Crieff High School Group

The Crieff High School group have been out again carrying carrying out practical management of the heathland by removing scrub and saplings from it.

During the session we talked about why Heathland is an important habitat within Scotland in terms of carbon storage and supporting a wide range of species, to find out more information please follow the link: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1432.

The group were using tree poppers to remove scrub from the heathland. The tree poppers remove the tree or shrub by the roots meaning it is significantly less likely to regenerate and removes the need to return to areas and continually cut.

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The other benefit of this method is it disrupts the soil and allows new communities of plants to be introduced.

The group talked about the activities they enjoyed from last year and what they didn’t enjoy and this will be incorporated in to John Muir Award.

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John Muir Award at The Knock of Crieff

The Knock © Perthshire Picture AgencyI have recently had the opportunity to work with pupils from our local school who are working towards their John Muir Award 

The group have taken part in activities from kayaking, to rock climbing and they are now entering the conservation phase of their Award.

To aid this I took the group to the Knock in Crieff to carry out some bracken bashing and heathland management.   During the day the group learned that it was important to control the bracken on the Knock as it shrouds out new tree growth and also prevents ground flora.  On their second visit they learned about the heathland – a priority habitat for biodiversity as there is so little left in the United Kingdom.

Both days included ‘citizen science’ to measure the air quality of the site which was then fed in to a national recording scheme through the Open Air Laboratories (https://www.opalexplorenature.org/surveys).

If you have a group who are carrying out the John Muir Award and are looking for some support please contact your local Greenspace Ranger

Salmon in Our Classroom

by Primary 7 at St Madoes Primary School

On Tuesday the 2nd February, our salmon eggs arrived in the classroom. We had been given the tank the day before along with a presentation detailing how to care for our salmon eggs and an explanation of the life cycle of the Atlantic salmon.  Our eggs were transported by Mr Montgomery who was a Perth and Kinross Countryside Ranger; he was the expert who was guiding us through this wonderful process. Moreover he helped us to look after and care for our salmon eggs by phoning the school every single day to check our water temperature readings and to see if we had any problems. He was really enthusiastic about the project and he even came to fix the leak in the tank!  We really enjoyed having Mr Montgomery helping us as he was very friendly which made the project more enjoyable.

We had a month with our salmon in our classroom, where we had to check the water temperature 4 times a day as well as looking for mortalities. The temperature needed to remain under 10°C preferably about 7°C. We saw the salmon eyed eggs transform into alevins (these are the newly hatched salmon with yolk sacks) during this time.

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Sadly we had to release our alevins into Annaty Burn because their yolk sacks were running out of food. The alevins were turning into fry and needed to have a source of small water organisms or insects to feed on. We carried out fascinating field tests in order to make sure that the water was safe for the alevins to be released in to.  The field tests involved testing the PH level of the water, the speed of the water flow, the depth of the water where we would release our alevins, the temperature of the water and the water purity.  Mr Montgomery and Mrs Whyte (also a Perth and Kinross Countryside Ranger) led us in our field tests.

We also had a trip to the Tay Salmon Hatchery at Almondbank. There we were introduced to different members of staff who explained what their jobs involved in great depth.  Steve, the Hatchery manager, took us into a small cold room that contained 136 trays.  Each tray contained 5 000 salmon eggs or alevins that were checked daily for mortalities.  Steve also cared for grilse salmon that were kept in large tanks that looked like big round baths.  Steve had to train the wild salmon to eat in fresh water by hand feeding them with individual prawns on a large stick before moving them on to a special mix that he created and made daily.  We were fortunate enough to witness a salmon eating a prawn a sight that most people will never see.

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Craig, a bailiff, regularly patrolled the River Tay and its tributaries to make sure that anglers had the correct permits to fish there. He would also go around the rivers at night searching for poachers.  Craig showed us equipment that poachers used to catch salmon as well as the specialist equipment that he used to catch them red handed.  This consisted of a camouflaged suit, a variety of cameras, night vision binoculars and scopes.  He told us that he works closely with the local police and has the power to arrest poachers.  We think that it is pretty cool!

Mike, a marine biologist specialising in fish, showed us fry and smolt that had been caught in the River Almond that morning. He presented us with a ‘stunning’ device that looked like a huge and heavy metal detector which he explained was used to electro-fish.  This is where an electrical current is pulsed through the water for a few seconds and any fish in this area are temporarily stunned making them easy to catch with a net (This does not harm the fish).

Lastly we met Dr David Summers, the fisheries director, who talked us through a video of how they caught and transported the wild salmon from a variety of Highland Perthshire rivers back to the Almondbank hatchery. This was a very hard and laborious process as it was in a very cold and isolated environment.  He also discussed how they restock the tributaries of the River Tay with salmon eggs and alevins as well as the process involved in this.

The salmon project has been a wonderful experience and one that we would recommend to all primary school classes to take part in.