Trout breeding burn damage leads to fines

Brown trout breeding grounds were damaged.
Brown trout breeding grounds were damaged.

Fines totalling more than £7000 have been imposed on a tenant farmer and contractor whose unauthorised dredging had a ‘significant detrimental effect’ on the ecosystem in a Milnathort burn.

Perth Sheriff Court heard how Charles Wellwood, of Hattonburn Farm, failed to consult the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) before instructing Kelty-based John Meiklem Drainage Contractors Ltd. to carry out a programme of drainage work aimed at alleviating the risk of flooding on agricultural land.

The work led to the damage of protected brown trout breeding grounds and habitats in the Hatton Burn, also known as the Burleigh Burn, which is one of the main feeder streams of Loch Leven, an important trout fishery.

The stream is designated as a special protection area, a site of scientific interest and an internationally designated wetlands site.

Wellwood and the contractor pleaded guilty to an offence under the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act and were fined £3400 and £3750 respectively.

The court heard that the work, which took place between November 14 and 19, 2012, involved using heavy plant machinery to dredge the waterway, fell trees and rip up bankside vegetation.

Patrick Hughes, procurator fiscal for wildlife and environment, said ‘no professional advice or authorisation’ was sought for the work.

“As a result, there was a significant detrimental effect on the habitat, which may have a long-lasting effect,” he said.

SEPA officers were alerted to the incident by the concerns of a local resident, who believed that the burn might be seriously damaged by the engineering work. Following investigation, SEPA found nearly 128 metres of the Hatton Burn’s river bed had been removed, along with sections of the river bank and natural vegetation which is crucial to the ecology of the watercourse.

On closer inspection, it was also discovered that protected habitats and breeding grounds for local brown trout and invertebrate species had (at the time of the offence) been damaged, in addition to recently laid brown trout eggs.

Carla Ward, Reporting Officer from SEPA, said: “Lowering the bed of a watercourse can have a significant impact on the environment and in many cases will only result in a short term solution for flood risk.

“Had SEPA been approached for authorisation prior to work commencing, much of the damage caused to the Hatton Burn could have been avoided, including the impact on spawning fish.”