SEPA and the University of Dundee mark river level monitoring centenary

date28 August 2013

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the University of Dundee will celebrate 100 years of continuous river level monitoring in Scotland tomorrow (29 August).

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Glenfield, a gauging station on the River Irvine in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, is the first site in Scotland to reach the hydrological milestone and one of the earliest monitoring sites in the UK. SEPA will mark this by undertaking a flow measurement at Glenfield this Thursday, a century to the date since the first data was obtained.

The charts detailing information for the River Irvine date back to 1913 and have recently been lodged with the University of Dundee Archive Services (where they complement several other collections relating to the environment and hydrology).

The river level monitoring work at Glenfield coincided with pioneer Captain McClean's efforts to develop the first ever programme for measuring river levels and flows in Scotland.

A century ago McClean's work began when he installed a clockwork-driven water level recorder on the River Garry, close to the lodge of Invergarry House, Inverness-shire. He developed methods for gauging river flow from a bosun's chair suspended above the water, using a propeller-type current meter attached to the end of a wading rod.

For three years, he kept a meticulous record of the average daily flows, until the First World War forced him to cease work at the end of 1915.

He would go on to set up river flow gauging stations, loch level gauges and rain gauges across the River Ness basin, including the Rivers Garry, Moriston, Ness and Foyers and on Lochs Ness, Oich, Garry and Quoich. In the 1930s and 1940s he extended his activities to the Spey and Dee in the east, and as far south as Loch Earn.

Since SEPA's inception in 1996, it has built upon the work of Captain McClean, and others, and operates a network of river and rainfall gauging stations across Scotland.

SEPA monitors water levels at 392 sites throughout Scotland and has recently launched a mobile-friendly website to make it even easier for fishermen, canoeists, walkers and other water users to plan their activities.

Water levels monitored by SEPA at over 330 of these gauging stations are available to view through the website.

Richard Brown, Head of Hydrology at SEPA, said:

Captain McClean was a true pioneer in river level and flow monitoring. With no computers, electronic loggers or telemetry available, all his summaries and graphs were done by hand, and often to a high degree of detail.

"His work has inspired the most recent developments in this field such as our new mobile-friendly website and we hope if he were alive today he would be pleased to see how far river level monitoring has progressed.

"By gauging river levels and flows we can gain important information to manage the water resources of Scotland. This information is also used to predict flooding and issue flood warnings. With around 125,000 properties across the country at risk of flooding it is clear that this work is more relevant today than ever."

Dr Andrew Black, from the School of the Environment, University of Dundee, said:

McClean's work is inspirational.  With a strong desire to see large-scale hydro power established in the Scottish Highlands as a means of stimulating economic and social development, McClean used his own resources to establish a hydrological survey that was truly ahead of its time.  In the past decade, McClean's data have shown their worth in informing the design of new methods for achieving sustainable development of water resources.

"The recording of river levels on the Irvine seems to have been for operational purposes and helped establish Glenfield & Kennedy as a recognised manufacturer of the necessary instrumentation for hydrological survey.  However, today those records have attained significant additional value in calibrating the methods used for estimating flood risks across the whole of the UK.

"Both sets of records were started for one purpose but have since found value in hitherto unexpected others.  They form the foundations of our contemporary hydrological knowledge, and are complemented across Scotland today by the monitoring activities of SEPA, and a growing number of other water users and researchers.   I'm delighted that we are able to safeguard both historic archives at the University of Dundee for future use, and to bring them to a wider audience."


Notes to editors

To view SEPA's new mobile-friendly river levels website please visit:

A meeting to celebrate these long hydrological records will be held at Dundee University on 26 September.  More details from:

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