The Hydro Electric Threat

The Scottish Government Has Announced Plans To Massively Increase The Provision of Hydro Electric Schemes, Will This Be The final Blow For Salmo salar?

Pitlochry Dam

In pursuit of targets for renewable power the Scottish Government plans to build a further 1,000 hydro electric schemes in Scotland. Could this signal the end for salmon fishing in this country? It certainly could unless we fight now to ensure that no scheme is allowed to wreak havoc in the way the schemes of the 1950's and 60's destroyed fishing on the Garry and many other river systems.

Current hydro electric provision totals 1,400 megawatts, the plan is to add another 650 megawatts by 2050 which raises so many environmental considerations.

How many beautiful glens will be lost? We must face the fact that it is usually the deep, stunningly rugged glens that offer the best natural holding pens for the water needed to generate electricity?

How many areas of natural importance for wild life, historic lineage, or geological interest will be submerged for generations?

How many miles of beautiful countryside will be scarred by the construction of pylons, access roads, dams, generating stations, tunnels and the rest of the essentials that go with the electricity industry?

More to the point, how many river systems will be blocked by dams, have their water redirected, have spawning grounds submerged or made inaccessible or destroyed during and after the construction stage?

The fish ladder at Pitlochry

This is not scaremongering, the fears are based on the fact that previous schemes did all of the above and more.

It is true that the fishing on some rivers, the Beauly being one, has benefitted from having a hydro scheme during drought periods when water released during the generation process keeps water levels healthy. Sadly there are many more examples of fishing being destroyed with salmon permanently excluded from spawning grounds.

At present several schemes are being considered for Black Rock gorge near Evanton, Allt Hallater between Loch Awe and Loch Etive, on the Braan near Dunkeld, Glen Lyon and Loch Rannoch. Places of great natural presence or where schemes exist that have already had a detrimental effect upon salmon, where untouched spawning grounds could be destroyed. Where else I wonder with 1,000 new schemes proposed?

Water from the upper river Spey is piped into the the Tay hydro scheme. How much more abstraction can the upper Spey take? Will the Upper Findhorn be targeted, It's great glacial glen above Tomatin looks inviting for hydro entrapment. What about the upper North Esk, South Esk, maybe the west cost rivers - after all their salmon and sea trout have been all but eliminated by fish farming and it might be deemed there is nothing to lose.

It's not just the the effect of damming a river that is a matter of concern, it is the the gathering of water throughout a catchment area that is a worry. Schemes can gather water from miles around pillaging water from burns and rivers to pipe it for miles to maintain water levels in the hydro reservoir. These burns may be part of an other river system effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul a highly profitable dividend.

It is said, to be fair, that only 128 of the schemes will involve dams, the rest will consist of weirs being build on rivers to divert water to a small generating station. 128 dams, to put this in perspective the Spinfish Where to Fish Directory lists just 109 salmon rivers which is just about every salmon river in Scotland give or take a few.

Loch Garry, Perthshire

In a sinister twist there is a proposal for the planning process to  be relaxed to allow decisions to be made locally, doesn't give you much confidence that government is thinking about anything other than their renewable energy targets does it?  We know what fish farming has done to our salmon and sea trout stocks. We know what high sea netting has done. We know what industrial fishing has done to food stocks for grilse and sea trout. We see how wind farms are being built everywhere despite vocal opposition. We dam well know we can't trust local vested interests to give a monkey's about angling.

With land owners likely to earn more from having a hydro scheme on their property than they could earn from fishing or farming we cannot leave planning decisions to be made locally it reeks of putting the fox in charge of the chickens. Decisions at ministerial level are essential, some one's head need to be on the block when a bad decision is made, that's what politicians are for, the chop at the ballot box.

Angling and conservation bodies throughout this country and abroad must get together and get militant about this new threat. This time round the law is in our favour, EU regulations, the Water Framework Directive, make it illegal to block the passage of migratory fish.

No penny pinching, no fudging the issues, if a project is to go ahead every effort must be made to ensure that the impact on the migration and spawning of our precious fish is made a priority. Since the 1950's there have been significant improvements in the design of fish passes, lets ensure that only the best are built, not some cheap bodge it job. Financial provision must be made to build and run full capacity hatcheries to make up for lost spawning and juvenile nursery areas. The construction phase must be done in a manner that is sensitive to river users (anglers and fish alike). Angling interests must be consulted on where power lines cross our rivers, not over the middle of a prime pool as so often happens.

I doubt that anglers are latter day Luddites against technology at any cost. The nation needs electricity and renewable energy is far preferable to the nuclear alternative, but our interests and the interests of future generations of anglers and the benefits to rural economies that they bring must not be ignored, not this time round.