Scottish river flows again after nearly 70 dry years

River Garry reopens
Alistair Stephens from SSE, David Summers from Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board and Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s Chief Executive at the reopening of the River Garry in Perthshire

A ten-mile section of the River Garry in Perthshire, which had been dry since the construction of a hydro-electric scheme near Pitlochry in the late 1940s, is flowing again following a landmark agreement between energy company SSE, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board (TDSFB).

The re-opening of the ten-mile stretch of river to allow water to flow again will enable salmon to access the River Garry for the first time in over 60 years, promising major benefits for adult salmon spawning and juvenile production. These environmental benefits have been achieved through a small reduction in electricity generation at SSE’s Pitlochry hydropower dam, one of nine power stations in the Tummel Valley scheme.

The River Garry flows through the Grampian Mountains past Blair Atholl to join the Tummel Valley at Pitlochry.

Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, joined SSE, SEPA and TDSFB to mark the event at SSE’s Pitlochry Dam visitor centre on 30 October 2017.

Ms Cunningham spoke to local stakeholders about the importance of working together to protect and improve the environment and also support renewable energy production in Scotland, citing the Garry project as an excellent example:

“It demonstrates how industry, public bodies and local organisations can work together to balance the delivery of environmental improvements and renewable energy production,” she said, “as well as providing wider benefits to the local community and economy.”

Jeremy Williamson, SSE’s Director of Renewables Operations, described how the company had sought a solution that would maximise the benefits to the environment whilst minimising the impact on SSE’s hydro operations. “Although restoring the water in this stretch of the River Garry will result in a loss of potential hydro energy,” he said, “we recognise our responsibility to ensure that we manage the waters carefully where we operate our hydro assets and hope that the work to restore the River Garry will help create a sustainable population of salmon in this stretch of the river.”

SEPA’s Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn, said: “We have been working with SSE, the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board and other stakeholders for a number of years to help deliver this major improvement to the ecological quality of the River Garry – while minimising any impact on electricity generation from the Tummel Hydro Scheme.“

“This is a fantastic achievement for the ecology of this river which has historically been impacted by hydro-schemes for the last 60 to70 years. A total length of 10 miles of river with historically little or no flow will be improved. We hope to see salmon return to the river and that the river will now support a healthy population of juvenile and adult fish.”

David Summers, Director of the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, said: “Salmon have already been seen leaping at the falls at Struan after an absence over 60 years; something once assumed would never happen again. We hope that this will ultimately see an extra 1,500 salmon registered on the Pitlochry fish counter annually, bringing local benefits for both angling and general tourism.”

The weir at Struan, which acted as a barrier to stop fish attempting to move into the Garry, was removed in December 2016 and the River Garry started flowing once again this summer whilst SSE undertook the necessary engineering works and in the last month salmon have already been seen migrating into the ten-mile stretch.

SSE, SEPA and TDSFB have committed to an adaptive management plan that will see the group monitor the effects of restoring the River Garry over the next five years and ensure that the ecological goals for the river are maximised.