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Protecting the Environment

Scottish Canoe Association - Sea Kayaking

Protecting the Environment


Protecting the Environment

This section of the website has been developed to provide paddlers with up to date information on a wide range of environmental issues. There are also Codes of Good Practice to follow on topics such as Wild Camping, Human Sanitation and Sea Kayaking.

Then there is useful information on Wildlife, which focuses on breeds such as black throated divers, which for paddlers going onto Highland lochs in springtime is vital reading. The section on Invasive Species and Biodiversity is essential reading for all paddlers. It is important to minimise our chances of transporting these dangerous species from one paddling site to another.

Wild Camping

Camping wild is one of the best ways to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of Scotland's countryside and when done responsibly it has minimal impact on the environment and other people.
The Scottish Canoe Association’s aim is to provide advice on how to keep impacts to a minimum, as well as setting out the legal position and describing the advice given in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
This advice is primarily aimed at canoeists and kayakers who regard wild camping as an essential part of multi-day journeys, but it is also relevant to paddlers for whom camping is a means of sleeping close to the water either before or after a single day out.

Touring paddlers seek to camp wild alongside rivers, lochs, canals and coasts as well as using commercial campsites. This guidance is aimed at both inland and sea touring paddlers.

Wherever you camp and whatever your branch of canoeing; there is no substitute for knowledge and forward planning. So commit yourself by following this guidance and encourage your friends to do likewise. If in doubt about any of your actions, make an effort to find out what is right.

Download our full guidance on Wild Camping below. 

Burning Dioxins on Camp Fires 

The most serious pollutant given out by burning plastics, creosote and rubber is a family of chemicals call Dioxins.  These are bad both for human health and the environment.
Dioxins can damage the human immune system and the nervous system.  They also cause cancer (most research has been done on breast cancer but others may be important too).  Also research has suggested they may lead to birth defects, this has been shown a lot in animals where exposure has lead to the birth of young with mixed male female characteristics.  Dioxins are also thought to cause impotence.
Once in your body (or in an animal’s body), dioxins don't get broken down, instead they get stored in the body fat.  So even fairly small amounts can build up in your body to a dangerous level.  Also, because they are not broken down, they live for a very long time in the environment.  Many studies have shown animals living in remote regions (e.g. the Arctic) have surprisingly high levels of dioxins, even though they live very far from the sources of dioxins, i.e. because dioxins are such stable chemical species their effects are still felt very far from their sources.
Obviously, one could argue that a lot of plastic gets incinerated so you may as well burn it on a campfire.  The big problem with that argument is that burning rubbish on a campfire is much worse than burning in an incinerator for two reasons:
Incinerators are designed to burn things at a very hot temperature so a lot of the harmful pollutants (e.g. the dioxins) are mostly destroyed.  They also filter the waste gas before releasing it; thus removing particulates which are bad both for human health and the climate.
Incinerators release their waste gas high into the atmosphere so only a small amount of it comes down to ground level (once you're out of the bottom layer of the atmosphere things tend to get carried upwards and spread out more).  In a campfire you can see that although the smoke rises, it generally doesn't go very high and most of the smoke stays at ground level.  Bad both for the people sat round the campfire and for the general level of pollution in the area.
Burning plastics/rubber will produce a whole cocktail of other chemicals as well as dioxins (indeed there are a whole range of dioxins too).  What else is produced will depend on the makeup of the item burnt and the temperature.  The other important by-product of burning rubber/plastic is soot (or black carbon).  Obviously all fires produce soot, but rubber tends to smoke a lot so produces more soot.  This is important again for health, as these particles are very small so when you inhale they go right down into the depth of the lungs which cause irritation, asthma and can of course cause cancer (with prolonged exposure).  The soot particles released into the atmosphere are black so they can absorb the suns rays and contribute to global warming.
In summary, burning one plastic bag is unlikely to push the world's global dioxin budget over the edge but it will contribute as the dioxins released will probably be in the environment for over a decade.  Rather more importantly for canoeists, think of how much smoke you inhale sitting round a campfire...

Wild Camping & Scheduled Monuments

In Scotland, the most important historic sites are protected by law under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. These sites are called 'scheduled monuments' and those visiting have a particular responsibility of care towards them. Please see the attached documents and links for more information and guidance. 

Human Sanitation

Human Sanitation Advice for Paddlers

The subject of human sanitation in the outdoors has been neglected over the years by many of the books and manuals that explain other essential outdoor skills.  It has in many ways been a taboo subject, which is a pity because if done carelessly, the consequences of 'doing it wrong' can be very damaging.  This advice is considered by the Scottish Canoe Association to reflect the latest thinking on what is good practice, and is based on a wide range of information from the UK and abroad.

The SCA has worked with health professionals, environmental health officers and a range of paddlers during the preparation of these guidelines, and we are very grateful to all those that have contributed to our thinking.  Download the Guidelines.

Perth & Kinross Council Comfort Scheme

A line in the SCA Human Sanitation advice says: "Never miss an opportunity to use a proper toilet".  Nevertheless, from time to time we receive complaints of paddlers arriving at a car park and instantly getting out of their vehicles to relieve themselves.  A scheme in Perth & Kinross is worth knowing about because it enables you to make a visit to a proper toilet before you arrive at your paddling destination.

Toilets in certain hotels, pubs, garages and cafes are publicly available and "free of charge" even if you are not a customer of that business.  A number of these establishments are close to rivers, so it is well worth visiting this webpage and making a note of the places where you could make use of a publicly available toilet the next time you head for the Tay, Ericht, Isla, Earn or one of the other Perthshire rivers. 

Sea Kayaking Environmental Guidelines

Sea Kayaking Environmental Guidelines

Following lengthy consultations with a number of paddlers and environmental specialists the SCA has now produced an updated version of its Environmental Guidelines for Sea Kayakers. This new version of these guidelines is an update of our original leaflet produced in 1998. The SCA would like to thank all those who contributed their thoughts during the consultation process. We hope that the end product is a set of guidelines that provide the latest thinking on these issues and which help sea paddlers to enjoy their activity in a responsible manner.  Do you know at what time of year you should take care not to disturb the common seal?  What about the grey seal?  SCA Touring’s Guide to Good Environmental Practice answers these and many other questions concerning the interaction between sea paddlers and their natural environment. The disturbance we cause is minimal, but we should not be complacent and should strive to learn more about the sea, developing skills and senses that ensure the natural heritage of the sea does not suffer from our visits.  The Guide is a good place to start.

The SCA have been provided with a general Ministry of Defence (MoD) map of Scotland and an advanced list of contact numbers for sea areas where MoD activities may affect paddlers.  If you are planning a trip which enters any of these sea areas, paddlers are advised to phone for information. Click here for map (warning large file)

The MoD have a section on their web site dealing with access issues -  There is informaiton on the geographic location of their ranges and danger/restricted sea areas round the Scottish Coast. There is a presumption of access to the Defence Estate unless there are operational or training requirements, safety or security limits.  Paddlers are advised to look at the MoD pages when planning a trip that will go into one of the range areas.  There are up to date contact details on the MoD site to check when any MOD activities are taking place.  If you are entering any of these sea areas, paddlers are advised to phone for information, look out for red flags or lights and obey instructions from any patrol craft.

Non Native Invasive Species and Biosecurity

Invasive Non-Native Species and Biosecurity

This area of the SCA website provides information on a wide range of invasive non-native species, parasites and diseases that paddlers should be aware of. As well as explaining the different species and diseases we also provide advice on a few simple procedures you can carry out whenever you paddle that should greatly reduce your chances of inadvertently spreading these alien species and the problems associated with them.

The basic message from these pages is to avoid transporting water, which may contain some form of living creature or plant material, from one water course to another. The simple act of always draining your boat as you leave the water is the most important biosecurity habit you can get into and could go a long way towards ensuring you make a valuable contribution to protecting Scotland’s rich native biodiversity.

Please see the website for Check Clean Dry. Also, please see the website for Reporting Invasive Non-Native Species that you may come across on your travels. 

Each of the three areas of invasive non-native species, parasites and diseases have the potential to cause significant economic problems for the nation as well as adversely impacting upon paddling. When you realise the considerable impact they could have you are far more likely to take them seriously and play your part in avoiding their further spread or import into the country. Consider these figures. It is estimated that invasive non-native species and fish diseases cost the Scottish economy, and therefore us, upwards of £500 million per year and the UK economy £2 - £6 billion per year. That is why we strongly recommend you to study this section of our site.

Invasive non-native species - There are hundreds of non-native species of plants and animals in Scotland and the UK, many of which cause us little or no problem, but there are others that have potentially far reaching consequences for our economy and native wildlife. A small but significant proportion of these non-native species are invasive.  Invasive non-native species include freshwater plants such as New Zealand pygmyweed, which if transported to a suitable location could grow so vigorously as to choke the water and make it impossible to paddle in.

Parasites - Some of the species that cause great concern are parasites, and the main one has to be Gyrodactylus salaris, or Gs, which is found in certain European countries, most notable being Norway. Gs is a parasite that lives on salmon and if it were ever to find its way into the UK the economic consequences could be catastrophic. The fishing, whisky, paper and hydro industries would all be greatly affected, and paddling restricted across whole catchments for indefinite periods whilst everything in the river is killed.

Diseases - Biosecurity measures in the countryside also extend to taking precautions against certain diseases, an obvious one being avian influenza or bird flu. An outbreak of bird flu could affect the movement of people and farm products across a wide area and this in turn could affect our ability to go paddling where we choose to.

Advice to Paddlers

  1. Drain and/or sponge all water from your boat before leaving a paddling site.
  2. Inspect the inside of your boat for any live creatures. Remember that a young crayfish can be as small as 1 centimetre long.
  3. Remove any plant or animal material, as well as mud and grit, from boats, paddles and equipment before leaving a paddling site.  Avoid returning anything that may be living to the water as this can help some species spread; instead, leave it well above any flooding or high tide level, or dispose of it in a refuse bin. Take particular care not to transport plant or animal material to another paddling site.
  4. Dry all your gear whenever possible. For example, dry your buoyancy aid and spraydeck as well as your base layers, because drying is a good way of killing anything that might be living in the water that is trapped in your equipment.
  5. Avoid paddling through aquatic weeds in still or slow moving inland water as some non-native species will benefit from the disturbance and this can lead to canals, rivers and lochs becoming overgrown and impossible to paddle.
  6. Assume every water body is infested.  Drain your boat and inspect your gear every time.
  7. Report any sightings, if possible taking photographs to aid identification. For marine species, report to MarLIN, for wireweed, report to, for freshwater species, report to
  8. Be aware of special requirements when returning from overseas countries (especially Norway) that have rivers infected with Gyrodactylus salaris.  Also bear in mind any biosecurity concerns and measures in other countries and follow this advice when travelling outside Scotland.


Gyrodactylus salaris (Gs)

  • Habitat:  Parasite that lives on salmon in fresh water
  • Problem:  Once it is present in a river system this parasite quickly devastates the salmon population and extreme methods have to be used to kill everything in the river network, leading to a complete close down of all activities in the river system.
  • Risk:  Anyone returning from overseas countries where Gs is present could import the parasite on damp and untreated equipment.  

British canoeists travelling to Europe should be aware of a serious fish disease that could have severe consequences if it was brought back into the UK.  The Scottish Canoe Association is issuing this advice to reduce the likelihood of canoeists unwittingly importing the parasite, Gyrodactylus salaris (Gs) that causes the disease into this country.

Whilst the current concern is connected with Gs, there are other diseases that could have equally devastating effects, so the advice we are issuing represents a range of sensible precautions that should prevent the import of any disease into this country.

Our advice is divided into two strands:

  • Precautions to take before travelling back to the UK after canoeing in Europe;
  • Action to take if you are going to use your boat or other equipment within a week of leaving the foreign country.

After canoeing in Europe:

  • Wash your boat then disinfect it with a chemical disinfectant such as Virkon S or a saline solution.  Sachets of Virkon S can be bought from some canoe shops, or a bag of salt can be taken on holiday to easily make a saline solution for disinfecting your boat and other equipment.

Within a week of leaving Europe:

  • If you are going to use your boat and/or other equipment within a week of leaving a foreign country it is advisable to dry equipment thoroughly, and where this is not possible to use hot water, disinfectant or salt to kill the parasite.  Freezing also kills the parasite.

Items of equipment such as buoyancy aids, spraydecks, throwlines, towlines and sponges should all be considered as potential means of carrying this parasite and be treated in at least one of the above ways.

The area of highest risk is Scandinavia, so paddlers travelling to Norway and Sweden should take particular care.  The disease is regarded as a serious threat within Scandinavia and disinfection facilities are available for paddlers and anglers as they move from one river system to another


Fish Spawning

River paddlers should be aware of fish spawning; in particular what it is, where and when it happens and how we can avoid interfering with it. Female fish lay their eggs and male fish fertilise those eggs in the gravel beds of rivers throughout Scotland. Fish seek out gravel river beds for spawning, so this is not an issue in muddy rivers. The reason for this is that the eggs rest in the gaps between the pieces of gravel and stay there until the young fish hatch. The movement of water over the gravel provides them with the necessary flow of oxygen to help them through the early stages of their life cycle. Salmon and sea trout generally spawn between the months of October to early January in both the main river and in the tributaries of almost all Scottish rivers, although earlier and later instances are sometimes reported. Disturbance of spawning beds and young salmon in their various stages of freshwater life is an offence under Section 23 (2) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003. During this time contact with gravel river beds where spawning may be taking place should be avoided.

When paddling in the autumn and early winter you should be particularly on the look out for gravel river beds, especially when you are getting in or out of your boat. You can avoid causing any problems in the spawning season by:

  1. Not standing in the water when there is a gravel river bed;
  2. Being aware of the increased risk of making contact with the gravel river bed in times of low water;
  3. Avoiding contact between your paddle and the gravel river bed, especially when getting in and out of your boat;
  4. Avoiding contact with your boat and the gravel river bed, especially by not dipping the stern or cartwheeling when there is insufficient depth of water;
  5. The use of a pole to propel an open canoe should be done with caution at this time of year; reverting to a paddle on sections of river with a gravel bed;
  6. Following any local guidance in terms of preferred places to launch or climb out;
  7. Remembering the sensitive time of year for fish spawning.


Black Throated Diver Advice for Paddlers

Paddlers on upland lochs in springtime need to be aware of, and avoid disturbance to black throated divers. Here are a few key pieces of information to enable you to paddle on these lochs without causing a problem to the birds. Black throated divers breed on a number of lochs in the Highlands of Scotland and their breeding success can be affected if they are subjected to too much disturbance. The critical months for divers are April, May and June. This is their breeding season. These spring months are popular with paddlers and after the dark months of winter it is a great time of year to get out onto the lochs; but before doing that it is wise to gain an understanding about the needs and behaviour of black throated divers. Divers prefer to nest on a grassy slope that shelves gently into the water. They do not like to be on sandy or heathery ground. Their preferred nesting sites are often on islands (Loch Maree islands for instance) but on other lochs they will nest on the mainland shores. Paddlers need to be careful when choosing a place to launch or haul out. If you see a gentle grassy slope then look out for signs of divers and do not use the area if you suspect that there is a diver nesting there. Fluctuating water levels can harm their breeding success with sudden rises in water levels creating the danger of their nests becoming flooded. In a number of key breeding sites conservation bodies have installed floating rafts, or artificial islands, for the divers to build their nests on. These have the advantage of rising and falling with the water level of the loch and thereby protecting the nest.

When paddling on upland lochs in springtime you should look out for gentle grassy slopes and floating rafts and give them a wide berth. Like many birds divers have particular behaviour routines if they feel that their nest site is under threat. It is useful if paddlers know about this behaviour and are able to spot it and act accordingly. The two contrasting forms of behaviour to look out for are a bird “going bananas” or lying flat on the water. These two contrasting behaviours are a sign that they think you are too close to their nest, so the best advice is to move away as quickly as possible. The bird that lies flat on the water pretending to be dead is acting as a decoy to draw you away from the nest. The greatest danger is of scaring a bird off its nest and preventing it from returning within the time necessary to prevent harm to the egg or young bird.

A bird that is briefly disturbed may go bananas and fly from the nest, but if the cause of the disturbance moves away quickly the bird will return. That is why it is important, if you think you have disturbed a bird, to move on as quickly as possible. A bird that is put off its nest for 20 to 25 minutes or more would be in danger of losing its egg. The greatest danger is on a windy day when the wind has the effect of cooling the egg more quickly. In such conditions it is vital that the bird returns to the egg as soon as possible, whatever it is that has caused the disturbance. It is worth bearing in mind that reckless disturbance of a schedule 1 bird species is a criminal offence. Reckless disturbance is where the disturbance wasn’t deliberate, but a sensible person would have recognised the distress they were causing to the animal and moved away. The southern extent of the black throated divers range in Scotland is around Highland Perthshire, so you won’t come across them any further south.

The presence of birds such as divers on our upland lochs raises the concept of what type of paddling experience do you want on these lochs. On Loch Maree, for example, if you want to paddle on the loch and hear the unique sound of breeding divers then springtime is a good time to go, but you should accept that it would not be responsible to land on the islands. However, if the experience you want on Loch Maree is to land on the islands, then the responsible approach would be to plan your trip there later in the summer or autumn.



Wildlife Crime

Wildlife Crime

The aim is to provide paddlers with information about wildlife crime and to encourage anyone in the countryside to be aware of what to look out for and how to report anything that appears to be suspicious. The Police take wildlife crime very seriously now and penalties for wildlife criminals are becoming increasingly tough.

If the Spey (or any other) Fishery Board Bailiffs catch people fishing illegally they will take legal action against those commiting the offence. This will include the seizure of the fishing tackle and, if being used from canoes, the impoundment of the canoes (they are legally entitled to seize these if they have been used in a crime).  Vehicles can also be seized for the same reasons (e.g. if a salmon taken illegally has been put into the back of a vehicle).  The Fishery Board will prosecute those caught.

The Police have officers working on Wildlife Crime. They are usually willing to give presentations to clubs etc if you make a request.

Reporting Pollution Incidents

Reporting Pollution Incidents

If you are suspicious about action in a river which may be causing damage, or have seen something worthy of reporting such as a river that is choked and causing a build up of pollution, then the best response is to contact the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA):

  • SEPA's Pollution Hotline number is 0800 80 70 60
  • SEPA's website, which can lead you to the contact details for all their area offices is:

SCA Renewable Energy Policy

The SCA responds to numerous consultation exercises for hydro electric generating proposals each year and our interest in protecting our best rivers can, and does, lead to us getting involved in discussions with hydro developers. The SCA believes that a Renewable Energy Policy is a means of helping us to communicate our thoughts on the issues surrounding renewable energy generation to developers, policy makers and politicians. By having this policy it should help the renewables industry to understand our position and hopefully encourage earlier consultation.

Whilst most renewable energy proposals that impact on canoeable waters are run of river hydro schemes at the current time, the emphasis will swing at some point in the future to our estuaries, coasts and open seas. This is already starting to happen. Our adopted Renewable Energy Policy recognises this likely future switch and addresses all forms of water based renewable energy production.

The SCA wishes to thank all those who contributed their thoughts in in our lengthy consultation period that has led to this adopted policy.