Farming irrigation concern

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MEANDERING our way (okay, driving around vaguely lost!) along the myriad of narrow back roads of the Mearns and Angus countryside last week, I was struck by the sheer number of irrigation sprays arcing huge volumes of water across the fields under an unrelenting sun.

Coming from agricultural stock (admittedly rather tenuously via the ancestral Souter line of our family who farmed at Clatt in 1727!), I can understand the need to keep crops such as potatoes reasonably well watered, but on the other hand, I have a lifelong concern for vulnerable wildlife (mainly but not necessarily of the aquatic variety) which may go unnoticed in the great scheme of things.

A few years ago, the Stoney fishing club took a similarly tortuous route through a paper minefield when it successfully applied to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for a CAR (ie Controlled Activities Regulations) Licence to authorise it to replace a hugely inefficient dogleg fishpass on the River Cowie’s Intake Pool weir, as part of a project which is still ongoing after 10 years of hard graft and the overcoming of a series of unexpected administrative obstacles from a number of directions. This complex but essential SEPA licensing process places a sensible obligation on we anglers to protect the river environment during the actual construction phase there.

The very same legislation - the “Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011” - also encompasses farming irrigation, to ensure that farmers pay a fee to cover monitoring by SEPA officials of the very same river, burn and ditch environment from which they may be sucking up precious water for their own purposes. I was interested to read that the typical irrigation pump will abstract 1200 cubic metres per day, which is equivalent to the average daily water used by 6000 people! Or as Jim McColl describes it, in order to feed a crop with the equivalent of just half an inch of natural rainfall, the farmer must apply two and a half gallons of water per square yard. That’s an awful lot of precious liquid from that wide range of watercourses, at the very time when wild fish stocks are struggling to survive in bare-bones overheated drought conditions.

Put another way, carefully minimalising the amount of abstracted water may partially reduce the economic value of one crop in one year, whereas needlessly (or even uncaringly?) maximising that volume of abstracted water may have a fatal impact on up to four separate year-classes of juvenile salmon and seatrout, ie a serious four-year impact, courtesy of just one episode of over-use. Natural watercourses are living entities in their own right and not simply a convenient water supply, and their ongoing health should be a concern for all users. Okay, my hard hat is on and I’ll await the flak.

In between conquering Munro peaks with her remarkable 80-year-old father, my good friend Fiona the Vet does apparently work from time to time. She must do, as she has asked me to issue a timeous caution to pet owners that dogs can suffer just as much from dehydration as their human companions when out in the open air in hot weather. So when you take a sup from a tinkling highland burn (preferably above and not below that rotting deer carcase), make sure that your canine pal gets the same opportunity!

UP at the SDAA’s own Crossley Quarry trout fishery, club secretary Davie Anderson reports the perimeter path near to the entrance gates literally awash with infant amphibians (toads and frogs) dispersing into their new dry-land environment. Indeed, they are there in such numbers that squashing many of them underfoot is sadly unavoidable. Curiously, I heard that at another pond not far removed from Crossley, this year’s production line is still at the legless tadpole stage, possibly because the water there is at a much cooler temperature and inhibiting growth. “Tight Lines”