IN THE early summer of 1873, the River Devon was experiencing a problem.

Pollution from factories all along the river from Tillicoultry was being gathered all the way to Cambus.

Although well known as a good fishing river, that year saw large number of fish dying, and nothing like it had been seen before.

The large number of salmon fry and fine trout were dying in huge quantities, and were being picked up at Tillicoultry, then at Alva, where more dead fish were found, Menstrie, the Glenochil Distillery, and Cambus.

It transpired this was a yearly occurrence during the warm summer months, particularly when the river was low.

However, year on year, the numbers were rising, and an old resident at Cambus said he had not seen such destruction in all his life.

The first place looked at as the cause of this was Tillicoultry. The woollen mills used the local burn to power their looms and it was effluent from these works that was being swept downstream to the Devon where it polluted the water, killing the fish.

At Alva the situation was much the same, with effluent from the dye works being flushed into the Devon, but this added to the devastation caused at Tillicoultry.

This continued at Menstrie, and effluent from the Glenochil Distillery was also washed into the river, dealing the final fatal blow to the fish.

The fish were described as having a sickly colour to them caused by the lack of fresh water they needed to thrive and survive.

When seen in the water, the sickly colour was clearly seen, and it was easy enough to catch them with a simple hand fishing net as they seemed to have no energy.

They were found to lie nearly upright in the water, quivering, with their mouths near the surface. This made the slightly larger fish easy to grab from the riverside.

By the end of the summer season, very few fish were found to be alive below Glenochil Distillery.

The cause was clearly the impurities being emptied into the river from the factories and distilleries.

It left the water in a filthy state and tepid to the touch.

During the winter when the river was higher, it seemed to cope with the dirty water and the fish managed to thrive.

When it was low during the summer season, when the fish were at their highest number, it could not clear these impurities, so the freshwater fish died, and had to be collected and dumped as they could not be eaten.