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A Highlander Looks Back
The Shin Hydro-Electric Scheme

ON the 6th July, 1954, work started at Lairg on the Shin hydroelectric scheme. The project is of colossal magnitude and the estimated cost is £9,000,000. Already wooden buildings with all modern conveniences are in course of construction to house hundreds of workmen at Inveran, Achany, and Lairg, and when the men are assembled it may safely be said that never since the days of the Covenanters have so many souls trampled the heath of these fair surroundings.

The scheme is one of the major undertakings of the HydroElectric Board. In all it is said that there will be four dams and five power stations; the catchment area will cover more than 250 square miles, embracing Loch Shin and its tributaries, the Grudie river, the river Cassley, the river Brora, and many hill burns.

Loch Shin will be raised and enlarged by a dam of 1,125 feet long and 30 feet high and its narrowest part about a mile west of the village of Lairg. It is also said that another dam will be built below the main dam across the river Shin. From here an underground tunnel five miles long will be built to carry the water to the main generating station at Invershin where it will empty into the lower reach of the Shin river.

As an angler I often wonder what effect this gigantic undertaking will have upon that great river. It is sometimes forgotten that our irreplaceable rivers hold the key to the whole success of the salmon fishing industry, and if once destroyed the loss will be so great that no gain will replace it. It is, however, encouraging to learn that the Secretary of State for Scotland dispels one’s doubts by assuring that all will be well. And the indignant angler who lives to see the day when this truly wonderful undertaking is completed will, I hope, have cause to uncover his head and give thanks, and pray that for all his unholy indignation he may be forgiven.

Despite the many misgivings one may have about the future of the Shin river there is no reason whatsoever, if wisely gone about, why the river should be spoiled; in fact, in my opinion, the hydroelectric scheme can have quite the contrary effect and improve matters. Even to the casual observer and much more so to me who have known the river for many years, it is quite apparent that the mouth of the river where it enters the Kyle requires attention.

It is the generally accepted opinion, with which I agree, that salmon on returning from the sea will make for the river from which they migrated to sea as smolts, but if an obstacle is placed at the mouth of that particular river the salmon will naturally go elsewhere as can be borne out by reports. I can remember having a talk with the late Mr Calderwood, then Inspector of Fisheries, when he stayed at the Inveran Hotel. He made mention of the state of the river mouth and said that it would have to be dealt with; indeed I think I am correct in saying that in his published book on salmon fishing he also stated this view.

I expected the Fishery Board to take action, but nothing was done and the evil has gone from bad to worse.

The late Mr Andrew Carnegie had immense improvements done to the river, and if those improvements are strictly maintained and the river mouth is seen to, and a reasonable flow of water allowed from where it enters the tunnel to the generating station at Inveran, the good old river will, in my opinion, still be one of the best and grandest of our Highland streams.

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