AMBER: The Ness Case Study


AMBER’s Scottish case study was led by the Rivers and Lochs Institute (RLI) at Inverness College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.. It focused on the assessment of ecosystem restoration needs arising from the presence and operation of the Great Glen Hydropower Scheme on the River Garry, one of the main tributary rivers within the Ness catchment.

A very significant reduction in the salmon population of the River Garry following installation of the dams, and the ongoing efforts at mitigating these impacts through the Upper Garry Salmon Restoration project, prompted the choice of this river system as the case study for applying the barrier impact tools and adaptive management framework developed within AMBER.

Understanding the conservation challenge of this iconic and economically important fish species requires consideration of broader river ecology and connectivity issues, as well as of the social, cultural and economic context. An in-depth report submitted to the EU can be found here. It describes the key findings and future research objectives for the Ness catchment, with particular emphasis on the results obtained from eDNA and water quality analyses.

Development of the case study was made possible through a variety of different partnerships. At the onset of the project, the RLI partnered with the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board (hereafter NDSFB) and with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), the hydropower company that owns the Great Glen Hydropower Scheme, to discuss project progress and operations. Said partnership was already in existence prior to the launch of AMBER, in the form of the “Upper Garry Salmon Restoration Project”, a selective salmon breeding and stocking program based on identification and promotion of the original dwindling salmon population through genetic analysis.

The broader adaptive management and tool development approach underpinning AMBER involved a broader set of collaborations. During the case study, the following activities were completed in partnership with additional institutions:

  • Development of the eDNA tool for barrier assessment in collaboration with Swansea University and the University of Oviedo
  • Drone survey and sediment analysis in collaboration with the University of Durham
  • Habitat assessment in collaboration with the Inland Fisheries Institute in Poland.
  • Placement of temperature sensors below barriers in collaboration with the Scotland River Temperature Network initiative, led by Marine Scotland Science.
  • Discussion with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency on barrier management practices in Scotland.
  • Investigation of historical, cultural and linguistic background for the case study area (Gaelic-speaking at the time the dams were installed), in collaboration with the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture - Sabhal Mor Ostaig UHI
  • Interviews and workshops with members of the local community with support from the Glengarry Heritage Centre in Invergarry.
  • Water quality sample collection and analysis in collaboration with the Environmental Research Institute UHI (ERI)

Within the constraints of the primary focus of the project on the Upper Garry, a catchment-wide approach (the hallmark of any adaptive management strategy) was sought, and the core eDNA analysis of barrier impacts for the Great Glen Hydro Scheme was extended to:

  • eDNA analysis of Loch Ness, as part of the Loch Ness Hunters project, providing additional information in terms of species composition and lake ecology to compare and contrast with Loch Quoich and Loch Garry (both impounded by hydropower dams).
  • eDNA analysis of the presence of salmon in the Caledonian Canal, run in parallel to a smolt tagging experiment (part of the Missing Salmon Project) aimed at quantifying the impact caused by the Caledonian canal on the downstream migration of smolts from the Garry.

Finally, the AMBER project coincided with another initiative, the “Garry Dam Screens Project” led by case study partners, SSE and NDSFB, to investigate the impact of the screens placed on Garry Dam to shield smolts from going through the hydropower turbines when the plant is in production. An assessment was made of the effect of the turbines on smolt survival when the screens were removed, to see whether lack of screens could potentially improve smolt escapement.

As can be seen from the above list of partners and activities, the Ness catchment has been under intense study for the past five years, through AMBER and other initiatives, and there is great potential for a comprehensive adaptive management framework to be developed, bringing together researchers and relevant stakeholders.



An impassable weir at Burn of Tynet. Credit: Agata Drywa.

An impassable weir, Burn of Tynet, Spey Bay. Credit: Agata Drywa.

Quoich Dam, Upper Garry. Drone footage by Shobhit Pipil, University of Durham

Quoich Dam, Upper Garry. Drone footage by Shobhit Pipil, University of Durham.