End of Season Newsletter 2017
I can’t reflect on 2017 without mentioning my father, Major-General Charles Alexander Ramsay, who died on 31st December. I owe him an enormous amount, in too many ways to mention here, but one of his greatest legacies to me and all of us who visit, is South Chesthill Estate. He explains in his memoires: “Because we were originally from a Highland Family, I had a lust to put some roots back into the Highlands, and to have a place where we could go for holidays and sport.” South Chesthill was the first and only place he looked at, buying it in 1978 and adding to it over time. He set up and chaired the River Lyon Proprietors Group over many years and promoted projects and initiatives to help try and make the river more productive and the general environment better including reducing sheep numbers and establishing regeneration areas. He fostered in me at a young age, with the help of Bert Shearer and David Pirie, my love of highland sport, the environment, and South Chesthill in particular. I feel most fortunate to be the new owner and Arabella and I will continue to do our utmost to preserve and improve this special place.
The whole team remain focussed on our aim to build on South Chesthill’s existing qualities as a top, traditional all-round Scottish sporting Estate. We are getting there and further improvements are planned to the properties, the fields (better weed control and soil quality), wildlife (more vermin control), the hill (more heather burning, a new regeneration zone, less grazing from neighbours sheep, bracken spraying) the walls (maintenance), and fencing (in particular the march fence with Ben Lawers).
Thank you to tenants and guests for your feedback comments and all of these have been reviewed and action taken in many cases – these comments are vital to help us improve so please do continue to email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments however big or small.
A change this year has been a change in Factors, from CKD Galbraith to Managed Estates: Scott Nisbet, supported by John Sinclair, have injected fresh energy, expertise and impetus. Hamish Rae continues as Keeper/Stalker/Ghillie, and Kay is Housekeeper at Gardener’s Cottage and Chesthill House, where she hands over to an external team on Thursdays and Sundays. Ben Campbell is estate handyman and fencer. Debbie Beer is ably managing lettings and book keeping.
Matthew Kerr from Roromore has taken over as our farmer, managing our flock of 400 sheep. We have decided to sell our cows as they were placing too much pressure on the low ground, resulting in a shortage of winter feed. This will mean that our sheep can be moved from the hill to the low ground earlier in the autumn meaning less interruption to stalking and reducing the grazing pressure.
Let’s not beat about the river bank: our total catch at 27 salmon was the lowest since 1984! This was not due to lack of effort, nor was it a Lyon-specific problem: it has been reported in the press that this season has been the river Tay’s worst since the 1950s. In my view the low catch makes the congratulations due to those successful fishermen and women all the more hearty. However we should look into the reasons for this and the prospect of it improving in the near term.
This year North Chesthill wished to take back their fishing so we reverted to the red /white disc arrangement that we had in place previously. To ensure 6-7 rods would still be available to Chesthill House tenants, we included the Inverinain beat for them. This arrangement worked well this year and several fishermen commented on how it resulted in greater variety of pools (and scenery).
The salmon season started slowly with little snow melt meaning the river was at summer levels from March until early June, but as the season continued and decent water returned, it became apparent that water levels weren’t the reason for the lack of fish. Large coloured fish were in the river, splashing about in deeper lower pools such as Awkward and Shoemakers, but there was a lower number of fresh fish. Things did pick up at the end of the season, our best week early October with 5 salmon.
The Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board write “the geographically widespread nature of the problem and the tagging evidence point to the main issue being at sea rather than a poor smolt run in 2016”. The growth in the seal population could be a significant factor, but looking further ahead, the planned closure of the drift net fisheries in North East England in 2022 (and possible reductions in 2018) gives reason for optimism (18,000 salmon and grilse caught in 2017) and, more locally, the Lyon proprietors are hoping for a greater share of Tay District hatchery releases, and studies on the spawning environment in the Upper Lyon (which we are helping fund) could provide useful information to improve spawning conditions.
The biggest salmon was caught by Richard Greenly (his personal biggest) caught on the last day of the season, a 25 lb very coloured cock fish (this fish when fresh would have weighed more than 30lbs), caught on an ally type fly in bridge pool, landed about 3/4 hour later, and safely returned. Thank you to those fishermen who have observed our new catch and release policy (do ask for details), and it is good to see that 24 of the 27 fish caught were returned safely.
I thought you might be interested in some number crunching I have done on successful bait used on South Chesthill, which shows an encouraging growth in fly fishing. For background, fishing with prawn/shrimp is banned now in Scotland, it was very effective in catching salmon, but salmon swallowed the bait resulting in the fish being killed. Worming is allowed in some rivers in Scotland during some parts of the season, however in the interests of conservation, the Lyon proprietors banned it for tenants. The last fish caught on a prawn was 2000, last one on worm was in 2001.
We do have fishing available for this season. Historically not heavily let, April last year was our second most productive month and this year it’s great to see two weeks let: but two are still available, as are several weeks in June and July.
Congratulations to all guests and Stalkers Hamish Rae and George MacDonald on a good stalking season. We heard roaring on the hill from the 16th Sept, a full 10 days earlier than normal. We managed to get our quota of 48 stags. These included a few firsts including Tatiana Ramsay aged 17 out with her father, William. We also had a few abnormal heads this year, including a hummel (a mature stag without antlers) shot by Harold Wolstenholme, and a three-antlered stag, shot by Ian Beaton, his first. The good spring, resulted in good plant growth, this helped give the stags a bit more weight. Our average weight was 14st 4lb, above the 10-year average 13st 13 lbs. Our biggest was a massive 10-year-old stag weighting in at 21st 6lb, shot by Bill De La Hey.
A particular mention should also go to Nick Martin who shot his first stag and caught his first salmon on the same day.
The hind season is ongoing. Our cull target has been reduced for since 15/16 season, to reflect the lower numbers of deer in the region as a whole, but this is working well and our hind population on the hill is healthy and sustainable.
The dry, warm conditions in the spring were unfortunate for the river but provided good insect life for the grouse to feed on. Unfortunately hatching time in June coincided with a prolonged spell of heavy rain , this along with biting east winds spelt the end for newly hatched chicks. We did two walked up days, one on each beat resulting in a total of 5 brace for the two days. In order to conserve our remaining stock we cancelled the remaining days. I’m hopeful that our improved grouse management will soon mean we regularly achieve 5 or more brace per day, and it would be lovely to see the odd day of 10 brace.
Nature Tours, bicycles, walks and an array of nearby activities (details on http://www.southchesthill.com) do, I hope, enable non-sporting guests and children to enjoy and feel part of the estate in the same way that sporting guests do.
Bookings & Prices – 2018
Tenants have two months from their departure date to pay their deposit to reserve their week the following year; otherwise it is up for grabs. Please enquire about:
- Chesthill House: sleeps 16 but dining room is a bit of a squeeze above 12 adults. Sunday to Sunday (short-stays bookable within 3 months). 6 miles river for 6/7 salmon rods, trout loch, stalking (stags and hinds), plus some walked up grouse. Price range for 2018 is £2,550 to £4,750 for the house, inc VAT, excluding sport.
- Gardener’s Cottage: sleeps 4. Sunday – Sunday (short-stays bookable within 2 months). Trout and salmon fishing and other activities can be booked as an extra, depending on availability. Price range £450 to £675, inc VAT.
- Fishing only: fishing is sometimes available, when the accommodation is not let. Prices from £10-£15 per day for trout fishing and £30 – £40 per day for salmon fishing (reduced if you take more than one rod.
21st January 2018