(Full version of a story first published in The Herald, and various online magazines in January 2008)

FORESTRY tree felling and fish parasites have been blamed for the closure of one of Scotland’s oldest and most popular trout fisheries. Loch Fitty, near Dunfermline, was shut unexpectedly just before Christmas and is to be “mothballed” according to its owners, Scottish Coal.

Rumours suggesting the loch could be drained for mining have been strongly denied by the owners who say the closure decision was reached “reluctantly” and that they plan to re-open if the situation improves..

Loch Fitty - closed for fishing
Loch Fitty - closed for fishing

Husband and wife managers Richard and Helen Philp  who ran the establishment for more than four years, were paid off without warning six days before Christmas. Mrs Philp, who is also treasurer of the Scottish Ladies fly-fishing team, said:

“We were aware of the water quality problems but felt it was still a viable venture. We offered to buy the loch last year, but the owners said it wasn’t for sale. They say it is to be mothballed, but we were given no warning of the closure.”

Mr Alastair Wallace, secretary of the Scottish Anglers National Association, the sport’s governing body in Scotland, said: “Within days of the closure, a 15ft disabled anglers boat worth £3500 which our organisation placed at the fishery was stolen and assurances that it was insured have turned out not to be true.

“We are very disappointed by the closure, and if the reasons for it are correct, it does underline the vulnerability of these establishments to outside influences. This was a major trout fishery in Scotland and its loss will simply put pressure on the remaining venues.”

Loch Fitty is owned by Scottish Resources Group, the open cast mining parent company of Scottish Coal which posted a statement on the fishery’s website blaming water quality issues over the last two years for damaging fish health.

It said that a SEPA survey carried out their behalf last year identified forestry felling operations to the west of the loch for increasing the acidity of the water. This, coupled with an infestation of fish parasites, was to blame for “a significant and adverse” effect on business during the last two years.

The statement said that “due to the continued deterioration of the viability of the business, reluctantly it has been decided to close the fishery with immediate effect.”

Scottish Coal would, however, review the loch regularly “with a view to reopening” should the factors causing the financial losses change.