By Sandra Dick

Their journey home is on an epic scale, taking Atlantic salmon hundreds of miles across the ocean to navigate river obstacles, throwing itself up and over fast-flowing Scottish waters.

Now the king of fish – battered by a host of issues that have seen their numbers dwindle to crisis levels – is receiving a helping hand from a range of major schemes designed to help halt its rapid decline.

The latest, just announced, combines peatland and river restoration, woodland creation and grazing management across a 2,000 hectares overgrazed farmland site within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Part of a multi-million pounds series of landscape restoration works within the Park, the new project around Ballimore Farm will revive a huge stretch of glen on the upper Teith, traditionally regarded as one of country’s best for wild salmon but which has seen numbers plunge in recent years.

Overseen by Forth Rivers Trust, the project - which has received just over £167,000 from NatureScot and the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority - will bring together peatland restoration, river restoration, large scale tree planting, riparian planting and buffers plus other land management enhancements across the 2,000 hectares landscape.

Part of the Trust’s extensive work to improve the upper Teith catchment it’s hoped the work will support iconic species including Atlantic salmon, brown and sea trout, freshwater pearl mussels and lampreys for future generations.

The funding follows the announcement of a £350,000 project in 2021 to restore and improve the headwaters of the River Teith catchment area on the River Larig near Lochearnhead, in a further bid to ensure Atlantic salmon and other species can continue to thrive.

No longer in use for agricultural, the project aims to restore land around the river to its former ‘wet’ nature and involves planting thousands of trees to improve banking and provide shade and cover for wild species.

Wood is also being added to the river channel to provide cover and create pools, runs and riffles for fish, food sources for invertebrates and habitat for wading birds and other wildlife.

Efforts along the river Teith are part of a country-wide attempt to stimulate Scotland’s wild salmon numbers, in decline since monitoring began in 1971 – around the same time as salmon farms appeared in Scottish sea lochs.

Records originally showed around 1.2 million fish, however that has dropped to around 360,000.

The species is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, parasites, sea lice, low water quality and quantity, water temperature and manmade barriers which affect its passage upstream.

On the River Dee, the UK’s highest river and famous for its salmon fishing, only around 3% of the salmon that leave the river to feed in the ocean return as adult fish, compared to 40% in the 1960s.

The Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund has recently confirmed £480,000 to help improve the salmon production areas of the upper Dee.

The project, led by the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, will see more than 1100 trees planted into the riverbed or bank, spawning gravels for fish to lay their eggs, and pools for fish to take cover from predators, floods and droughts.

River restoration work has also been carried out on stretches of the River Tweed in the Borders, where last week figures revealed 6,690 rod-caught salmon last year, below the five-year average of 6,810. Almost all – 96% - were returned to the water.

While efforts to improve the fortunes of Scotland’s salmon have also been carried out on the River Tyne in East Lothian, where the removal of barriers has opened around 200km of waterways to migrating fish.

The work is one of the largest fishing channel projects undertaken, and has involved removing weirs which once diverted water from the river to mills along the river’s edge.

Funding for the latest project, which will include the restoration of previously drained peatland and the ‘re-wetting’ of areas and trees planted on both slopes of the glen surrounding Ballimore Farm, south of Balquidder, has come from the Scottish Government’s annual Nature Restoration Fund.

Alison Baker, Director of the Forth Rivers Trust said: “We need to act now to restore our catchments in an integrated way which provide both landscape scale change and long term resilience.

“This project will provide a baseline against what is achievable to protect our iconic species for the future, provide local social and economic resilience and start to reverse the impacts of biodiversity loss and climate change pressures.”

While Dominic Hall, Future Nature Development Manager at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority, described it as “an incredibly exciting project that will deliver long-term action on the ground and contribute to the resilient, nature-rich National Park we want for future generations.

“Our Future Nature programme works with communities, partners, businesses and land managers across the Park to restore biodiversity and the natural environment.

“This is exactly the kind of bold, landscape scale action that we need if we are to reverse the decline in nature by 2030 and ensure the widespread restoration of nature in the Park by 2040.”

Announcing the funding, Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Scotland’s nature is so important to all of us - our woodlands, peatlands, rivers and lochs are central to our cultural heritage and identity. But this complex diversity and abundance of life is also central to our survival as a species. Our economy, jobs, health and wellbeing depend on it.

“Nature-based solutions – restoring our peatlands and native forests for example - are also key to our success in tackling the climate crisis.”

The Scottish Government plans to publish a delivery plan later this year, setting out how it aims to achieve its Scottish Biodiversity Strategy goals, which include protecting 30% of Scotland’s land and seas for nature by 2030.

Chair of NatureScot Mike Cantlay said: “Large-scale nature restoration projects are vital to help us tackle the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. If we are to have any chance of saving nature, then we must do everything we can to halt its decline now.

“The Nature Restoration Fund supports ambitious action to put Scotland’s land and seas, and all the wild species that inhabit them, back on the road to recovery. It is project like this one that will make a real and positive difference.”