IN MY BOOK on a wildlife year on the River Devon – ‘If Rivers Could Sing’ – I took to the water several times to go snorkelling in search of underwater life.

I hadn’t been for a snorkel in the Devon for several months and the urge became so overpowering in recent weeks that I finally relented and plunged into the river once more, this time near Alva.

The visibility in the lower section was poor due to the amount of bottom sediment, but it was wonderful to glide across the water towards a tangle of willow and alder branches on the far bank.

In one shallow muddy section, a huge shoal of juvenile minnows swept past my facemask, dancing and jigging in the water.

They were attracted by the sediment I was stirring up, and they darted frantically around me in search of tiny food particles to snap-up.

These minnows play a crucial role in the ecology of the river, being food for kingfishers, goosanders and herons, as well as for large brown and sea trout.

I drifted back across to the near bank where I had first entered the water, and by a jumble of alder roots, more minnows swarmed, as well as a few sticklebacks.

The alder is the quintessential riverside tree, and brings many benefits, including preventing erosion of riverbanks and by ‘fixing’ nitrogen from the air, thus enriching nutrient-poor ground.

Another benefit was plainly obvious before my eyes – the tangle of underwater roots provided shelter to these fish, much in the same way as a reef does in the ocean.

I snorkelled for a while longer, before finally emerging from the water in a sheen of dripping water.

A piercing whistle suddenly broke the air, and a kingfisher flashed down river on blue-blurred wings, no doubt on its way to a favourite fishing perch to hunt for minnows and sticklebacks.

  • Keith’s book, If Rivers Could Sing, can be purchased at or other online sellers. It is also available at The Sorting Office in Dollar.