Ian Cloke

MENTION Loch Leven to any fly fisher and phrases like "the Mecca of trout angling" and "jewel in the crown" tripped off the tongue.

The reason was the Loch's beautiful wild brown trout, which were so different in appearance from other trout, and so plentiful, that they drew anglers from allover the world to the small town of Kinross.

Indeed, Loch Leven trout were in such demand that, since the19th century they were sent to almost every country in the world to stock rivers and lakes.

Sadly, the jewel is now badly tarnished thanks to pressures on the loch, not only from modern living that produces phosphates from sewage and fertilisers, but from a voracious fish-eating bird.

The cormorant is normally a bird of the coast, which feeds on sea fish. But for the past 10 years or more sea birds have been suffering as trawlers scoop up the fish on which their lives depend.

This has been evidenced by, for example, the tragic plight of guillemots this year. Starved of once plentiful, now depleted, shoals of sand eels, they headed up rivers looking for fish, failed to find them, and died.

The cormorant, however, a much more adaptable bird, has targeted rivers and lochs where they find richer pickings.

As a result, Loch Leven has been turned into a huge cormorant feeding pond where it's estimated they are eating a staggering 80,000 trout a year.

In the past five years the fishery has lost 500,000 and now the hatchery has been closed and this coming season, instead of 50boats going out, there will be 10.

This fishery has simply hit the buffers and Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Executive's agency responsible for nature, is sitting back doing nothing to protect Loch Leven's famous trout. They have ruled out a cull, claiming this would disturb wildfowl on the loch, which has a Special Protected Area status.

Anglers are now left with the distinct impression the only way trout can be protected is if the species is genetically modified to have feathers instead of fins.

The only other way is to have the loch declared a Special Area of Conservation, of which there are nine in Scotland protecting Atlantic salmon, then Scottish Natural Heritage would have to do something.

No one wants to see a sky without cormorants, but the time has come for a happy balance to be struck between the birds and trout. And, by the way, almost every fishery in Great Britain is suffering the same problem.

So, anglers, make a New Year's resolution to write to your MSP or MP, urging them to put pressure on the Scottish Executive to get something done . . . and done quickly.