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Fishery board calls for halt on development of pump storage hydro schemes using Loch Ness

By Val Sweeney

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Campaigners are worried about the impact of further hydro schemes using Loch Ness on salmon.
Campaigners are worried about the impact of further hydro schemes using Loch Ness on salmon.

A campaign has been launched calling for an immediate moratorium on the development of further pumped storage hydro schemes using Loch Ness.

The Ness District Salmon Fishery Board (DSFB) says dramatic fluctuations in the level of the loch due to hydro power "industrialisation" could spell disaster for its fragile ecosystem and the Ness’s already beleaguered wild salmon population.

The campaign, which includes a series of public meetings throughout January, follows the submission of a planning application for the Loch Kemp pump storage scheme by Statera and the acquisition of the previously approved Red John scheme by Europe’s largest hydro power generator Statkraft.

A petition calling for a halt on new and larger developments on Loch Ness has already gathered more than 500 signatures in a week.

Brian Shaw, director of the Ness DSFB, said that when operational the Loch Kemp and Red John schemes, combined with the existing Foyers scheme, will be able to raise or lower the level of Loch Ness by as much as 73cm (2ft 5ins) overnight.

“Such dramatic, indeed astonishing, fluctuations in water levels will play havoc with the shoreline ecology, disrupt natural currents within the loch and potentially raise the temperature of Loch Ness," he said.

He said in addition, flows down the River Ness would fluctuate constantly but would be at rock bottom level more often with potentially lethal consequences for fish being left stranded.

Ness District Salmon Fishery Board director Brian Shaw. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Ness District Salmon Fishery Board director Brian Shaw. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Mr Shaw said no appropriate measures had been put forward by the Loch Kemp developers to mitigate the impacts.

"Loch Ness is an iconic natural resource and it should not be subjected to what amounts to an unregulated goldrush with minimal regard for the environmental consequences," he said.

"Salmon numbers in the Ness catchment have fallen markedly in recent decades and we need to resist any additional pressures if we are to halt the decline. Salmon are a critical part of the Ness catchment’s ecosystem.

"There should be no further pump storage hydro development unless it can be proved definitively that the salmon population will not be adversely affected."

He also warned the loss of salmon could impact on the dolphins which gather at Chanonry Point.

"The famous dolphins at Chanonry Point are only there for one reason," he said.

"Lose the Ness salmon and the greatest wildlife spectacle in the Highlands goes with them."

The Ness salmon attract Bottlenose dolphins at Chanonry Point.
The Ness salmon attract Bottlenose dolphins at Chanonry Point.

The Ness DSFB says its concerns are reinforced by a new independent report by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research which concludes the current environment impact assessment and environmental scoping report for the proposed pump storage hydro projects lack concrete evidence to back up claims that salmon will not be significantly impacted.

"We are keen to emphasise that we are not against pump storage hydro per se, but we believe strongly that any such schemes should be located where the environmental, and societal, risks are lower," Mr Shaw said.

"We are aware of at least one such location within the Ness catchment which is already under consideration, where there are no salmon and which would be capable of producing very significant amounts of energy."

The public meetings, which all start at 7pm, will be held on:

* Monday, January 15, Caledonian Canal Café, Fort Augustus.

* Tuesday, January 16, Glenmoriston Hall, Invermoriston.

* Wednesday, January 17, Glenurquhart Hall, Drumnadrochit.

* Monday, January 22, Dores Village Hall.

* Thursday, January 25, Wildside Centre, Whitebridge.

Statera said it was disappointed at the petition from Ness DSFB with whom it had had many discussions.

David Rodger, business development director Scotland for Statera, said: "There seem to be some aspects of pumped storage hydro schemes which are causing them concern and we are happy to have the opportunity to address these.

"Far from causing problems for water levels in Loch Ness, the opposite is the case.

"Pumped storage hydro schemes can help tackle the issues being caused by climate change by releasing water during dry periods and storing water to help flood management.

"The impact of the Kemp scheme is likely to marginally increase the fluctuations in Loch Ness but no more so than occurs through natural weather patterns today.

"The shoreline ecology thrives despite these fluctuating levels and there is no reason that will change."

He said it would not increase the temperature or impact on the natural currents of Loch Ness, or have any negative impact on dolphins in the Moray Firth.

"There is no evidence that the Foyers scheme has any detrimental impact on salmon smolt and we will be installing the same protective measures at our inlets as exist at Foyers," Mr Rodger said, adding extensive assessments in the last two years were in the environmental impact assessment.

"Loch Kemp offers a range of benefits including better water management, substantial carbon savings, improved energy security and a boost to local jobs.

"We are happy to discuss the project with anyone who has concerns about it."

Statkraft has been invited to comment.

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