For years the conservation of fish was neglected in Scotland - a surprising fact since there are more fish species than all other vertebrate groups together and since fish are so important commercially. However, with the participation of the United Kingdom in various international conventions - notably the Bern Convension and the EC Habitats Directive - considerable attention is now being paid to our most threatened species.
One of the exceptions to lack of protection is the Atlantic salmon which has had protection for hundreds of years. Yet this species too is in decline. Much of past legislation has been aimed at protecting the fishery and not the fish. This together with new pressures, has meant that only in the last decade or so has action been taken to manage its riverine habitat.
Lampreys, on the other hand, have had no protection until recently. My first contact with brook lampreys was in the River Allander where, in the 1940s, pollution below Milngavie acted as a complete barrier to migratory fish. Thus, there were no river or sea lampreys, Atlantic salmon, sea trout or eels in the stretches near my home. Happily, with recent improvements in water quality, lampreys and other species can now reach the upper Allander.
Aquatic invertebrates too are receiving protection from European legislation. Perhaps Scotland’s most amazing invertebrate is the freshwater pearl mussel - what other invertebrate is able to grow to a large size, requires calcium for its heavy shell yet thrives in calcium-poor waters, and can live for over 100 years! Its historical connections add to its importance, for Scottish pearls adorn our Crown as well as Sceptre, last used at the close of Parliament over 300 years ago.
This new conservation interest in salmon, lampreys and mussels is being translated by Scottish Natural Heritage into action to protect rivers in which they occur. The fact that they all require clean, unpolluted rivers means that sustaining them in the future will be a symbol of our success in maintaining high water quality in rivers and lochs - so important for tourism and industry. This booklet is one of the building blocks in raising awareness of our responsibilities towards these animals and, in so doing, moving Scotland to a better future for them and us.
Professor Peter S Maitland, Fish Conservation Centre, Haddington