Fishing in the burn, with phasers set to stun

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Much as I enjoy the natural wonders shown on Springwatch, there’s nothing like getting out into the great outdoors with a group of local experts, to really appreciate our local wildlife.

That’s just what I did recently, to try and learn about a fascinating world which is hidden from our view for most of the time.

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We all know the beauties of the River Tweed, with its abundant birdlife and glorious riverside wild flowers, but how much do we know about what is going on beneath the surface of the water?

The Central Borders Members Group of the Scottish Wildlife Trust teamed up with the Tweed Foundation to demonstrate the aquatic life found in the River Tweed and one of its tributaries the Glenkinnon Burn, enlisting the latter group’s senior biologist Dr Ronald Campbell to share his vast knowledge of freshwater life and electro-fishing expert Kenny Galt, the foundation’s trout and grayling biologist.

Seeing pictures of fish is not nearly as interesting as seeing them live, but how do you catch them to order without harming them? The answer is electro-fishing, which involves wading through the water with a powerful battery on your back, connected to a hand-held pole with a ring on the end. In the other hand is another pole with a sieve taped to the end.

The ring is inserted into the water and a charge released which attracts small fish, stunning them momentarily, allowing them to be scooped up with the sieve and popped into a bucket of water.

Special training and a licence is required as it can be dangerous. In no time at all, Dr Ron had an array of aquatic creatures in glass jars, laid out on a trestle table ready for his deliberations.

There were one and two-year-old trout and salmon and some only a few weeks old, also “Bessie Beardies” (a kind of loach), eels and lampreys. It was amazing to hear the complicated life cycle of the trout and salmon and the eels, which is still shrouded in mystery (no-one has ever seen one laying eggs in the wild).

The tiny eel-like lampreys, which live most of their lives deep in silt and mud without any eyes, really captured the imagination.

To top it all, Kenny told the group that he would go and get an adult trout to show us. We thought another high tech gizmo would be employed, but he appeared with a trout rod and fly and within five minutes had a lovely plump brown trout swimming around in a bucket.

The demonstration was free and open to all comers and those who dragged themselves away from the box were rewarded by a truly fascinating evening.