The Earn- the heron and a precious stone

One of the benefits and joys  of living in Strathearn is its wonderful choice of  walks . Walks to suit  all participants . Hill walkers can  access the peaks  above Loch Turret with ease  whilst  those older  members  of the community   can choose from a superb  variety of pleasant  but  non demanding rambles in some of  Scotland’s  most beautiful countryside . Recognised paths are clearly sign posted and rights of way are protected under the auspices of the local Council . The last few  decades have seen a network of long distance  walks and paths established  across Scotland – the best known in all probability  being the West Highland Way stretching from Milngavie ( pronounced Mul – guy !! ) just north of Glasgow  , all the way to Fort William at the fooft of Ben Nevis , our highest peak .Local writer , publisher and  out door  enthusiast Felicity Martin wrote recently in Facebook : 

“ Super walk today from St Fillans on Loch Earn in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park to Comrie. We were checking the route for the Three Saints Way, a pilgrim route planned from Killin (and eventually Iona) to St Andrews. Today's walk largely followed Day 6 of the Clan Ring, which I researched and wrote up earlier in 2014 for Breadalbane Tourism Co-operative”

There are  a number of  useful web sites which describe and evaluate the  many  walks in and around Strathearn . The annual Drovers Tryst ( pronounced Try-st not Trist ) lists  the  many walking and social events  that this  annual Crieff based festival arranges in the month of October . The Walk Highland will  list the suitability level for  a  wide  variety of  walks in this area . Last  but  certainly  not least is Martin Forsyth’s Crieff based Wandern Schottland  which provides outdoor holidays for  Germans  wishing to visit Scotland .

Web Sites

The Heron

The heron has  been around the wilds of Scotland  for many centuries . In the  far off Middle Ages the bird  came close to extinction .Our  ancestors regarded the heron as a  bird of sport and it  was  pursued relentlessly  by huntsmen with hawk or falcon . This majestic  bird   was oft  regarded as a fine delicacy and many a laird of the day offered his guests this bird on a plate . We know  from history that the  conservation policies of the Scottish Parliament were not the born of the “ Green Revolution “  but  existed a way back over  four centuries ago . In 1600 ,at the instigation of James VI ( James I of Great Britain ) ,  they passed an Act which stated

“ The slaughter of herons having been so frequent and common these diverse years within the Carse of Gowrie , Fife , Strathearn and other places thereabout , that few or none are left in the said bounds . A small number have begun to build their nests in the King’s park of Falkland and his Majesty being desirous to have them increase and multiply has ordered that the slaughter of these birds be forbidden in all the countryside adjacent . To this end , there is an Order to inhibit all persons from shooting, slaying or taking any herons from the bounds of  Fife , Kinross shire , the Carse of Gowrie , Strathearn from Comrie east upon the Earn and at Kilbuck ( Kinbuck ) east upon the Allan for a period  of three years after the date thereof . This under pain of imprisonment for one year for the first offence and banishment from the country  for the second fault “ 

  James VI 

This early act of conservation  may perhaps  have  been responsible  for saving this  , so beautiful of  birds . Herons currently abound  throughout the Strath . The Earn , the Turret and the Bennybeg Pond between Crieff and Muthill are popular  haunts  for the heron and can be enjoyed  by each and everyone of us throughout the year . I do wonder perhaps just how  many locals  of yesteryear  were indeed imprisoned or banished  for attacking our  feathered friend !

The Fresh Water Pearl Mussel

The rivers , burns and lochs of the Strath have  provided excellent fishing  for  trout , sea trout and salmon for countless generations . November saw a run of sea  trout ascend the Turret in considerable  numbers endeavouring  to proceed  beyond the  recently repaired weir and fish ladder at the north end of MacRosty Park in Crieff . It has been a number of years since  this fascinating spectacle of nature has  been  witnessed in this airt !

The River Earn flows  from Loch Earn in and easterly direction till it joins The Tay below Perth . It is  comparatively short ( 46 miles /74 Km ) in length and is fast  flowing and unnavigable . It is  noted  for  its salmon and sea trout  and gives seasonal sport to locals and visitors alike . Apart  from the fish  , it is home to the unique fresh water pearl mussel .This mollusc is historically fascinating . It is said that the real reason that the Romans invaded Britain was the rumour that the islands abounded is that  in pearls and that Julius Caesar who had a predilection for these gems,  led the way  for that very reason ! Caesar himself worshipped and paid  tribute to the gods . It  was to Venus in her temple  that the mighty emperor  dedicated his own breast plate in her honour . This piece of armour was embellished by British fresh water pearls . British  ? Scottish ? Strathearn ? Sadly , we shall never know ! What we do know , however , is that Scotland was that part of these isles  which was the most prolific in producing these comparatively rare shell fish . Pearl fishing  has  been for decades – nay centuries – been carried  out on both the Tay and the Earn here in Perthshire . James VI of Scotland was instrumental in reviving this industry which had in the earlier part of the 17th Century . The writer , John Monipennie , wrote, in 1612 :

” In most of the rivers in Scotland besides the marvellous plenty of salmon and other fishes gotten there, there is a shell fish called the horse mussel , of a great quantity , wherein are engendered innumerable fair, beautiful and delectable pearls , convenient for the pleasure of man and profitable for the use of phisicke . Some of them are so fair and polished that they may be equal to any oriental pearls ; and generally by the providence of Almighty God , when dearth and scarcity of victuals are in the land , then the fishes are most plentiful taken for the support of the people “ .

The king responded to this writing  by presenting the Privy Council with a missive  regarding the protection and harvesting of the mussel . This was passed as an Act on the 30th January 1621 and its preamble stated :

“ For as much as the fishing and seeking of pearls in the waters of this Kingdom ( a commodity which being rightly used would prove honourable to the country and beneficial to his Majesty )has been these diverse years neglected or used at such inconvenient and unseasonable times as has done more harm by the spoiling of the breed and quality of the pearls than benefit by taking thereof and whereas  the King , His Majesty has the undoubted right  to all pearls breeding in waters  as to the metal and precious stones found in this land within his Majesty’s  dominions “ .

The Act fixed the time  for pearl fishing to be in July and August as in these months the pearls were considered  to be at their most perfect  both in colour and in quantity . Initially only the rivers in the  North of Scotland were  covered  by the Act but on the 26th February  1662 , another Act was passed  which included the Tay and the Earn . It cannot be said that the  industry was  ever very profitable  although  many fairly good  pearl of their  kind have been taken  from time  to time in the Earn near Crieff .One especially fine example  was  found in  September 1864  and was exhibited locally  for a time.

Current Danger To The Mussel

The freshwater pearl mussel, already critically endangered, is facing a potentially terminal threat from another foreign invader. American signal crayfish released into the wild have spread through the nation’s rivers in recent decades and now directly threaten the remaining colonies of the rare molluscs. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the government’s countryside protection agency, says crayfish are now just 20 miles away from a prime colony of freshwater pearl mussels in the Tay. Anglers are being encouraged to protect the mussel beds from being destroyed. The Tay Fisheries Board is urging fishermen and other river users to avoid anything which could help spread the crayfish, such as eggs which have attached to fishing gear. They also stress the need to kill any adult crayfish found and never return them to the water.
The warning follows SNH-supervised experiments which have demonstrated that crayfish will attack colonies when they eventually invade mussel habitat. Scottish Natural Heritage’s freshwater adviser, Dr Colin Bean, said they now had evidence of a “mortal” threat to the mussel beds.

“Upstream in the River Earn, there are crayfish around Comrie,” he said. “You get mussels as far down as Perth. They haven’t clashed yet on the Tay, but there is a threat given how fast they spread. It’s not far away.”

Scotland is home to half the world’s population of freshwater pearl mussels. They have been harvested close to extinction on the off-chance they might contain a pearl, and are sensitive to pollution.The precise location of surviving colonies is publicised as little as possible to give the mussel numbers a chance to recover.


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