Hydro Board History - Was the Garry's sacrifice actually necessary?
During the Second World War the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (NOSHEB) was formed. It was championed by Tom Johnston, the then Secretary of State for Scotland who dreamt it would pave the way for great economic development in the Highlands. In the next two decades many schemes were built before it was finally accepted in the 1960s that new hydro schemes were uneconomic as the real price of electricity fell. In the event the degree of economic development hoped for did not materialise but there was a significant social benefit by bringing power to far flung Highland communities. This was the Hydro Board's main contribution.
However, while in the north of Scotland the hydro schemes were designed to provide electricity for Highland communities, those in the south were not. Rather they were intended to sell electricity to central Scotland in order to offset the losses which the non-profit making Hydro Board envisaged making by supplying Highland communities further north.
he purpose of the Tummel-Garry scheme, for example, was clearly stated in the Explanatory Memorandum (Cmd. 6660, 1945):
“The intended customers for the energy to be obtained from the Tummel-Garry Scheme are the Central Electricity Board for the Central Scotland Grid and two authorised undertakers within the Highland area – the Grampian Electricity Supply Company and the Corporation of Aberdeen. No direct or immediate benefit to local consumers in the area of the Tummel-Garry Scheme is contemplated”.
Some have questioned the economic rationale of the Hydro Board as the costly schemes produced a modest amount of electricity at a time when Britain had lost much of its wealth owing to the War.
Given the Tummel-Garry scheme was not even necessary to supply local communities it begs the question as to whether it really was necessary at all or whether cheaper forms of supply to central Scotland would have proved economically more beneficial to the country as a whole.
The Tummel-Garry scheme was bitterly opposed by a number of interest groups, including the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board.
The public enquiry which decided its outcome opened on the 25th of April 1945, in the dying days of the Second World War, which perhaps helps explain the extreme nature of the damage done.
The report of the public enquiry (Cmd 6660, 1945) noted that:
“as regards the effect upon fisheries, the tribunal found that the extent of the damage to be apprehended was the subject of acute divergence of expert evidence……no attempt was made in the witness box to quantify any of the apprehended loss. In a matter so uncertain as the prospects of salmon fishing we think it was wise to refrain from the attempt.”
Severe damage was claimed by the local salmon fisheries interests. The Fisheries Committee set up to advise on such matters took a similar line and objected to the diversion of the upper waters of the Garry. However, the “acute divergence” was with the two big guns of the salmon world hired by the Hydro Board. They were the celebrated W.L. Calderwood, a former Inspector of Salmon Fisheries for Scotland and one Dr John Berry, a prominent salmon scientist of the day.
Among a number of astonishing claims, including the fact he had never actually visited most of the Garry, Dr Berry stated that he was of the opinion that the scheme
"would not have any permanent depreciation on the [general Tay salmon] stock."
He claimed that some extra water to be released into the Errochty Water, the tempering of spates and droughts by the reservoirs and an increase in food supply would make up for the lost spawning and rearing areas. In particular he thought that increased abundance of “ water fleas" discharged from reservoirs would greatly increase fish food.
Ironically, what history actually tells us is that water released from dams has usually had the opposite effect. Recent research on the River Lyon has shown it to have an impoverished invertebrate community downstream of a dam, partly perhaps as a consequence of altered temperatures.