THE RIVER TYNE (East Lothian)






Visit undertaken by Ron Holloway   MIFM

July 9th 2004




           River Tyne below Birns Water confluence.










Magdalenehall Farm

St Boswells


Scottish Borders



Tel 01835 824387







This sponsored  Advisory visit was undertaken by Ron Holloway (RH Associates) on behalf of the Wild Trout Trust in the company of Hugh Dignon (Organiser of visit). David Elder (Secretary ELAA) and  officers and members of the Association, Archie Richmond, David Connell, John Proctor, Tony Hawkins and Brian Davidson (Member) but attending on behalf of the Association of Salmon Fisheries Boards (ASFB).



To identify any limiting factors that may be controlling the survival of the resident population of wild brown trout and to suggest any actions that can or should be taken to protect, maintain, enhance or restore habit for the welfare of self sustaining species of salmonids both resident and migratory.   To suggest a outline framework for establishing a ongoing integrated management plan for the  Association to work from in the future.   To assist in the formulation of a management plan which will also be used as essential evidence to demonstrate the objectives of the Association in their negotiations for longer-term leases with riparian owners.  This plan is required to ensure the vital security of tenure of  the waters now under the Associations present control.   Not until these longer-term leases have been negotiated should any major investments be made in implementing any long-term plans. i.e.  Aim for an absolute minimum of five year leases with 10 year or more if and where negotiable.  Legal advice in the drawing up of all leases is recommended to be taken to safeguard against any future problems that may arise with owners particularly where land ownership changes hands. 



The River Tyne rises in the Moorfoot Hills and runs for thirty miles northeast through the county town of Haddington entering the sea at Tyningham just north of Dunbar.   The East Lothian Angling Association control 25miles of this river and its feeder burns.    The river catchment is now predominantly agricultural with grazing and arable lands along the banks.   Some stretches are heavily wooded and shaded. Dredging has been done in the lower reaches over the years and substantial flood berms have been constructed leaving the river to run through a deeply incised channel.   The catchment suffered from heavy industrialisation with coal mining and heavy engineering and textile factories works polluting the river for many years.    Since the demise of heavy industry and coal mining the river has naturally struggled to return itself to its former state. Substrates range from well-sorted gravels to cobble and medium rocks with base rock appearing in places.  Gravels are not compacted but quite high levels of silt deposits may be one of the controlling factors in controlling egg and fry survival in natural spawning.   Water quality is improving but land drainage, agricultural runoffs and sewer outfalls and diffuse pollution still give cause for concern.   Recent invert studies show that the insect life is recovering and diversity of species is also widening with May Fly (E.Danica) being the latest observed arrival.  Recent electro fishing surveys indicate that there is a resident population of self-sustaining wild brown trout, sea trout and a “remnant” population of Atlantic salmon.   Brown trout fishing is popular and annual stocking of 2000 catchable brown trout is undertaken.    Anecdotal evidence indicates that there is an improving run of large sea trout into the river and the odd salmon are seen below the weirs.   Fly life activity and diversity appears to vary markedly from year to year, which suggests that the river does still suffer from intermittent chronic pollution events.   The river Tyne is a recovering river which has great potential as a wild brown trout fishery and for   increasing runs of sea trout and salmon as the habitat conditions and access for migratory fish are improved by the ELAA.   Nature will do its part but the process of natural improvement will be speeded up considerably by the implementation of the upcoming well-constructed long-term management plans of the ELAA.



















The river was visited from Spilmersford Bridge downstream.

The first observation made at the confluence of the Birnes water with the Tyne indicated that this burn is seriously blocked with woody debris at its mouth, which considerably restricts access upstream to any spawning fish.   These debris dams (see below) need to be removed.


Debris Dam, Birns Water


It is suggested that all the main potential spawning burns should be surveyed to identify all the debris dams that need to be removed.  This work will be an annual job, but once done it will be much easier each year to keep them clear.

Further more along this area there is considerable over shading by mature deciduous trees.    If any clearing is to be done consideration has to be given to gaining permission from the land owner and in obtaining a felling licence.   Where any tree clearing, pollarding or coppicing is undertaken to let light into a stretch of river then a ratio of 60: 40 is recommended.   That is 60% light and 40% shade.





At this site the riverbanks have been heavily grazed and the river channel affords little adult fish holding cover.    

To address these problems firstly plant a selection of natural imported rock clusters in a random placement within the middle third of the river channel.  These clusters will give added holding cover for fish and aid a certain amount of scouring to deepen the areas around each set of rocks to form more holding cover.   For ease of handling a good guide of size is a “two man rock” which takes two men to lift and handle with ease.   It is stressed to place these rocks within the middle third of the channel, this will prevent any bank erosion if rocks are placed near to the riverbanks. Place rocks to be just (1”) out of the water at  mean base flow levels.  

The heavily grazed banks should be planted up with willow saplings at intervals of 10 yards approx.   The banks being fenced off from grazing animals ideally should protect these plantings.    Where fencing is done, access for animals to drink is essential and the siting of access points should be discussed with the farmer.



The feeder stream and the mainstem along this stretch is drastically short of in stream holding cover so a series of random placed rock clusters should be placed within the middle third of the river channel.   The riverbanks are also almost bereft of vegetation through over grazing so these banks should be fenced off.    There is good holding areas within the deeper waters within the back up area upstream of the weir.



This stretch is in excellent order and it exhibits the entire right habitat and balances of cover for wild fish so nothing but protection is required here.   Healthy river weed affords excellent cover for trout and habitat for aquatic insects. Tree density is about right.



This stretch appears to hold more sea trout than brown trout but there is no obvious reason for this other than the browns have been hammered by over fishing.



In my opinion all of the weirs looked at during my visit  had fish passes (of sorts!) within them which  allowed migratory fish to pass over them  only when water levels were high.  I believe that these weirs between them do severely restrict any regular upstream movement of fish at medium and at summer mean base  flow levels.  This in itself will cause the migratory fish to either congregate below these weirs in low flows or return to the sea.


The Cascades

 Congregations of fish below these weirs will only encourage the poachers to predate on these captive fish!    Properly designed,  sited and constructed fish passes are very expensive to install.   However serious consideration should be given to obtaining the right advice on fish pass siting and planning and construction that also includes costing.

It is understood that a new fish ladder was installed on the Tyne during 2002. See Forth Fisheries Foundation Annual Report 2002/2003. It is suggested that the Association contacts Dr Colin Bull the Executive Director and Biologist for the Trust and discus with him what action can be taken regarding any future fish pass construction on the Tyne catchment.



The river Tyne in East Lothian is a naturally improving system that is recovering from the detrimental effects of many years of heavy industry and coal mining within its catchment.    The general water quality throughout the system is good and samplings indicate A1 to B2 quality.    This is underlined by recent invertebrate sampling that show an acceptable but improving  diversity of insect species.   Fish samples indicate improving wild brown trout survival from spawning in the headwater areas. 

The priorities of the East Lothian Angling Association has to be initially, to produce a well thought out five, or more preferably  ten year management plan that will address all the problem areas discussed above.   Before any major investment in time or money is made to commence the implementation of any part of this plan, full security of tenure of all the waters has to be negotiated with all the riparian owners who lease waters to the Association.  A planned course of action for the years to come will give the Association power to its elbow in its initial negotiations with the riparian owners. This action plan will show to the land owners  clearly that the Associations intentions to protect, maintain and improve the habitats and waters of the river Tyne will also be of benefit to them as it will improve the value of their property.  In order to impart more impetus (clout!) into the content of the management plan it is recommended that the ELAA discusses and takes further advice on the content with all of the following organisations.  The Forth Fisheries Foundation, The Forth Salmon Fisheries Board, SEPA,  SNH,  The Wild trout Trust and FWAG.  To have the plan endorsed by all these groups will show to your landowners that the plan is sound and has the support of all these well-respected organisations.  This in turn will surely help the Association to negotiate suitable long-term leases. Furthermore it is strongly suggested that the Association should invite all these groups around a table at the same time to agree and discuss the action plan and this may  also be an opportunity to get some financial backing from each organisation.   In this regard I am confident that the WTT (Wild Trout Trust) would look very favourably towards “seed corn” funding the action plans that may trigger financial responses from the other groups.

To give some guidance as to the content of an action plan the following subjects can be considered. These points are not necessarily in order of priority.



1.      Attain long term security of tenure.

2.      Identify all riverbanks that are open and  heavily grazed, with a view to fencing off.   Discuss  and take advice on fencing and replanting of indigenous riparian vegetation  from the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG). The river is lowland in character and the intensive agricultural land uses within the catchment do create the discharge of high levels of nutrients in the form of phosphorus and nitrogen.  Therefore buffer zones between the waters edge and the ploughed crop fields are required to mitigate the effects of the run off of all these toxic nutrients. These nutrients are the cause of filamentous algae blooms in the river at low water times in hot weather.

3.      Identify all spawning burns and instigate an annual program of monitoring these burns for debris dam removal to improve and maintain access by spawning fish.

4.      Identify river reaches that  are over shaded and develop a program of tree thinning to achieve a 60:40 open and shade.

5.      Investigate the potential for improving the efficiency of all the fish passes on all the weirs.

6.      Identify all the river channels that require adult fish cover enhancement with random placed rocks.

7.      Discuss the plans with the Forth Foundation and Salmon Fishery Board. et al

8.      Discuss plans with the area biologist from SEPA 

9.      Develop and draw up a planning map of all the waters leased by the Association and identify and mark all the problem areas and prioritise designated work action areas. i.e. Weirs, overshaded areas, fencing areas, planting areas, instream cover enhancement, etc etc From this a manageable annual work program can be established.   Remember to do a little work well rather than a lot poorly!!!

10.  Maintain records of all work undertaken so mistakes are not repeated!

11.  Make catch records a priority and develop methods of encouraging members to complete accurate catch returns. 

12.  Consideration could be given to reducing stocking i.e reduce catchables to about 500 but include 4000 yearlings (3-4 inch) to see if they adapt to the system and grow on. Either clipping off the adipose fin or panjetted with a readily observed colour spot should mark these yearlings. This will give a good indication of the survival from stocking through to catchable size.   Accurate catch records are required and are most essential to monitor this exercise. These fish to be seeded out in the upper regions of the system where little fishing is done. As these fish grow they will tend to migrate to the lower regions of the river. It is also suggested again that the stocking of the catchables be done in the higher regions of the system for the  reason of reducing the over exploitation just after stocking.  Also keep the stocking dates and  sites “confidential”!! 

13.  Monitoring of the potential spawning burns at the back end of the year to identify active spawning areas which may need enhancement or further protection.

14.  Identify avenues of funding that may be available for assisting in any expensive work.  

15.  It is essential to establish and maintain a good rapport with all the riparian owners and keep them informed regularly (twice a year at least) by a newsletter on all work planned, or completed and or progress report on work in hand, be the work on their land or not!  Once the Association can show clearly what its objectives are and what in fact it can and is doing to improve things and is businesslike in its operations then offers of assistance both practical and monetary may/will come from some very surprising sources.

16.  To raise local awareness and encourage good community co-operation and involvement then invite all the Hotels and B&B’s locally to support the Association and for the Association in return to promote the use of the  local hotels and B&B’s by local and visiting anglers via e.g adverts in the Association brochure.

17.  Arrange for regular surveys to be undertaken that monitor invert populations and diversity.   Have surveys done to monitor any changes in fish densities.  It is essential to measure the effects of all the work that is done.   Discuss this with SEPA and the Fisheries Board/Foundation.

18.  Review and possible revise upwards the fishing charges to a more economical level.

19.  As and when the fishery improves then poaching will increase in proportion if policing is not strengthened. It’s the nature of the beast!   Discuss with your advisors from the Fishery Board and the Foundation ways and means to improve the policing of the fishery.   Easy to say but difficult to implement but the problem has to be addressed.!   Experience has taught me that one good well reported prosecution of a known poacher will usually get the word about the poaching fraternity that it is getting too risky to poach the Tyne! Poaching will never be eradicated completely but good policing will reduce the illegal fishing to more tolerable levels.


It must be remembered that all the recommendations made in this report are focused on the wild brown trout habitats and management. What ever the nature of any work suggested or  undertaken in the future it will also be of equal benefit to the sea trout and Atlantic salmon populations of the river Tyne.

In my opinion the River Tyne has great potential to become a self sustaining wild brown trout fishery although some form of stocking may be required in the short term if larger brown trout are expected to feature in catch returns.    As the conditions and access for fish  improves aided by the Associations work then the sea trout population will further improve as will the salmon.   Consideration must therefore be given to planning for the future allocation (marketing?) of the sea trout and salmon fishing in the years to come.   Wherever negotiations are made to acquire longer leases on waters some gentle, discrete and diplomatic enquiries can be made to ascertain who owns the salmon rights on each stretch and whether the renewed lease could also include the salmon rights.   This would go a long way to protect the entire angling resource of the Tyne for the Association and more importantly for future generations of local and visiting anglers. Healthy migratory fish resources can be of great added value to property owners but only as and when these resources can be shown to be prolific.   The Associations plans will eventually achieve this improvement so it too should also share the benefits from all its own good and hard work.

Finally, when the long-term management plan is agreed and set down, the Association with the aid of its advisors, will then be in a position to be officially consulted by the planners. Consultation with the planners will be essential on any future development plans within the Tyne catchment.  The Association with its qualified opinion, will then be able to identify, comment and advise on any adverse impacts that “planning” may have upon the quality of the entire aquatic environment. 

 I wish the Association all success in its objectives.  


   Ron Holloway  MIFM