Selkirk doctor’s account of ‘fishy skulduggery’

For centuries the townsfolk of Selkirk enjoyed the right to fish for salmon from the banks of the River Ettrick as it flowed through town.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 10:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 10:36 am
Dr Lindsay Neil with his book on the fight to win back fishing rights for Souters.

But that treasured right was snatched away by a UK Government agency in 1912 when the forerunners of the Crown Estates seized ownership of the rights on three fishing beats, then imposed ever-increasing annual fees on the local anglers.

But following an incredible 27-year campaign which saw a group of Selkirk anglers become determined amateur sleuths, the Crown was forced to hand back the five-mile long salmon rights to their original owners in 2016.

The investigation uncovered a previously forgotten and unknown 17th Century Royal charter and a hoard of relevant documents hidden in a Glasgow cellar.

A Hundred Years of Fishy Skulduggery.

In addition, the team identified an unlikely local hero in Bat Tyson, a colourful habitual poacher wrongly convicted and jailed of illegal fishing, who caused UK law to be changed.

Now, retired Selkirk GP Dr Lindsay Neil, a veteran of the first Gulf War 1 and a key member of the ‘river detectives’ has published a fascinating account of the saga.

It lays bare the Crown’s unlawful taking of the angling rights from the then owners of the estates of Philiphaugh and Haining, and from The Common Good of the Royal Burgh of Selkirk.

Dr Neil said: “The circumstances in which the Crown Estates’ predecessors HM Woods, Forests and Land Revenue decided our fishing rights belonged to them were very dodgy, as the book explains. The result was that the Crown started charging Selkirk anglers ever-increasing amounts to fish their own river.

“Prior to 1912 the annual charge was just a negligible £1. But by 2003 the Crown was demanding a stunning £4,700. Little wonder we mounted our challenge to their ownership.”

A Hundred Years of Fishy Skulduggery traces the investigation from its humble beginnings in 1989 – when the team had little idea on how to proceed – through a journey of remarkable discoveries before submitting their evidence to the Crown Estate Commissioners, who resisted with all the legal might they could muster before being worn down.

Dr Neil said: “They never admitted defeat, but defeated they were. It was total.”

The 216-page book, which includes photos, is available at 5 Tower Street, Selkirk, for the subsidised cost of £15.