Trout in the Classroom 2016/17
Trout in the Classroom is an ongoing project and part of the wider Growing up with Loch Leven initiative, delivered by Scottish Natural Heritage in partnership with Kinross Estate Company and Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board. The project is primarily classroom based but includes two field visits that reinforce classroom activities. The whole project is based around the life cycle of Loch Leven Brown Trout with emphasis placed upon the importance of local rivers and burns as locations for adult fish to spawn and juvenile fish to grow and prosper.
A Loch Leven ‘brownie’
Jeremy Squire from SNH coordinated this year’s project. The project had been run for six years by Ian Montgomery from Perth and Kinross Council, before he went on to focus on Salmon in the Classroom at primary schools in Perthshire. After that Craig Nisbet took over and successfully coordinated the project until he left to go to Noss.
In 2017 two classes from two schools participated – one P5 class from Kinross Primary and one mixed P5/P6 class from Arngask Primary in Glenfarg. The planning phase involved Jeremy emailing out invitations and last year’s report to primary schools taking part in Growing up with Loch Leven. Once the teachers agreed to take part, dates were agreed for each of the three phases of the project.
Phase 1 – Introduction
Tank with thermoometer, aerator and artificial redd all set to go back in the refrigeration unit
On Wednesday 1st February, Jeremy, Gus Routledge (both SNH) and Willie Wilson (Kinross Estate Company Fisheries Manager retired) visited the two participating classrooms, for a one hour introduction to Trout in the Classroom. Jeremy briefly explained to the pupils that they would be receiving trout eggs, monitoring them for one month and then releasing the young fish into local burns. Willie Wilson then talked to them about the life cycle, historical importance, and local significance of Brown Trout. With a lifetime of experience working closely with Loch Leven Trout, Willie’s ability to share his knowledge and convey the importance of trout as part of our natural heritage is a crucial part of the project, and one that was very much enjoyed and appreciated.
During this session, Jeremy also set up the necessary equipment in the classrooms, which consisted of:
• Air filter
• Stones and metal tray
• Net/plastic spoon
• Bottle of river water
• A selection of log sheets and information sheets
The tank was half filled with river water, and placed in the refrigerator to maintain a constant temperature of between 4 and 9°C. It is essential that river water is used and that the water temperature is maintained between this range, hence the use of the refrigerator. Chemicals used to clean tap water will kill eggs and fish, and temperature fluctuations may also alter their development. Once the equipment was installed, the teachers were then able to establish a rota that involved all pupils monitoring the temperature and quality of the water using the thermometer provided. The rota included at least three daily checks, and the quality of the water would need to be checked once the eggs began to hatch.
Approximately 250 eggs collected from a local fish farm were delivered to the two classes on Friday 3rd February by Jeremy and Gus. Pupils were given the chance to see the eggs (ova) before they were placed in the tank, where they settled in the metal tray among the stones. Having already established the temperature monitoring rota, it was now down to the class to maintain a constant temperature for the ova, and ensure a healthy environment for the soon-to-hatch alevins, by removing any detritus that floats in the water. This could include unhatched eggs, egg shells or dead fish.
This year approximately 95% of the eggs in three classes hatched into alevins, after between 5 and 10 days of being in the classroom. This can vary from year to year, but is always exciting for the pupils to witness the hatching of young fish from eggs while in their care. During the first few weeks of their lives the alevins’ yolk sacs are large and provide them with all the nourishment they need to grow. It wouldn’t be until after their release that they would need to begin hunting for aquatic invertebrates for food.
Phase 2 – Release
The first of two field visits for the project took place for both classes on Friday 10th March, and each took approximately 45 minutes on site. Buses were booked by individual schools and payment was covered by SNH, with Kinross Primary P5s visiting Golland Burn near Carnbo, and Arngask Primary visiting Hatton Burn near Milnathort.
Having successfully monitored water temperature and condition of their alevins, the pupils from all three classes were both excited and sad to be releasing them into their natural environment, where the alevins would hopefully grow into large trout before making their way down stream to Loch Leven. The visit was led by Gus and Willie.
It was explained that before the release could take place, a number of habitat quality tests needed to take place.
• Water speed
• Water temperature
• Water clarity
• Bankside vegetation cover
• Habitat assessment
A simple worksheet was used to conduct these tests, which included an enjoyable water speed test involving throwing a ping-pong ball into the water and recording the time it takes to travel 10 metres, before retrieving it with a net. Once we were satisfied that the habitat was suitable for the young trout, the pupils were able to witness them entering the burn and disappearing under rocks where they would find shelter.
As we only had two schools taking part this year, SNH were able to have their own tank in the foyer of their office. This allowed us to gauge what stage the trout in the classrooms of the schools were at, and we could monitor our own eggs to the point of release. To give a rough idea of the survival rate of the trout whilst they are in the classroom, we started with 90 eggs and ended up releasing 65 alevins into the burn, giving a 72% survival rate. Of course, this can vary greatly depending on the care that is taken in monitoring the trout as the develop.
For example, the temperature that is maintained in the tank can affect the rate of development. Too hot and the trout will perish, too cold and they will lie dormant until conditions return to the temperature that they prefer. The average temperature in the SNH tank was 7.9°C, meaning development was quick as the temperature was towards the maximum in the range that the trout eggs will succeed in.
Phase 3 – Electro-fishing
The last stage of Trout in the Classroom involved recruiting the help of the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Operations Manager, Mike Brown. The electro-fishing went ahead on Friday 2nd June. Professional fisheries biologists often use electro-fishing as a way of monitoring fish populations, and in order to do so Mike is fully qualified, and was keen to be a part of this educational process which engages children in fish biology.
By passing an electrical current through the water using a probe, the fish are temporarily stunned and float to the surface, where they are caught by net and put into buckets. These fish were taken to the children so they could see how their trout had changed since they last saw them and were soon returned to the burn where they resumed their normal activities and were keen to find their hiding places in the burn. The purpose of this stage was to demonstrate the next stage in the trout’s life cycle, and from the pupils’ perspective it was an opportunity to re-visit the trout that they had personally watched and helped through the first stages of their lives.
As well as an abundance of trout of various size and age, we were also lucky enough to catch a Stone Loach which allowed us to consider the different feeding techniques of the two species. During this visit we also conducted a number of kick samples in the burn in order to take a closer look at the abundant invertebrate population, and in doing so we were instantly able to understand why both burns are good places for young trout. The pupils were able to record a wide variety of invertebrate life, including snails, mayfly larvae, stonefly larvae, freshwater shrimp, bloodworms and water boatmen.
Scottish Natural Heritage is very grateful to Mike Brown and Willie Wilson for their time and enthusiasm during the course of this project. Both were of the opinion that the children benefitted greatly from becoming involved with the life cycle of trout. This, in turn allowed the children to gain a better understanding of the natural world within which they are an equal part with the fish they released.
We are also grateful for the enthusiasm of the two teachers from two schools that took part this year. It is ultimately up to the teachers how much they embrace the project, and this year Julie Hynd and Nicola Marshall both fully engaged with the project and encouraged their pupils to do the same. An example of this enthusiasm was demonstrated in the fact that the Kinross class made one of their class topics “Loch Leven” and learned about the wildlife around the national nature reserve. They also took particular interest in the bats that help to keep the numbers of midges down.