The South Esk: ‘Vicissitudes of an Angus river’

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. They are not the views of any other organisation, nor are they designed to promote the interests of any individual or organisation other than Finavon Castle Water and factors affecting the fishery.  Tony Andrews

In the autumn of 1955 the following paper was sent to all members of the South Esk Angling Inprovement Association by the late A.G. Chalmers, who owned East Kintrockat and the whole of the Aldbar fishings on the South Esk, extending to about three and a half miles of double bank fishing. The issue of dams and in-river netting on the South Esk has largely gone away, to be replaced by an equally difficult controversy over coastal netting. It is worth having a map of the river available for reference as you read the AG Chalmers paper. TA

Vicissitudes of an
Angus River

By A.G. Chalmers

The South Esk, which is fifty miles long, has numerous riparian owners throughout its length.

In the very old days when the water flow of the river was much greater than it is now, the dykes with which the river was beset were low and did not obstruct fish, but in the 1850s they were very considerably heightened, and as no salmon passes were put in, not a fish got up the river at all except in an abnormal flood which was a rare occurrence in those days, for the country was practically speaking devoid of drainage. However, around 1884 this matter was rectified and passes were installed in the dykes, but as all the Kinnaird Water was netted from February 16th until the 31st of August, no salmon had a chance to run the river until September came and the netting ceased.

In 1897 the riparian owners asked for and obtained a lease of the Kinnaird nets with a view to stopping all netting of salmon and sea trout in the river. A lease was entered into for twenty years and the tenants all felt that they would never again have to ask for another lease, for they were convinced that Kinnaird would derive such benefit from de-netting that they would not accept any further payments of rental after the lease expired. But they reckoned without their host.

When the nets were dispensed with, things began to go well with the river and the upper reaches in a few years time commenced to get Spring fish which in 1900 took the Kinnaird dyke at a water temperature of 41 degrees (F), for the reason that it was not nearly so difficult 50 years ago.

When 1917 came and the twenty years lease ended, we had been at war for three years and the upper proprietors of the river were all serving their country, and it was they who collected subscriptions and paid and attended to everything to do with the netting lease. At all events, as Kinnaird had received no letter applying for the renewal of the lease, they put the nets on again without any delay. But this time they did not net below the Kinnaird dyke as they used to do, that water they continued to let for rod fishing, but as soon as ever the salmon went up and over the dyke, they were netted out at Brechin.

The nets at Brechin I think worked from 1918 to 1923 inclusive, on the same understanding, and there has been no netting in the river since then.

That this interlude of netting was a setback to the benefits that had accrued to the river by the taking off of the nets may be readily understood by the two following notes entered by a proprietor, long since dead, in his fishing for seasons 1922 and 1923, whose three and a half miles of river ended less than two miles above the Brechin dyke. His entries are thus: and should anyone wish to read them he may certainly do so:

1922 “Bag season 4 salmon. The river in first class order all spring but the nets let few fish past Brechin. It was reported 220 fish killed by Kinnaird rods and over 600 netted at Brechin dyke”.

1923 “5 fish in Spring months. River in beautiful order all season but the Brechin nets stopped all fish”.

Today the upper proprietors have received notice from Kinnaird terminating their lease of the netting rights as from December 31st 1955.

It is of course perfectly legal to net one’s own water, but it is unwise to net a small river like the South Esk, for sooner than later the end must surely come and with it the entire extermination of salmon stocks?

And the future? I hope and trust that this action taken by Kinnaird in terminating the netting lease is simply an act of generosity prompted perhaps by the feeling that in the past fifty eight years they have taken enough out of the upper proprietors’ pockets, and now that rod rents have so enormously increased, they are able to sit back and play the game, off their own bat, without troubling any more about a netting rent.

Surely the price of salmon standing around ten shillings a pound could not possibly induce any riparian owner to risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, and at the same time deprive hundreds of anglers of their sport?, – when there is no legislation provided by our Government to protect travelling fish from being netted out in their own home river.

In conclusion, – supposing that all salmon rivers removed their breeding stock by net after it had entered the river, what would be the result?

A.G. CHALMERS, Eskmount, Brechin

16th September 1955

Note added by Cyril Butler, tenant at Finavon for nearly 50 years, “Till 1897 sixteen nets fished 5 miles of water below Brechin Dam (Calderwood quoted Grimble)”


On the subject of the Kinnaird Dam and in-river netting the following letter was sent by John Ogilvy, the Honorary Secretary of the South Esk Salmon Fishing Improvement association and owner of Inshewan Fishings on the South Esk. TA 


Inshewan                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                FORFAR                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              6th October 1955


Dear Sir or Madam

South Esk Salmon Fishing Improvement Association

Referring to the matters dealt with at the General Meeting of Members held in Forfar on 31st August 1954, I have to inform you that we duly received a report from the Edinburgh civil engineer, Mr Cuthbertson, dated 8th July 1955, completely absolving the Association of any responsibility for repairs to the Kinnaird Dam Dyke as claimed by the South Esk Estates Company, and fully confirming our opinions as to the causes of undermining of the dyke expressed in our letters, copies of which were sent to all members before the meeting last summer.

I have however received a few days ago a formal letter dated the 26th of September, from Lord Southesk’s Law Agents giving notice on behalf of the Southesk Estates Co of termination of the De-netting Agreement as at 31st December 1955. This arrangement, whereby Southesk Estates undertook not to net their waters was started as you are aware, about 1896, and, with the exception of a short period at the end of the First World War, has continued ever since. Full details of the position were set out in our letters of 25th June 1954, to the Southesk Estates Co, a copy of which was amongst the letters circulated last year.


Yours faithfully,


John Ogilvy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Hon. Secy


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