For generations, mills to process materials – such as grain, paper and iron – cropped up along the banks of the river Almond. Each mill required a weir, and whilst they are an ingenious way to slow water, move it through a lade to turn a wheel or fill a mill pond, weirs are a barrier to fish movement up and downstream. The shale-oil boom in the mid-19th century across Scotland’s Central Belt also required riverside infrastructure and lead to high levels of pollution. The river has suffered badly as a result of these industrial scale changes.
Developments in technology meant the mills were no longer profitable and were gradually abandoned. This coupled with the demise of mining and heavy industry in the area means that the river is now relatively clean. The improved cleanliness has lead to the river being actively repopulated by wildlife. A healthy population of brown trout draws otters and herons. Kingfishers and dippers are spotted regularly. Improving runs of both Atlantic salmon and sea trout to the river would suggest that the river is on the mend.
With the human impact greatly reduced one of the final steps in restoring the river is the process of reopening the access to the natural breeding and spawning grounds in the tributaries and headwaters of the river. This will be achieved by removing or modifying all of the weirs on the river to ease the passage for all wildlife including the migratory fish species.
As a truly productive wildlife corridor the river Almond was seriously broken for a long time. The operations to restore the river at Howden weir, like operations on the human body, leave some scaring and take time to heal. But nature and time are great healers. The otters have returned, they didn’t actually go away just kept out of the way when the works were taking place. Algae are beginning to coat the fresh rock surfaces and small plants are already taking hold. Over the coming weeks, months and years the raw look will disappear and we will be left with a fully functioning and naturalised section of river which is passable to all species.