A dedicated bunch of volunteers gather together during early November to pull on their dry suits and head off over frost-covered, mist-shrouded fields to the Penkiln Burn; for a new year is just beginning for the River Cree Hatchery and Habitat Trust. These autumnal exploits have one purpose: to catch broodstock for the hatchery so that salmon eggs can be collected, fertilised, hatched and grown before being reintroduced into the same water the broodstock were temporarily removed from.
Back at the hatchery, the broodstock are transferred to named holding tanks to make sure they and the subsequent fry are released back into their home waters. The egg-stripping and milt-gathering is done by trained volunteers and, once the two are mixed, the eggs are transferred to the stainless steel trays, their home for the next few months. After stripping, the hens and cock fish are returned to the holding tanks to recover before being taken back and released in the place they were caught.
Prior to the release programme, the hatchery holds a well-attended open day in April where visitors are shown around, and the various stages of collecting, stripping and hatching are explained.
The Trust has developed a warm relationship with local youth groups, such as Beaver and Cubs units which are invited to the hatchery on a regular basis to see the Trust’s work. Children, groups and volunteers are invited to help with the monitored and supervised release of the several hundred thousand fry to make sure they have the best chance of survival once introduced to the local catchment area.
The work of the Trust doesn’t stop when the fry are released, its attention turns to making sure the habitat surrounding the waterways is capable of maintaining a solid environmental structure so returning salmon can navigate the waterways safely.
The River Cree Hatchery and Habitat Trust has also developed a roadshow incorporating several points of interest, photographs and videos that it takes around the local events and agricultural shows explaining the work it does.
The hatching time of the eggs is very much dependent on temperature and can take anywhere between six and 12 weeks before the fry wriggle out of the egg. They emerge with an egg sack which provides them with food in the short term and, when this is used up, automatic feeding takes over.
During the next three to four months, the fry grow and develop quickly until the time comes for their release into the local catchment waters of the River Cree. Meticulous records ensure the fry are returned into the appropriate stretch of water.
The driving force behind the Trust is a group of individuals headed by hatchery manager Murdo Crosbie, who is always available to explain the history behind the Trust, the welfare and conservation of the Atlantic salmon stocks and the vision for the future. The Trust follows a code of conduct and is keen to foster the advancement of education, environmental protection and improvement, animal welfare, culture and science, community development and the promotion of volunteering.
As a registered charity, the Trust relies on contributions to the cause and one of its main fundraising events is the annual barn dance at Barnkirk Sawmill. This year it is on Saturday, June 1. All are welcome … and there won’t be a mention of