5 October 2018
Nic Coombey, Solway Coastwise Co-ordinator, Solway Firth Partnership —
Stories behind Dumfries and Galloway Coastal Place-names
The first lecture in the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society lecture series for 2018–19, entitled Stories Behind Dumfries and Galloway Coastal Place Names, was given by Nic Coomby of the Solway Firth Partnership. In his talk he discussed the themes behind the stories of coastal place names, illustrated with some beautiful photographs of the places he talked about. He made the landscape of Dumfries and Galloway look splendid (no wet days here).
The talk was organised by coastal landscape features, beginning with caves. He showed how different associations influenced names. Place names could alter as their roles changed, thus Castle Port, a safe landing, became St Ninians Cave. Other caves had historic associations, some probably true like those linked to the Covenanters (Barholm Whigs Hole) or literary fiction such as Scott's 'Guy Mannering' — Hatteraik Cave. Some cave names were purely descriptive; Sapphire cave was derived from the nearby abundant supplies samphire and Butchers cave from the colour of the red algae on it. Some caves were named after the person who had lived in them; Callies Cave was allegedly named after a smuggler called Cally who used the cave. Another cave known on early maps as Sheep cave became Logies cave after Johnny Logies who lived there for about forty years, only leaving in the 1960's!
We also heard about island place names. Ardwall Island used to be known as Larry Isle after a rather notorious inhabitant. Hestan Island, which once had a monastery has a more historic place name, Monks Pool which probably contained a mediaeval fish trap. We also heard of cliffs named after birds such as Ducker Bing, a cormorant nesting site.
Finally Nic considered rocks. These seemed to have a guiding role on the Rhins. At the Mull of Galloway, one indicated a safe cave for small vessels in bad seas. Near Annan the Altar stone seemed to define the boundary between town and parish, and still retained a role in 'the Ridings'.
The talk was much appreciated, as shown by the large number of questions afterwards.
19 October 2018
Prof Andy Ferguson, retired Professor of Freshwater Biology, Queens University, Belfast —
Native Freshwater Fish in South-West Scotland: impact of environmental changes
At its meeting on 19th October, the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society enjoyed a talk entitled Native freshwater fish in south-west Scotland: Impact of environmental changes given by Andy Ferguson, Professor Emeritus, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast.
He began by noting the past interest in freshwater fish by the society. The first president Sir William Jardine was known for his work on the subject and over the years the Transactions of the society had included various papers on the topic including several by Peter Maitland, the renowned fish conservationist.
He went on to define native freshwater fish as having colonised naturally after the retreat of the ice sheet at the end of the last ice-age and included any species that spent at least part of its life cycle in freshwater. In south-west Scotland native species are restricted to the salmonid family, smelt, shads, lampreys, eel and sticklebacks. He highlighted that freshwater fish are the most endangered group of vertebrates worldwide with 30% of species threatened with extinction. Multiple factors are involved in their decline, with some of the main ones locally being acidification of the water as a result of burning fossil fuels, afforestation, enrichment and pollution, hydroelectric and other dams and the introduction of non-native species.
The salmonid family of vendace, Arctic charr, Atlantic salmon and brown trout formed the main focus of the talk.
The vendace, the rarest native freshwater fish in Britain, which had been present in the Castle and Mill Lochs at Lochmaben is now extinct there. No vendace have been recorded at Castle Loch since 1912 possibly due to enrichment from new sewage works in 1911. There have been no vendace from Mill Loch since 1970, probably due to several factors including enrichment from surrounding land and the introduction of non-native bream. A decline in Cumbrian vendace led to their being introduced into lochs in south-west Scotland as refuges. Loch Skeen near Moffat now has a thriving population of fish originally from Bassenthwaite.
Arctic charr used to be in Loch Grannoch and Loch Dungeon but are now only definitely known in Loch Doon, although in reduced numbers. Acid precipitation leading to acidification of the water is thought to be behind their decline. Conservation refuge populations were successfully introduced into the Talla and Megget reservoirs in the late 1980s.
Atlantic salmon are present locally in all larger rivers but in much reduced numbers compared to the past. They return from feeding around the Faroe Islands and western Greenland to their home river with a high degree of accuracy, which results in each river having genetically distinct populations. The decline in numbers can be due to changes in the rivers, such as dams which prevent the fish from reaching their spawning grounds, but marine survival has also declined. Food availability at sea can be affected by an increase in sea temperature and changing currents. There is also the problem of parasites such as sea lice from salmon farms which can lead to high mortality in wild salmon and interbreeding with farm escapees which leads to a reduction in the fitness of the wild salmon. Since 2016 Marine Scotland has introduced restrictions on estuary netting and at present 70% of Scottish rivers, in our area the Fleet, Bladnoch, Annan and Dee for example, can only be fished on a catch and release basis in an effort to halt the decline.
Brown trout are present in many lochs and rivers in south-west Scotland, but their numbers have been adversely affected by acidification and the consequent rise in aluminium to toxic levels in the water, especially in the latter part of the 20th century. Loch Enoch was the first to be affected with trout becoming extinct there by the 1920s. Surveys in the late 1970s found low numbers of, or no trout, in lochs where they had been present in the 1950s. International action to address the problem of acidification in the late 1980s and 1990s led to a decrease in sulphur and nitrogen emissions which resulted in the pH levels increasing, and in lochs where trout had survived, numbers rose rapidly.
The area surrounding Loch Fleet was limed in 1986–87 and an improvement in pH resulted so that it could be restocked.
Brown trout vary considerably in appearance and have become the model species for scientific work, the focus of which is to conserve the genetic biodiversity represented by the various populations. The years 2010–13 saw the Galloway trout study undertaken. The trout in Loch Grannoch have been found to be genetically unique and have a genetically-based tolerance of low-pH/high-aluminium level. Trout from Loch Grannoch have been introduced successfully into lochs where previously no trout survived, such as Loch Enoch. Professor Ferguson would like to see Loch Grannoch established as an SSSI or other type of reserve.
The non-salmonid native freshwater fish species were then mentioned.
Smelt, which smell like cucumber, live in coastal waters and enter rivers to spawn. They used to be in all of the larger Solway rivers but are now only found in a short stretch of the River Cree. They used to be an important fish locally but numbers have declined since the 1980s. The Galloway Fisheries Trust is monitoring smelt in the Cree as part of the 'Saving the Sparling project'.
The shads, allis and twaite, were formerly known to spawn in Solway rivers, but there is no recent evidence of spawning.
Solway rivers contain all three species of lampreys, brook, river and sea.
The European eel was formerly abundant, but numbers have declined in recent decades and it is now considered to be critically endangered.
All native freshwater fish species in south-west Scotland have declined, with only the brown trout showing a good recovery post-acidification. Many of these fish species have been socially and economically important to local communities and businesses in the past, but even in the present, Atlantic salmon and brown trout anglers contribute large amounts annually to the local and national economy.
In conclusion, future challenges to native freshwater fish survival were listed, so continued monitoring is required.
2 November 2018
Professor Sir Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh — Historical Amnesia and the Lowland Clearances
On 2 November 2018 the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquities Society welcomed Professor Sir Tom Devine OBE. Tom addressed a very large turnout of members and guests with a talk entitled Historical Amnesia and the Lowland Clearances.
Professor Devine, aware that his view could cause controversy, explained that changes to the rural population of Southern Scotland in the 18th and early 19th centuries were just as profound as those occurring in Highland Scotland, especially with reference to the so-called 'Highland Clearances'.
Industrialisation, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, population increase and the movement away from subsistence farming forced massive change in the rural landscape and economy. In the mid-18th century up to a third of rural inhabitants were cottars (a person who rented and worked a small plot of land from a landlord). By 1820 this class of person had almost disappeared from the rural landscape. The result of this was a significant movement of people away from the countryside, sometimes on a voluntary basis and sometimes by clearance from the landowner. Yet these turbulent events are almost completely forgotten in the Lowlands and Borders but the Highland Clearances have entered the national psyche.
Sir Tom's new book The Scottish Clearances explains this. Apart from the Levellers' protests in Galloway there was a lack of violent protest in the south and unlike the events in the Highlands, it does not live on in Lowland poetry, song and books.
Furthermore there was a cultural explanation of the disparity. The concept of 'dualchas', largely obsolete in Lowland Scotland, was still strong in the Highlands. This idea promoted a personal connection to heritage and the paternalism of the clan and dispossession was a clear violation of this long-standing ethic. In the south it was almost accepted that, although deeply regrettable, the landlord had a right to close tenancy agreements.
Furthermore, although many former cottars were moved off the land there was often an alternative. The new industrial revolution began as a mainly rural-based phenomenon so the impact of clearance was partially mitigated by available jobs and the rise of urban opportunities. Those who remained on the land often worked as labourers or servants in tied conditions, so losing a job also meant losing a home. This tended to encourage any Lowland protest to be rather muted.
Professor Devine wrapped up his address by briefly touching on the present-day legacy of these dispossessions in terms of land ownership. The address concluded with a lively series of questions and the evening was brought to a close as the Professor was warmly thanked by an appreciative audience.