Man of action

11 min read


Jim Coates meets Murdo Crosbie, one of the leading lights behind the restoration of the beautiful River Cree in Dumfries and Galloway

JIM COATES fishes on the Dee, Spey, Tay and Tweed. He takes a keen interest in conservation and fundraising.
Murdo, centre, electrofishing for broodstock on Penkiln Burn, tributary of the River Cree.
Towards the Mansestone Pool on Newton Stewart AA water.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE between fish and salmon? There’s no “f” in salmon.

What we do have is frustration, and more than a little. The short version might be summarised as: very few salmon, high prices, and in some cases increasing prices, no plan or tangible remedial work that fishers really believe will improve the situation. With great reluctance, longstanding tenancies are being given up. People feel like they are being taken for mugs. The lack of credible plans is the final straw for most. Why hang in there? Gillies range between depressed and apoplectic. I can only imagine the frustration of knowing their rivers so incredibly well, caring deeply and worrying about future employment. I know many gillies feel unheard. What I often hear from them is a story of organisations looking to see where they can get funding, then trying to work that back to help salmon, rather than the strongest plan. It’s a total mess.

In 2009, Murdo Crosbie and friends said “Enough!” and set out to bend the graphs on the River Cree, now the only remaining category one salmon river in the southwest of Scotland. Murdo Crosbie is the water bailiff, a committee member of the Newton Stewart Angling Association and the hatchery co-ordinator. While many of us huff and puff, Murdo has been getting stuck in and making a real difference with the help of many volunteers.

JIM What was it that spurred you into action?

MURDO We could see the river was dying and with it our angling association. In conversation with my brother Roddy, Robert Bell, and the Newton Stewart District Angling Association (NSDAA) we concluded in 2009 that if we didn’t act, the salmon population would be lost, certainly in terms of viable angling. It’s simply no use complaining and getting angry in small groups. We had to act. I often argue that apathy and inactivity from anglers is one of the biggest issues — and it’s squarely under our control. One of the things we decided to do was build a hatchery. This allowed us to protect a proportion of the remaining stock that we had, boost survival rates and therefore smolt output.

JIM What did your hatchery cost to build?

MURDO If we had paid for everything, about £80k. However, once we begun mustering support, we found plenty of help. We needed troughs for the eggs, which were significantly more than we could afford. Graham Smith stepped forward and carefully made a mould of an existing model, enabling the troughs we needed to be