Hydro dam at Faskally. ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Hydroelectric power

We support hydroelectric schemes that are well designed and situated to avoid or mitigate impacts on Scotland’s nature and landscapes.


Hydroelectric schemes may affect Scotland’s nature and landscapes over a wide area.

The most important effects are on:

  • sediment transport
  • water quality and quantity
  • water temperature
  • morphological changes to running and standing waters
  • species – chiefly migratory fish, mosses and liverworts, and freshwater pearl mussels
  • landscape
  • recreational use of rivers/burns
  • wild land qualities

The design of a scheme can help to mitigate such impacts. Find out more in our guidance on Hydroelectric schemes and the natural heritage.

To avoid important moss and liverwort communities, check where they’re located using our hydroelectric development planning tool.

Early development planning stages

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has set out Guidance for developers of run-of-river hydropower schemes.

Developers should apply this guidance to see if a proposal is likely to get CAR authorisation from SEPA. If you believe it will, you should then contact us for advice on how to assess the scheme’s impacts on the natural heritage.

SEPA is most likely to support hydropower developments that can contribute significantly to Scotland’s renewable energy targets with minimal adverse impacts on the water environment.

Developers must also apply for planning permission from the relevant planning authority.

We strongly encourage pre-application discussions with developers, as talking to us early on in the planning phase lets us advise you on site design.

Screening checklist for planners

Planning officers will find the Scottish Government’s sample screening checklist helpful when screening small-scale hydroelectric scheme proposals for the need for Environmental Impact Assessment.

The checklist should be used alongside:

  • the specific planning authority policies and supplementary planning guidance for the area
  • a constraints check

Developers may also wish to complete the checklist to submit with a pre-application enquiry.

More guidance

Guidance for applicants on supporting information requirements for hydropower applications

Guide to Hydropower Construction Best Practice – which directs the construction industry to guidance on pollution prevention measures

Constructed tracks in the Scottish Uplands – how the infrastructure required for developments has an impact on natural heritage interests

Assessing the impacts of small scale hydroelectric schemes on rare bryophytes and lichens: SNH Commissioned Report No.421

Bryological assessment for hydroelectric schemes in the West Highlands: SNH Commissioned Report No.449b

Good practice image guide for contractors

Review of our support for hydro developments

SNH and SEPA Board members first reviewed the work of both public bodies to support hydroelectricity developments in 2014. A follow-up review in 2015 looked at our progress in relation to the actions set out in the original review.

Download the review documents:


Other renewable technologies

Learn about our approach to renewable energy development in general.


Kenny Taylor
Telephone: 07901 008 450
Email: [email protected]