patch of suitable substrate.

Typical habitat in the upper Tulchan Burn

On the drive up we had spotted a dead fish lying at a ford. It turned out to be a nice sea trout, an otter kill.

How many men does it take to identify a dead sea trout…answer = 3

Upper burn salmon redd

It wasn’t the easiest walk in the snow, especially further down where the pine trees were denser. Some had fallen in and across the burn but the ghillies had earlier pruned some of the branches to clear obstructions but leaving some cover – an excellent job. There were many redds in this upper part of the burn and importantly they were well spaced out. The furthest I went without recording a redd was about 300m.

Big redd, or two, in a heavily wooded area.

Most of the cock fish seen were marked with scars or fungus on the back. I only saw one hen, a poor fish on its last legs sheltering behind a rock, but I’m sure it had done its business. Further down a few dead cock fish were seen including this fine fellow that would have been about 12-14lb.

No sign of predator damage on this fish, it must have just ran out of life.

As we approached the lower reaches I expected to come across some bigger spawning fords but there were none. The gradient of the burn was quite uniform at about 3.5%, too steep for big beds of spawning gravel, so the fish had to work hard to create redds where ever there was a little patch of gravel.

If anything the number of redds in the lower reaches reduced, although still relatively frequent. It was good to see so many redds in the upper reaches, better that than all concentrated at the bottom. I was marking the redds on the GPS on the way down so it wasn’t until I got back to the office that I was able to count the salmon and trout redds. The total was 82 salmon redds and 9 trout redds. We were only recording certain redds, the type of spawning habitat available meant that there were many other small cuts where there were probably eggs deposited but they weren’t really big enough to count as a redd. Previous redd counts in the Tulchan Burn were about 80 but that was for a shorter section than we counted today. Todays count for the comparable area counted in the past was 42 salmon redds.

Photo of Tulchan Burn redd map from laptop screen. Greenflags for trout redds, blue for salmon with a few photo icons. Note the very even spacing. Waypoints started at 170 and ended at 272, some were photos.

Just like the Rothes Burn the other day most of the redds were fresh. Ghillie A reported that he had seen many fish running up the burn last week, on the same days as they had been seen in the Rothes Burn. It is surprising how late the bulk of fish spawn in the Tulchan Burn? The number of redds was about half of that counted several years ago, but they were very well spaced out. At 5000 eggs/redd that is equivalent to a deposition rate of 16 eggs/m2, a nice high density that will ensure the habitat is fully saturated. I was very impressed by the Tulchan Burn, not the greatest spawning habitat but the parr habitat was the very best, no wonder it supports a high density of juvenile fish

It was good to get that count done today as I won’t have much time from now on. It was also very nice to have the company of the ghillies, we had a chance to chew the fat and I ended up the day £1 better off. To be honest I’m not really much of a gambler; I always fail to make the most of a racing certainty, if I’d been braver I might have got a days fishing on Tulchan out of that little wager!

There are 19 comments for this article
  1. Chris Excell Factor Tulchan Estate at 4:39 pm

    Had a walk up the lower Tulchan Burn this morning somewhat surprised to see a hen salmon moving gravel, obviously going to spawn couldn’t see a cock fish but the water is coloured today and no doubt he will be there somewhere, point I’m making is that it seem to be a long spawning period this year, is this normal, I would welcome your oppinion.
    Regards Chris

    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:20 am

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the report, very interesting. I understand that salmon can often be seen spawning in lower tributaries such as the Fiddich, and the mainstem, in January but that does seem late for somewhere as far upstream as the Tulchan Burn? Must be a late running fish


  2. Mel McDonald at 11:52 am

    Hi Brian

    Just catching up with your blog now and it is very pleasing to see this debate developing and to see that you are responding in many cases very fully to legitimate questions about stocking and the pros and cons of stocking above man made or impassable obstacles. From memory I think SNH were the body which finally put a stop to stocking above impassable obstacles on the Spey although I agree that there was probably a dispute with one estate over the legality of the procedure and that it may have been affecting wild trout survival.
    I am fairly certain that the considerable(now historic) stocking of fry above Spey dam was not achieved by obtaining broodstock from that immediate area. I rather think that most of these emanated from the Tulchan hatchery and who knows where the broodstock came from at that time? So what did that do for preserving genetic integrity of Spey salmon ?
    However it is negative to go back to past times as nothing can be said or done to change that. It is water under the bridge.
    Personally I tend to support the view expressed in yet another article in the P&J of 28th December that we must at all costs preserve as many fish as possible by adopting a 100% catch and release policy for spring fish. I know you support this personally from a scientific viewpoint and I think it is very unfortunate that this policy cannot be enforced throughout the Spey.
    Whilst I’m on my soapbox I think we should all be avidly waiting to hear the results of the next round of genetics due in April to establish if this information changes the current findings re the historic viability of the Spey hatchery.

    • Jock Royan at 4:57 pm

      Hi Mel,

      Do you really think that the next results from the genetic study will show anything beyond what we have already learnt? You surely appreciate that the entire genetic study has been based upon the previous stocking policy of early fed & unfed fry in a variety of densities and in areas that perhaps weren’t ideal! I for one am not expecting to learn anything different to what we have already heard, which certainly proves beyond reasonable doubt that the previous stocking policy was far from ideal. The Genetic Survey will prove that the stocking policy failed, not the hatchery.

      • Mel McDonald at 10:41 pm

        Hi Jock

        I completely take your point and agree that the next set of results will probably not tell us much more than we know already but I suppose that depends on where the samples came from and when they were collected.
        I agree with you that the previous stocking policy (fed and unfed fry) was flawed but earlier posts suggest that possible hatchery bred fish were trying to negotiate a burn further upstream this autumn so perhaps the stocking was not a total failure in all areas? We really don’t know and can’t guess but perhaps Brian would care to comment ?

        • Brian Shaw Author at 9:58 am

          Hi Mel, always happy to reply to rational comments!

          First of all I should point out that unfed fry have not been part of the stocking mix on the spey for at least 6 years, and then only in a small way. I commented on fish returning to the Advie Burn near the start of this thread; some fish invariably return from stocking programmes, I don’t think anyone has suggested otherwise, certainly not me, but the point is do any worthwhile gains outweigh the risks some of which I also referred to below?

          The samples for the genetic study were taken from rod caught fish landed throughout the river, although mainly the lower river as that is where most of the fish have been caught in recent seasons. The ultimate aim of the 2003 stocking programme was to enhance the rod catch, and the genetic study was the monitoring tool put in place to assess that programme. If stocked fish are not being found in significant numbers in what is a very large and representative sample of rod caught fish then clearly the original objectives have not been achieved (the original aim was to increase the rod catch by 8%).

          There seems to be a consensus amongst commenters on here and elsewhere that the stocking policy deployed in the past on the Spey had been flawed, although it was actually very progressive, but the “problem” as I see it is that there are few areas requiring stocking or justifying stocking. We have a relatively modest hatchery operation now, mainly for mitigation stocking in areas above man-made obstacles. We have been working hard to monitor the current stocking policy (almost exclusively 0+ parr) and trying to make that work effectively but as you will have seen from the 2012 electrofishing report salmon densities in most of the stocked sites are very low. Our current policy is to continue to monitor and refine our stocking policy within the limited (and decreasing) area where stocking can be justified or permitted.


    • Brian Shaw Author at 11:41 am

      Hi Mel,

      I am pretty sure that SNH don’t have powers to stop stocking above waterfalls at present although that may change soon. However I think they did advise against the practice when the issue was under discussion by the Spey Foundation.

      Best regards


  3. henry spence at 11:15 pm

    Hi Brian,
    I note that John Gibb of the Lochy has a letter published in the Trout and Salmon magazine stating that the annual release over the last three years of 15,000 fin clipped indigenous Lochy smolts has resulted in a 2% smolt survival rate, which means a boost to the egg population of 1 million per annum, while also already increasing the rod catch by 10%. On the basis of these pretty impressive figures there is going to be a significant increase in the number of smolts being released over the next 3 years.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    Best Regards


    • Brian Shaw Author at 11:21 am

      Hi Henry,

      Yes I saw the letter. It is an interesting trial and the 2% smolt return rate is good for stocked smolts, although in the absence of any absolute fish stock counts I’m sure a number of assumptions had to be made. Faced with the specific problems on the west coast smolt stocking is certainly a legitimate tactic and it will be interesting to see how the trial concludes. The Delphi has what appears to be a commercially successful smolt stocking programme but they have developed a line-bred ranched strain of smolts. Other work in Ireland has also shown that specific ranched strains can produce decent return rates. There are those promoting the view that this is the future for salmon in the aquaculture areas. The Lochy report on the 2012 season and the restoration efforts can be viewed here http://www.riverlochy.co.uk/downloads/

      Almost always viewed as a measure of last resort is smolt ranching the future on the Spey? Ultimately my job here is to understand the fish populations in the Spey, a river with some of the best spawning and juvenile habitat possible. Rod catches have obviously fluctuated but the fundamentals required of a salmon river are all there. We have a reasonably healthy and diverse population of naturally spawned fish throughout the river and from what I have seen in my first year on the Spey we are a long way away from requiring last resort measures. The Tay DSFB produced a review of smolt stocking which is published on their website, it’s well worth a look see http://www.tdsfb.org/documents/FAQsSmoltStocking.pdf The Lochy smolt project is mentioned.

      This is an interesting quote from the 1917 Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland “We have certainly had no adequate test of the relative returns of wild and artificially hatched smolts. If fry are liberated rather than smolts, it may be that the remnant become as capable of taking care of themselves as wild smolts, but the largest hatchery yet attempted with us –that of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon at Fochabers – has reared only a million eggs, while a varying number of the fry have been reared to the smolt stage. After 25 years’ experience, this hatchery has recently been given up for want of any proof of a definite kind that benefit has resulted to the River Spey.
      It may be that instead of one million, three or five millions should have been hatched so as to secure successful results. In any case, the chances of success would have been greater, or the results at least more obvious, but I confess to being brought up against the consideration whether or not in a hundred mile river of spawning beds like those of the Spey, with an increasing stock of fish, the continuance of artificial hatching on any scale is in any way necessary

      Not sure who the author was but it likely to have been Menzies or Calderwood, famous inspectors from that time. I may be opening up a can of worms here as we are not in an era with “an increasing stock of fish” but it is interesting to see how these things come round. If smolt stocking is ever required on the Spey then I will be recommending that course of action, lets hope we are never in that situation.

      Best regards

      Brian Shaw

  4. Jock Royan at 11:20 am

    Hi Chris,

    Interesting news regarding the fish trying to jump the waterfall. I’ve never seen the obstacle however if it’s impassable then we could say with a degree of confidence that they were hatchery stocked fish. There might well be a scientific viewpoint to counteract that, however just imagine how many more fish might have been trying to jump those falls and indeed other similar obstacles if a little more thought had gone into the previous stocking policy.

    Perhaps more postive information on the hatchery success might in some way act as a balance against the more negative opinion highlighted in the genetic survey and indeed to an extent through Brian’s Blog.

    Kindest regards,

    Jock Royan

    • Brian Shaw Author at 10:28 am

      Hi Jock,

      I’d agree that it is highly likely that the fish seen at the waterfall were from the stocking. I haven’t looked at the upper reaches of that particular burn but as it flows from the Cromdale Hills I have no doubt that it will provide excellent habitat, although naturally inaccessible to fish due to the waterfall. It’s no surprise that some of the stocked fish made it back, every hatchery I have been involved with has had a few fish returning back to the outlet pipe. It is probably worth pointing out that the stocking policy on the Spey has been reviewed a number of times and there has a decision taken to move away from stocking above impassable waterfalls a number of years ago, although there are one or two location where it still occurs.


      • GRAHAM SALISBURY (SRG) at 11:28 am

        Hi Brian, do you know why the decision was taken to stop stocking above inaccessible areas? To me that seems the optimum location to use the hatchery produce, providing the habitat is correct and stocking densities are appropriate.

        • Brian Shaw Author at 4:35 pm

          Hi Graham,

          The decision predates me here on the Spey but my understanding is that the decision was based on:
          1) potential impacts on existing biodiversity in burns above impassable waterfalls, e.g. trout populations, which may contribute to the Spey migratory trout pool,
          2) advice from regulators, e.g. SNH, especially as the Spey is an SAC for salmon
          and 3) concern regarding detrimental impacts when returning stocked fish spawn with local wild fish.

          You could add to that the unsustainability of stocking above impassable waterfalls, ethical questions about returning stocked fish trying to leap over impassable waterfalls and the removal of broodstock from their intended spawning destination and loss of production within natural range of salmon in the Spey.


          • GRAHAM SALISBURY (SRG) at 9:49 pm

            Brian just in response to your reply I have cut and pasted part of an article by Michael Wigan from a recent edition of The Scottish Sporting Gazette.
            ‘The arguments against hatcheries favoured primarily by RAFTS, include the claim that wild fish spawn more successfully than propagated fish, that hatcheries produce competitors with wild fish and might harm them, and that they are an interference with natural cycles. The proponents of a hatchery free world are easily stumped: when the Mersey was recently cleaned up, salmon suddenly reappeared. What salmon? DNA from 37 different salmon populations was identified in the fish that repopulated the river; these salmon had found a new colony without a prompt from anyone.
            In the last century, hatcheries cavalierly intermixed river stocks with no evident harm. That point is seldom addressed. If hatchery youngsters are put in rivers above impassable falls where wild salmon cannot reach, they are not in competition. They do nothing to the food supply of wild fish. By the time they become smolts and run down the rivers they are seeking the sea not competing with other smolts. Intelligently –run hatcheries replicate natural conditions , produce survivalist fighting , and protect young salmon for part of their lives during which , on the wild a heavy toll is taken.’
            Brian there are too many worldwide examples of well-run hatcheries being used successfully for you or The Board to openly disregard their consideration as a tool in the successful restoration and management of a river system. Please don’t allow yourself to become blinkered to the opportunities which so many others are keeping an open mind on for the benefit of the majority.

          • Brian Shaw Author at 12:26 pm

            Hi Graham,

            Just a couple points concerning stocking above waterfalls. It seems a logical thing to do and to be honest I have done quite a bit of it myself in the past. However things move on and in this day and age when fishery boards are under scrutiny like never before (re: article in papers last week concerning fishery board management of spring stocks) we should be seen as presenting a coherent argument. People will often see themselves as taking polarised views when in actual fact the issue under debate is part of a continuum. For example if someone applied to stock barbel in the Spey the Foundation and Fishery Board would rightly object, on the grounds that they don’t belong there and that their introduction would harm the native flora and fauna. Some view stocking with salmon above naturally impassable waterfalls in the same light. I am aware of at least two occasions from the past when stocking above waterfalls in the Spey catchment resulted in conflict. Once with a private estate and the other when the stocking took place on an estate owned by one of the big charitable organisations. If we are going to be credible then it is important to act consistently.

            The wildlife and Natural Environment Act (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/InvasiveSpecies/legislation ) refers to potential new offence: “It will be an offence to release or allow to escape from captivity any animal to a place outwith its native range”. From what I hear it is quite likely that stocking with salmon above impassable waterfalls will fall into that category once the legislation has been passed.

            The second is that for Michael Wigan’s point about reduced competition above waterfalls to hold true we must assume that the habitat below the waterfall, i.e. in accessible parts of the catchment are fully occupied otherwise there is little to be gained by removing fish and stocking above a waterfall. It would be nice to think that was the case on the Spey but I haven’t heard you making that argument.

          • Simon Crozier at 8:30 pm

            hi Brian, i read with interest your response to Mr Salisburys question regarding the stocking of fish above obstacles etc,my question refers to your response to his first question on the subject,”3)concern regarding detrimental impacts when returning stocked fish spawn with local wild fish” jf the brood fish have( as was the method at the time) been captured from the burn that the fry/parr were then returned to what would be the detrimental impact? surely the fish would be of the same genetic strain?? the only differance being that they had been reared initially in the hatchery as opposed to the river.I understand the arguement for not taking the broodstock from said tributary in the first place, but i am struggling to understand in what way fish sourced in the way mentioned above(the preffered method) would have a detrimental effect, cheers Simon.

          • Brian Shaw Author at 9:37 am

            Hi Simon,

            Are/Were the broodstock always taken from a particular location and stocked back into the same place? I don’t think so. In reality fish stocked, for a variety of reasons, often don’t originate from the immediate vicinity. But you are right, taking broodstock from as close as possible to the stocking location is the logical and recommended practice where stocking is deemed necessary. That should minimise the risk of fish poorly adapted for that area interfering with the native stock structure. The other point is that fish from the immediate vicinity may be genetically similar at the outset but the selection process in the hatchery is quite different to that occurring in the wild. I am a biologist and I have a strong belief in the natural way of things. Nature is a relentless selection process but that is to a large extent bypassed in the hatchery. Under our current stocking practice by the autumn we have 90% of the population in the hatchery still alive rather than 90% of the weakest whittled out in the wild.

            Recent research has also shown that the subsequent breeding success of stocked fish in the wild is significantly lower than from wild fish. One paper quotes reprductive success of two stocked fish as being 37% of that of wild fish and a wild/stocked cross producing 87% relative to two wild origin fish. These figures were for steelhead but these are the risks that need to be considered.

            In a healthy river I want to find high fry numbers, good habitat and nature taking its course. Based on what I have seen this year we have high fry numbers throughout much of the catchment; this is not a bad situation to be in.


  5. Chris Excell Factor Tulchan Estate at 12:44 pm

    Dear Brian
    A much better result, shows what a difference a week makes in the world of Salmon, and it just goes to show how late and how quickly the fish are up this burn. Just one other observation, at the weekend I saw several fish trying to jump up the waterfall under the A95 road road bridge at Advie, obviously fish that had been released as fry in the inaccessible area above this natural obstacle, you have to admire their determination to return to the release point.
    Chris Excell

    • Brian Shaw Author at 1:31 pm

      Hi Chris,
      Given what appears to be quite late spawning for this part of the Spey the assumption could be made that these are largely summer fish spawning in the burn now rather than spring fish. I should have taken some scales from dead fish yesterday to see if we could establish what time of year they entered the river, although the scales on spawning are often too eroded for reading with any confidence.
      I also saw fish spawning in the main stem in beats B & C, although moderate numbers only.
      Best regards

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