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Plans unveiled to revive famous fish ladder attraction at Pitlochry Dam

This picture, taken in the 1950s, shows Sandy Philips, left, enjoying his lunch with a colleague in the observation chamber while being spied on by a salmon making its way up the ladder
This picture, taken in the 1950s, shows Sandy Philips, left, enjoying his lunch with a colleague in the observation chamber while being spied on by a salmon making its way up the ladder

Scotland’s most famous fish ladder could soon be revived as a visitor attraction for the first time in more than three years.

The salmon ladder has been one of the best known features at Pitlochry Dam since the 1940s.

Pitlcohry Dam and Visitor Centre.

Viewing panels were installed so tourists could marvel at thousands of Atlantic salmon swimming up the River Tummel and over the wall.

The observation platform was closed off in 2018 because of construction work but in June 2019 operators SSE announced it would be shut down for good because it no longer complied with the company’s strict safety standards.

At the time bosses confirmed they were working on new viewing arrangements, while a livestream was made available at the visitor centre.

SSE to shut fish ladder observation chamber for safety reasons

Now SSE has lodged proposals for a permanent solution.

The Perth-based company wants to build a visitor information facility at the dam, featuring monitors to broadcast live scenes from the fish ladder and counter.

The outdoor shelter, earmarked for a grassy area to the east of the dam, will also display historic information about the A-listed structure.

In papers lodged with Perth and Kinross Council, agents for SSE said: “While other dams (Clunie, Dunalastair and Gaur) along the River Tummel have fish ladders to permit the yearly migration of Atlantic Salmon to their spawning grounds, the Pitlochry Dam is notable for the accessibility of the fish ladder to the public, a feature that was incorporated at its inception in 1946.”

A scene from Pitlochry Dam as water pours through the flood gates in 1950.

The Pitlochry Dam and ladder would attract between 500,000 and 750,000 visitors each year.

The spokesman said: “As part of the design, viewing panels were introduce to the side walls of the fish ladder to allow people a glimpse of the salmon as they made their way along the ladder.

“However, the dark peaty waters and low light levels make sightings difficult and rare.

“To improve the visitor experience both to the dam and the fish ladder, it is proposed to erect a bespoke shelter that allows people to view three TV screens that will have video coverage of the salmon in the fish ladder, and provide information about the workings of the dam and the production of renewable energy.”

The ladder was the first of its type in Scotland, and was created following an act of parliament which laid a duty of care to the then North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to preserve fish stocks.

It is made up of 34 separate pools, each 50cm higher than the last, and covering a distance of 310 metres.

Council officers are considering SSE’s planning application and are expected to deliver their verdict in the coming weeks.

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