Scotland’s rarest fish finds safe haven in southern loch

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A small freshwater fish, whose habitat had reduced to just two locations in England, is successfully surviving following its introduction to Loch Skeen near Moffat.

Conservation charity, The National Trust for Scotland, has been working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and experts from the University of Glasgow to establish a thriving population of the fish in the loch, which sits in the Trust’s Grey Mare’s Tail nature reserve.

Monitoring of the fish at Loch Skeen over the summer has revealed that the population has established itself well enough for breeding to take place and significant numbers of the fish to be evident.

The first vendace were introduced to the loch in the 1990s, with the stock coming from Cumbria. At that point the only stable population of the fish was in Derwent Water and 110 lochs in south-west Scotland were assessed to find the right place to establish a ‘safeguard site’ for the species.

Richard Clarkson, Property Manager at Grey Mare’s Tail, said:

“Vendace are our rarest freshwater fish. They have sadly disappeared from other lochs, mainly due to pollution affecting the water quality but also from the introduction of other fish species that would eat their eggs or the fish themselves. The species was extinct in Scotland before they were introduced to Loch Skeen, so it’s great that the Trust has been able to help them out.”

Lindsay Mackinlay, the Trust’s Nature Conservation Adviser said:

“Loch Skeen was chosen because it had all the features vendace need to thrive. It was the right size and depth and holds no predatory fish such as pike or perch and its water quality suits the species. The loch is also remote, accessed by a steep mountain path so it remains relatively undisturbed.

“But there is always an element of uncertainty when a project like this reintroduction takes place. With species like vendace, it’s not just a simple case of plopping a few fish and eggs into a loch and abracadabra, there they are! You need a team of highly trained and experienced fish ecologists along with the support of key partners, before such a reintroduction will work. In this case, the vendace had just such a support network, and the monitoring work has confirmed that the vendace are doing just fine in the loch.”

Professor Colin Bean, a senior adviser on freshwater fish conservation with SNH, added:

“The introduction of vendace to Loch Skeen has been a significant conservation success story and, although we already knew that the species had successfully established within the loch, there is always a need to check on their progress. We are, therefore, delighted to confirm that the population is in good health. This is clearly helped by the sympathetic management which Loch Skeen receives from NTS, and there is nothing to suggest that this population will not continue to thrive there.” 

The species is just one to benefit from the Trust’s vital work to conserve and promote Scotland’s heritage. The charity is also involved in work to protect plant, insect, bird and animal species all over the country.

Loch Skeen lies about 10 miles to the north-east of Moffat and is part of the Grey Mare's Tail nature reserve, managed by the National Trust for Scotland. The loch’s waters feed the 60m high waterfall which is the fifth highest in the UK.

The nature reserve is a superb example of a hanging valley, and is noted for its rare upland plants and wildlife. Other highlights of the reserve are White Coomb (821m/2,694ft) the highest hill in Dumfriesshire and also the Tail Burn ‘fort’, an Iron Age earthwork. Although it has long been known as the ‘Giant’s Grave’ it is not a burial mound, and may be defensive or perhaps even a ritual site.

The project was funded equally by NTS and SNH.