Protected areas and species

  • This section outlines the information that applicants are required to provide in relation to the impact the proposed scheme will have on areas designated as a Special Area of Conservation or other designated sites, and on protected species that are particularly vulnerable to hydro power development. Information can be found on the following:  
  • fish located in or connected to designated sites  
  • sites designated for species other than fish  
  • bryophytes

Information on fish for schemes that are located in or connected to designated sites  

If the scheme has the potential to impact on an area designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or other designated sites (eg Sites of Special Scientific Interest) for one or more fish species, additional information may be required. This will depend on the fish species concerned. The information requirements for Special Areas of Conservation are summarised in the table below. SNH provides data and information on designated sites all over Scotland.  

You can view the extent of designated site boundaries, find out about the important features of sites and download supporting documents. A scheme may be proposed in a river out-with the SAC designated boundaries, but with the potential to affect the SAC. In such cases, where connectivity can be established, there is the potential to have an impact on populations within the SAC. If the proposal is considered to have a likely significant effect on a qualifying interest of any Natura site, either alone or in combination with other projects or plans, an appropriate assessment will be carried out by SEPA using information supplied from the applicant and other sources. SNH will provide advice to SEPA in such circumstances.  

The requirements in Table 5 for lampreys only apply if the scheme is located within the geographic range of the species within the designated site boundary. Please check with SNH before undertaking any survey work. Any correspondence with SNH should be submitted with the application. Guidance on lamprey sampling in SACs can be found in Annex C of the Guidance for applicants on supporting information requirements for hydropower applications.  

Part 1 of Annex C explains how potential lamprey habitat should be identified. Part 2 of Annex C provides guidance on how to undertake a semi-quantitative electro-fishing survey for lampreys, if applicable.  

Table 5: Additional information on fish for schemes located in or connected to rivers designated as Special Areas of Conservation for fish species  

Information  Fish species for which the site has been designated 
  Atlantic salmon River lamprey and brook lamprey  Sea lamprey 

On fish habitat 

Standard information as described in Section 3.5 Information on the location and extent of potential river lamprey and brook lamprey habitat within the affected stretch  

Information on the location and extent of potential sea lamprey habitat within the affected stretch 

On fish populations  Standard information as described in Section 3.5  If potential habitat for lamprey larvae is present, an appropriate semi-quantitative electro-fishing survey  If potential habitat for lamprey larvae is  present, appropriate semi-quantitative electro-fishing survey 

Information requirements for sites designated for features other than fish

If the scheme has the potential to impact on an area designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area, etc, additional information to that stated in this section and the section on bryophytes may be required. This will depend on the features for which the site is designated (see the SNH website).  

Where the qualifying or notified features of a designated site are water dependent, SEPA expects appropriate supporting information to form part of the developer’s application. There are a wide range of species and habitats in designated sites in Scotland that may be affected by hydro development. As well as water dependent species, these include terrestrial habitats and species too. While it is beyond the scope of this document to cover them all, here are some information requirements for some features that are particularly vulnerable to hydro power development:  

Freshwater pearl mussels  

If the proposal is in a catchment designated as a Special Area of Conservation or Site of Special Scientific Interest for freshwater pearl mussels, the applicant should seek SNH's advice as to whether the proposed controlled activities are located within the limits of the geographic range of freshwater pearl mussels within the site. Freshwater pearl mussels are also present in locations outside designated sites and SNH can advise on any known locations of pearl mussels. They are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). This makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure, take or disturb this species or to damage their habitat. If the proposed activities are to be located within the geographic range of freshwater pearl mussels (which extends across most of Scotland, aside from the Borders and parts of the Lothians and Fife), and in a river that is not either ephemeral or entirely bedrock, SEPA will require an assessment to be made as to whether freshwater pearl mussels are present. If their presence cannot be discounted, a freshwater pearl mussel survey should be undertaken of those reaches that will be affected by construction of the hydro scheme and/or subject to reduced flows. Part 3 of Annex C explains how to undertake a freshwater pearl mussel survey.

Otters  

SEPA will require information on the location of any otter holts and resting places within the immediate vicinity of the engineering works associated with applications, including impounding works, unless:  

    • the river in which the works are to be undertaken is a ditch; or
    • SNH already has survey information on otter holts in the river concerned.

In some cases these data may not be recent and an additional follow-up survey may be required to identify the location of otter holts and resting places. Please contact SNH for advice.  

Otters are listed on Annex IV of the Habitats Directive and Schedule 2 of the Habitats Regulations. This means that they are one of a number of European protected species which are afforded strict legal protection wherever they reside. Other examples of European protected species that reside in Scotland and may be impacted by hydroelectric developments include bats (all species), wild cats, the Natterjack toad, Great crested newt, Killarney Fern, Slender naiad and yellow marsh saxifrage. It is illegal to damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal without a licence. Depending on why it is required, both SNH and the Scottish Government are the licensing authorities for activities that may affect listed species listed. Part 4 of Annex C explains how to undertake an otter survey.  

Water vole

Water voles are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). This makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure, take or disturb this species or to damage their habitat. SEPA will require the developer to provide information on water vole distribution within the vicinity of engineering works and watercourses likely to be affected by the development. Part 5 of Annex C explains how to undertake a survey for water voles.  

Bryophytes and hydro schemes  

The western part of the British Isles has international importance for its oceanic bryophyte and lichen floras, with large populations of some species that are uncommon in Europe generally and a few species that are rare or absent in the rest of Europe. Incised river valleys, and particularly rocky ravines that may be suitable for hydropower represent key refugia for these species. Oceanic bryophytes and lichens require high humidity, and a reduction in river flow may result in a negative impact on these species. Many bryophytes of oceanic ravines also depend on new habitat created when rivers are in spate and on frequent periods of inundation. The impact of an application on river corridor humidity and spate flow rates will have to be considered where a site is known or found to be important for its oceanic bryophyte and/or lichen flora.  

A bryophyte and lichen survey is recommended for any Scottish hydropower application. 

Information on the bryophyte and lichen flora will be required if conditions 1, 2 and/or 3 below are met:  

  1. The application relates to a site in western Scotland (West Coast Scotland Important Plant Area or Western Isles)*.
  2. The watercourse is incised and/or a wooded ravine.
  3. The application relates to a site that has been designated for its bryophyte and/or lichen interest eg SSSIs or SACs.  

*Important oceanic or riparian bryophyte and lichen communities may be found beyond the oceanic zone defined here, which is why a general bryophyte or lichen survey is always recommended.  The West Coast Scotland IPA boundary is available from the Plantlife website.  

In addition, if a river catchment is known to support populations of river jelly lichen (Collema dichotomum) and the river bed includes shelves of basic rock, a survey for this protected species is recommended.  The survey results should be used to assess what the impacts of abstraction will be on the species (eg if it would increase exposure and could result in individuals becoming exposed and dying). This species is listed in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), which protects it from intentional or reckless destruction.  

Species data can be obtained from existing datasets for some sites. All British bryophyte records, held by the British Bryological Society, and lichen records, held by the British Lichen Society, are publically available via the NBN Atlas.  

Although these public datasets are unlikely to provide information specific to the application, they may be able to indicate whether a further survey is required. Where there are insufficient records to make a judgement, the applicant should consult a competent bryologist and/or lichenologist who has expertise in oceanic species and can advise whether a further survey is required. Where a survey is required a report should include:  

  1. A list of oceanic bryophyte species (sensu Hill & Preston, 1998) and/or oceanic woodland lichen species (Coppins & Coppins, 2002) located between the intake and outflow points. Uncommon or vulnerable species should be highlighted.
  2. Differentiation between species found within the splash zone and those only found beyond the splash zone.
  3. Local context including a description of the extent and quality of similar habitat within the wider river catchment.
  4. Extent and type of woodland within ravine sections of the river and likely contribution of surrounding woodland to local humidity.
  5. Representative photographs of incised or wooded ravine sections that will be affected by abstraction.
  6. Where the river jelly lichen is found, information should be provided on the impact of abstraction on the inundation period of the population/s.

Where an expert bryologist or lichenologist advises that a survey is not required, a brief report should be submitted that clearly justifies this advice. Photographs should be provided to clarify the case where appropriate.