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An Unprecedented Gathering of Scottish Rivers


River Avon, River Ayr, River Carron, River Clyde, River Doon, River Forth, River Garnock, River Girvan, River Irvine, River Stinchar, Water of Leith.

Citizens, groups and agencies from eleven Scottish rivers gathered for an unprecedented all volunteer event, “Exploring Our Rivers:  A Scottish Rivers Networking Day” in Grangemouth Town Hall on 9th October.  Over 100 attendees took part in this history-in-the-making day which was a Year of Natural Scotland 2013 event.

An Event Unfolds…

The concept for this event began earlier this year when a group of delegates from Falkirk Council’s Development Services, Falkirk Invasive Species Forum and Communities Along the Carron Association (CATCA) visited the Water of Leith Conservation Trust in Edinburgh, to learn a bit about how the long-established trust deals with issues that CATCA, now 4-years-old, deals with – such as invasive species, water quality, flytipping, path access, funding, and community engagement.  Helen Brown, Water of Leith Trust Manager, mentioned her idea that more of the "friends of river groups" in Scotland might benefit from a networking day. 

The Falkirk groups continued to discuss the idea with Water of Leith Conservation Trust, and FC Development Services decided to sponsor such an event, working with Falkirk Invasive Species Forum and CATCA. (Development Services is the principal land use planning, design and regulatory service of the Council, whose aim is to contribute to the protection of the environment, the safeguarding of human health and the enhancement of the quality of life of the citizens of the Falkirk Council area.)


The event included classroom style presentations from various experts, researchers and river volunteers, stalls from 22 groups and agencies, and a viewing of the Jeremy Irons’ film “Trashed”, followed by a panel discussion on the impact of the plastic industry on our waters, both rivers and oceans.  

The Scottish government was watching the plans for this event unfold over the past few months, realising the importance of this event during a time when the Scottish Government is seriously examining the environmental impact that people and industries are having on the land and waters. The all volunteer event followed on the heels of the government’s recent Litter and Marine Litter Strategy Consultations. 

Paul Wheelhouse BPA/MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change said "The regeneration, conservation and maintenance of the water environment in Scotland is important to us all. Scotland’s River Basin Management Plans set objectives to protect and improve the ecological quality of our water environment. Partnership working is key to meeting these objectives, the Communities Along the Carron Association is an excellent example and hopefully bringing other groups together will be a good networking opportunity to share ideas."

Networking and The Big Picture

Jim Blackwood, Environment Convenor Falkirk Council, called the event “first class and very professional”. 

“The enthusiasm of speakers brought to the fore their total commitment to the continual battle to keep Scotland beautiful,” he added.  “The Jeremy Irons’ film was a frightening eye opener to the world wide problem of disposing of waste.”  He acknowledged that many of Scotland’s rivers are dealing with the same problems and this event brought together like-minded people  to compare notes about the kinds of issues and solutions our rivers have in common,  and to share ideas on what can done to improve the quality of our local water environments. 

“We know that some rivers have to be cleared of flytipping and waste three to four times a year using corporate volunteers. It is a never-ending problem for rivers and river groups, so we are also working to try to tackle the public’s attitude towards dumping in the rivers.  That’s where ‘Trashed’ comes in.  We hope it serves as a reminder of the big picture about the status of our planet’s water.”

The day opened with remarks from Falkirk Council Provost Pat Reid.  He noted in particular that, after decades of people seeing the River Carron as a tool for industrial use and waste, the focus has begun to shift to a growing appreciation for the aesthetics, beauty and natural offerings of the river for  recreation, and that is what motivates volunteers such as Communities Along the Carron Association to do the work they are doing.   

In her opening address, Christine Bell, CATCA Project Leader, stated:  “We are particularly lucky in the Falkirk Council area that essential Falkirk Council services have recognised the important part communities can play in delivering improvements.  The support they provide us allows us all to work together, an arrangement which has been and continues to be mutually beneficial.”

Bell also noted that CATCA is now 4 years old and the more work the group does on the River Carron, the more the volunteers understand that they are part of a bigger picture of issues and solutions – as is also the experience of other groups who were attending this conference. 

“CATCA chose to show the film, not with the intention of depressing the delegates—aware that there would be some harrowing footage which is very emotive--but instead to enforce that what we are all doing here is essential to our local area but even more so is essential to the world at large,” Bell continued.  “The world leaders should not be conceited enough to think there is a choice in whether we should be taking the actions we are all taking, we simply must!!”

The response to the film, of the 100 delegates, was a stunned silence until the panel discussion allowed the airing of questions and concerns. 

A Wide Range of Offerings

The presentations of the day ranged from the reintroduction of salmon in the River Clyde to natural flood management on the Allan Water.

In between classes and during a network buffet lunch, visitors were able to visit stalls and engage in helpful conversations with a wide array of river-related groups and agencies:  Falkirk Invasive Species Forum, CATCA, Water of Leith, Local Biodiversity Action Plan, Larbert and Stenhousemuir Angling Club, Linlithgow Angling Club, River Avon Federation, SEPA, Slamannan Angling and Protective Association, Ayrshire Rivers Trust, Forth Invasive Non-Native Species project, River Forth Fisheries Trust, Centre for River EcoSystem Science (CRESS), Keep Scotland Beautiful, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Rory MacPhee Boatbuilder, Scottish Water, FIDRA, Marine Conservation Society, Scottish Natural Heritage, Falkirk Environment Trust, and Forth Environment Link.

Ian Edwards, Falkirk Council’s Environment Coordinator, was impressed by “the excellent stands supplied today, and manned and womanned, by community groups and volunteers.  The time they put into preparing these stands, the work they do in the rivers and environment, and the time to man the stall and speak to the public is all voluntary.  This volunteer effort simply cannot be under estimated by local government and organisations.  Without it much of the work just would not be done.”

Experts commented that the level of questions and dialogue during the day and during the panel discussion, was quite relevant and impressive.  Volunteer groups commented that the day highlighted the importance of issues of which they had not been previously aware – such as certain invasive species and requirements of regulatory bodies.   

Inspiration and Hope

“One of the goals of CATCA was to bring together ‘the man on the street (or river)’ with the university sector, to help foster a conversation which is so important to both sectors, as they have much to learn from each other,” said Ian Howarth, Chairman of CATCA.  “The older anglers, for one, know the rivers inside and out and have much natural wisdom to share.  The researchers such as those at CRESS and University Marine Biological Station Millport, have a lot to tell us about water quality issues, current and future research.  Much more can happen to address these issues at the practical level, if we don’t all work in isolation.” 

Delegates left this unique event having made new friends, shared valuable information, sparked new ideas, new inspiration and new hope for the future of all of Scotland’s rivers. 

CATCA is putting together a special page at its website ( by the end of October which will feature links to the classes/presentations from the event and a photo gallery  For further information on CATCA’s projects and events, contact CATCA Project Leader Christine Bell at  For further press information and photographs, contact Michelle MillerAllen at or at 07720648317. 

List of Presentation Titles and Speakers at Exploring Our Rivers 2013:

Dr Phillip Cowie - University Marine Biological Station Millport   “From River to Sea: Sources, Sinks and Ecological Impacts of Plastics - A Firth of Clyde Perspective”

Helen Brown - Trust Manager, Water of Leith Conservation Trust   “The Water of Leith - A Case Study in Community Involvement on an Urban River”

Alison Baker - Forth Invasive Non-Native Species Programme Coordinator, River Forth Fisheries Trust   “Managing Invasive Non Native Species along Riparian Corridors”

Lawrence Belleni - TCV's Natural Flood Management Apprentice, Centre for River EcoSystem Science   “Natural Flood Management on the Allan Water”

Stuart Brabbs - Sr Scientific Officer and Trust Manager, Ayrshire Rivers Trust   “Integrated Catchment Management; Taking a Pragmatic Approach to River Management”

Iain Semple - Fishery Manager, Howietoun Fish Farm   “The History and Work of Howietoun Fish Farm”

Art Berg - Development Manager, Falkirk Environment Trust   “Projects On and Beside Rivers and Bodies of Water – Issues of Safety, Licences and Law”

David Paterson - River Clyde Fisheries Management Trust   “The Return of the Salmon to the River Clyde:”

Christine Bell - Project Officer, Communities Along the Carron Association   “The Social Perspective - The River is...Many Things to Many People!”
For more photos from the event, please visit CATCA’s Facebook page at: Communities Along the Carron Association – CATCA