Scotland is renowned for its rivers and lochs. Our freshwaters provide a home to iconic species such as Atlantic salmon and freshwater pearl mussels. They provide drinking water and are used to generate electricity. They support game fisheries and are essential for the production of food and drinks, including whisky. Freshwaters are important for our heritage and they provide opportunities for recreational activities and aesthetic enjoyment. Their natural capital means they have considerable economic value.
Scotland’s rich industrial heritage has however resulted in a legacy of interventions and barriers in our freshwater environments, particularly to free-flowing rivers. Our rivers have been dammed to power industrial processes, generate electricity and provide drinking water. Although many barriers have been removed, over 2,200 barriers remain in Scottish rivers. Whilst some of these are still operational, many are no longer used but still block the flow of the river, and the path of Salmon and Sea Trout on their migratory journeys. The result is that few rivers in Scotland can be considered to be truly free-flowing.