£350k ramps planned to let salmon reach old breeding grounds

Salmon on the Avon have been prevented from going up-river to breed by two weirs. Picture: Getty Images
Salmon on the Avon have been prevented from going up-river to breed by two weirs. Picture: Getty Images
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Wild salmon will be seen leaping upstream to breed in a once industrialised Scottish river for the first time in more than a century, thanks to a new initiative.

Weirs on Avon Water in South Lanarkshire have been a major obstacle for migrating Atlantic salmon since they were built to service mills in the 19th century.

But this summer a flagship partnership project will see specially designed ramps installed that will allow the fish to clear the barriers and reach spawning grounds.

Bankrolled by Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s Water Environment Fund, the scheme will reopen 200 kilometres of breeding grounds in the river network.

Atlantic salmon became virtually extinct in the Clyde at the height of Scotland’s industrial age, but improved treatment of waste and ischarges over the past 40 years has resulted in improved water quality.

This has encouraged the species to return to the Clyde and its tributaries. But in some places man-made barriers are preventing them reaching river beds where they lay their eggs.

The Avon rises in the hills between East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire, and experts say fish are queuing up at Ferniegair weir in a bid to travel upriver. However, both Ferniegair and the Millheugh weir, further upstream, have proved impassable.

Installing the special passes will give access to all rivers and tributaries beyond the weirs. The project will cost around £350,000 per weir, with construction of the rock ramps expected to take place within a few months.

“These two weirs on the Avon Water present significant obstacles to fish migration,” said barriers programme co-ordinator Rob Mitchell, of the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (Raft).

“Creating a route for salmon and other fish to be able to swim over them will open up a huge amount of spawning habitat.

“Salmon numbers are in decline globally, and opening up inaccessible habitat is an effective way of increasing numbers of juvenile fish heading to sea and eventually returning as adults.”

Scotland’s wild salmon and freshwater fisheries provide around £135 million a year to the Scottish economy in game and course angling and support 3,000 jobs.