Untitled Document

Nessie Dead or Alive

Back to Loch Ness Reflections

It was recently announced that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was forming a Loch Ness Environment Panel with a view to developing a code of practice for visiting monster hunters who might inadvertently cause damage to the loch's habitats, or individual creatures within it. This move was prompted by the proposal of a Swedish monster hunter and ufologist Jan Sundberg, to place a 6m long creel trap in Loch Ness. The SNH area manager Jonathan Stacey, made it clear that they had no policy on Nessie as such and the prime aim was to "protect the known from those pursuing the unknown".

This is but the latest episode in a long interaction between those with responsibility for the loch and some of the unconventional activities which take place there. In the sensational days of 1933 the M.P. for Inverness-shire, Sir Murdoch Macdonald, persuaded the Secretary of State for Scotland to have the local constabulary issue warnings "for the purpose of preventing any attempt on the animal, if sighted". Given the offer by Bertram Mills Circus of £20,000 for its live capture, it must have seemed that the "Monster" was in some danger. Nevertheless, the huge scaffolding cage erected in preparation was to remain empty

Scaffolding Cage 1933<br>

Scaffolding Cage 1933
Photograph *SMG Newspapers Ltd
Reproduction without permission is forbidden without advance permission.
To obtain permission please contact rights@smg.plc.uk

L.N.I.Large Eel Trap

L.N.I.Large Eel Trap Early 1970's Copyright D. Raynor

The Great Trap

The Great Trap

The next attempt was rather less sensational and came at the end of a decade of work by the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (LNI). 

Organised surface watches had failed to reveal the monster of popular expectation yet a huge volume of unexplained eyewitness testimony remained. Effort had moved underwater and thoughts were turning back to some of the original local "huge eel" ideas. In 1970, a study of the eel population was being made anyway, as one of the first attempts to incorporate some general biological research into the LNI activities. In addition to the eel traps, four "Great Traps" were made in case a small specimen of the larger quarry could be persuaded to enter. The traps were conical with the apex anchored to the bottom and measured 6ft high by 5ft across, with a spring loaded cover triggered by tension on a bait pouch inside

Bob Love's Proposed Trap  

Bob Love's Proposed Trap

Nothing was caught but this did not deter The LNI Scientific Director, the American, Roy Mackal or the leader of underwater activities, Bob Love. They proposed a number of traps 18ft by 6ft by 6ft built of plastic tube, which could be purged with compressed air to bring them to the surface if successful (Mackal, 1976 p 382). The traps would be anchored to the loch bed with a service platform moored at the surface. A radio alarm would be given if the trap doors were triggered. This temporary isolation of a specimen (for tissue sampling and photography) was seen as the final objective but the LNI left the field in 1972 with no funding forthcoming.   There was however, a legacy. At the end of the seventies, a monster was indeed discovered in the loch, a monster with no less than thirteen mouths! It was a flat worm less than two centimetres long but very undesirable because "Phagocata woodworthi" was an invader. It had never been found outside the American Continent before 1977 but here it was, in the shallow water at Invermoriston (Reynoldson et al. 1981). By 1984 The Loch Ness Project had also discovered it on the 200m deep basin floors (Shine & Martin, 1988, p 146 and Martin, Shine & Duncan, 1993 p 113 ). It was most probably introduced on equipment brought in during monster hunts. In 1991, J. O. Young showed just how undesirable this introduction was, since he found that it out competed native species for food (Young 1992). The Project also found another American immigrant, the freshwater shrimp Crangonyx pseudogracilis, but to be fair, it had been spreading northwards from its first discovery in London during the 1930's. However it was the first time it had been recorded in a Scottish loch so a question remains.
The Greatest Trap

It was to be 1984, before Bob Love's idea was tried by a Liverpool civil servant named Steve Whittle who obtained support from the Vladivar Vodka company. His plans called for a huge trap to be winched into the loch by a Chinook helicopter and maintained for a month at a depth of 30ms. His proposal to use live fish as bait raised concerns with the Fishery Board. This was because of the risks of introducing disease and because escaping fish, brought from elsewhere, might breed with the native stock, so affecting the gene pool. This was the point at which the Loch Ness Project became involved since they were working with the board at the time, on a number of fish studies. Mr. Whittles scheme was approved with the proviso that the Project agreed to undertake design, construction and deployment of the trap. This was perhaps the first move towards the Environment Panel of the year 2000. Thus by a strange irony, the Project, in return admittedly, for what amounted to two years funding, found itself with a not inconsiderable technical challenge with an objective it found difficult to take seriously. Things had moved on by then and even the most optimistic expectations for the size of an unknown animal would be nowhere near the specified 60ft. length of the trap. But a lot had to be taken seriously. To begin with, the Project might be wrong and a great deal of the Project's work has always revolved around this notion! The trap would have to be built ashore and be photographed, fly over Fort Augustus beneath a small helicopter without breaking up and be photographed, land on the water and be photographed, and be immersed 30ms down for a month. As if that weren't enough, it must pose no threat to navigation or the loch's known inhabitants and in the event of a successful capture, should any harm come to the captive, then it would be too late to say that the eventuality had not been taken seriously. In any case, there was the matter of professional pride!   Therefore, in a field at Fort Augustus, a true monster emerged in the shape of a great cylinder or "creel". It measured 60ft long and 20ft in diameter with doors at either end. It was made from "pultruded" fibreglass tube, reinforced with larger plastic tubes, designed to be very slightly buoyant in the water and of course, light in air. The triangular gaps between the tubes were over a metre on the longest side; quite sufficient to allow native fish and otters to pass through. This was a year before it was definitely established that seals enter the loch. The tubes were secured by ties and tape. In the event of a really huge capture the degree of success could probably be measured by the amount of damage to the trap!

The Vladivar Trap

The Vladivar Trap 1984

On 29th August 1984 a helicopter (much smaller than the Chinook originally proposed) took the strain on a "bridle" which distributed the load along both sides of the trap and flew it over fort Augustus, the sponsors banners forming an aerodynamic tail to make it fly straight. Four and a half kilometres along the loch, it was flown in towards a raft moored off one of the steepest parts of the shore. Here the "Horseshoe Scree" plunges down 700ft beneath the surface giving room to moor the structure in open water. Of the four lines securing the raft, only the inner two could be attached to the shore while the outer ones were over 2000ft (660m) long and held by anchors out on the loch's flat bed beyond the slope. As the helicopter released the bridle, the trap inverted itself with floats, allowing the same bridle to be attached to a line running through an anchor weight about 300ft below. Once steadying lines had been run from the trap to the outer mooring lines of the raft and to the raft itself, the trap could be hauled down to any depth whilst remaining correctly orientated out into the loch. Other lines held the trap doors hinged upwards.

Vladivar Splash-down

Vladivar "Splash-down


A sonar transducer monitored the interior of the trap and in the unlikely event of a capture, these lines, together with the downhaul would be released by the raft's crew. The trap could then rise gently to the surface with the doors dropping closed at the same time. The raft was kept attended in the interests of safety all round and the system worked well on tests. Finally, on October 2nd it was deemed that the trap had fulfilled its mission and the bait fish were removed. On this occasion, all parties seem to have emerged unscathed.

L.N.I. Dredge

The potential damage to sediments can be clearly seen. L.N.I. Dredge Early 1970'sCopyright D. Raynor

Dredging Trials at Loch Ness

The above examples, may help to show just how easy it is to cause damage, however inadvertently and just how much thought should go into avoiding it. Even the quest for dead monsters has its dangers. The LNI did some dredging and trawling in 1969 and the early 70's.

When another "hunt for Nessie's bones" proposed dredging in the mid nineties, the Loch Ness Project made representations to Scottish Natural Heritage regarding the protection of the special stratigraphic resource on the loch's deep basin floors.

This issue together with those introduced above, is to be addressed by the proposed code of practice.
In the meantime, it will help those proposing to work on Loch Ness to bear in mind the following:   1. British Waterways have a right of unobstructed navigation throughout the length of Loch Ness since it forms a part of the Caledonian Canal.


2. Activities which might result in the pollution of the loch are the remit of SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) ttp://www.sepa.org.uk/

3. The Ness District Salmon Fishery Board is a statutory body protecting angling interests and aquatic habitats. The Board would be concerned with matters which might be damaging to the native fish population, particularly the migratory salmon and sea-trout. The netting of fish in Loch Ness is prohibited, as is the introduction of alien fish, as bait for example. Even native species, may harbour disease. Escaping fish of farmed origin can also have adverse genetic effects when breeding with the native fish. The Clerk, Ness District Salmon Fishery Board, York House, 20 Church St., Inverness IV1 1ED

  4. The SSPCA (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) would have concerns over the risks and treatment of individual animals. Traps, for example could pose a risk for air breathing mammals such as seals and otters. Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), Braehead Mains .603 Queensferry Road ,Edinburgh .EH4 6EA . Tel: 0131 339 0222

5. SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) are responsible for the general protection of habitats within the environment and would be concerned if there was a possibility of introducing alien species, for example as eggs or spores, on equipment which had been previously used in waters elsewhere. They, along with the Loch Ness Project, have also expressed concern for the preservation of the deepwater sediments. http://www.snh.org.uk/

The Loch Ness & Morar Project have records of most previous activities at Loch Ness and are engaged in a number of current programmes. We may be able to assist with information, advice or refer enquiries to others.
and email to project@loch-ness-project.co.uk

© A and M SHINE

Back to Loch Ness Reflections