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The Benefits of Waterway Restoration for Farmers

19 June 2024

Scotland’s salmon are currently in crisis. Since the 1970s the population has been in decline as this iconic species is slowly disappearing from the rivers they once called home.. As of December 2023, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed wild Atlantic salmon as endangered in Great Britain. But there is still a great opportunity for farmers and landowners to make changes to help bring back Scottish Salmon.

Why Waterway Improvements Matter for Farmers

Farmers and landowners are able to play a major role in helping to restore Scottish salmon populations to what they once were. As of now landowners who have property along burns or rivers have the chance to do more and from those efforts get more back from the waterways that flow next to their lands. Efforts to increase tree cover, re-meander rivers, and add large woody structures to waterways all can be adopted to increase suitability of these areas for salmon spawning as well as leading to on farm improvements.

  • Capture more nutrient and fertilizer runoff and limit diffuse pollutants
  • Protect livestock from water borne diseases
  • Access to forestry planting schemes
  • Improved pollinator access to crops
  • New financial possibilities from increased fish access

Opportunities for Waterway Improvements

Waterway improvements can take many different forms, from large scale designed projects to small incremental improvements. This can be as simple as allowing for some large woody debris to be put in a river, possibly a tree that has fallen from windblow or one that can’t be used for timber production. Larger scale projects could include planting efforts along a re-meandered river. Precautions would need to be taken to ensure the minimal amount of disturbance was caused to neighbouring fields and plans to reinforce the new riverbanks with new vegetation would be needed to minimise the loss of productive fields. New riverside trees could be used to help access forestry planting funding to help minimise the loss of revenue from the decrease in overall grazing or arable fields. Any new improvements at any part of the catchment area would improve the situation salmon are currently in, but if done in a systematic way then large sections of the catchment could become incredibly productive and healthy salmon spawning grounds.

Scottish Forestry Support

Scottish Forestry has stated that one of their priorities moving forward will be the creation and improvement of new riparian (riverside) woodlands. Riparian woodlands across Scotland are seen as an effective tool to help improve river quality, reduce river temperatures, support flood management efforts and enhance the wider environment, salmon being one important aspects of these improvements. Efforts such as Riverwoods advocates for improved riverbank woodlands and is supported by a variety of different environmental groups. Rural payments can also be accessed specifically for riparian woodlands. These new woodlands are subject to certain requirements but will allow for a higher payment rate if the planting in done to the higher standard.

Diversification Opportunities

Farmers and rural landowners are more at risk from changing climatic conditions and the loss of crops or livestock. Salmon also are at risk to the negative aspects of climate change and the increasing pressure their remaining habitats are coming under. Finding new areas where landowners can gain financial benefits is critical to maintain the health of the rural sector. By improving riverbanks farmers could potentially gain access to new financial opportunities found from fishing or eco-tourism. New healthier rivers could lead to improved fishing stocks, depending on the surrounding health of the river, and allow for the sale of new fishing permits within the improved beats. Any potential fishing permits should be issued in compliance with local regulations and support from the local district salmon fishery boards (DSFBs) or water bailiffs. Any new changes to the river should also be done in concert with any existing works and with the support of experts who have knowledge of what will lead to the best outcomes for the landowner and the river itself.

Salmon Improvements

Adding any new improvements to a riverbank to encourage ecological improvement will lead to an overall improvement in the salmon population within Scotland. These changes will add up over time and hopefully lead to a reversal to the declining salmon population. When done correctly these changes can lead to ecological benefits to the river, and financial gain for the landowners implementing them.

Salmon Swimming upstream

Matt Herbst, SAC Consulting

Further Resources

Anyone interested in implementing salmon or greater riparian improvement projects should look into information provided by Scottish Forestry, Riverwoods, and their local catchment/fishery boards. Spatial data can also be found through Scottish Forestry’s Map Viewer where Target Woodlands for Riparian benefits is an included layer. Suggested links will be included below.

Related FAS Resources

Protecting Atlantic Salmon | Helping farmers in Scotland | Farm Advisory Service (

Scottish Forestry:

Scottish Forestry - Boosting tree planting around rivers and streams

Scottish Forestry - Blog: Planting next to rivers and streams

Scottish Forestry - Forestry Grant Scheme

Scottish Forestry - Scottish Forestry Map Viewer


Home | Riverwoods

Scottish Government:

Woodland Creation (

The River Ayr at low water level, there are stones dry above the water line and the dense tree canopy down the riverbank is in full leaf.

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