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Payments for Ecosystem Services: Lessons

Dialogue with stakeholders about recent flooding issues on the Lunan water
Dialogue with stakeholders about recent flooding issues

The objective of PESLES (Payments for Ecosystem Services: Lessons)  is to build understanding of what incentives or arrangements could be considered appropriate and effective in enabling and encouraging stakeholders to adopt measures that will improve water quality and/or manage water levels and flows. We aim to provide research support for the planning, development, implementation and appraisal of measures and mechanisms to improve water management in selected catchments. The work will give an opportunity to understand how new arrangements actually play out in practice and to monitor their impact.The initial work focuses around 3 Payments for Ecosystem Services ideas in the Lunan Water catchment, Eastern Scotland:

#Water for all.

A. Water for all

Andy presented a poster summarising this work at the 100th meeting of the Scottish Freshwater Group at Stirling University, April 19-20, 2018. See all 2018 presentations here.

The Water for all project  is aiming is to deliver evidence that improved water management could generate benefits for flood risk management, irrigation abstraction and low flows, and sensitive wetland ecology. Approaches to water governance, willingness to pay and stakeholder attitudes are also being assessed.

Local stakeholder interviews were carried out in the summer of 2014 with 16 stakeholders in the Lunan water catchment as part of ongoing research at the James Hutton institute. Stakeholders included farmers, land owners and representatives from governmental and non-governmental organisations involved in the management of the Lunan water. The interviews explored views on water issues in the catchment, causes and potential solutions as well as the potential to establish a scheme to pay for water benefits in the catchment.

The project has a focus on the concept of flexible hydraulic controls at the outlet to Balgavies Loch to deliver improved water management.

 A steering group  (Lunan Water Catchment Management Group) was formed, with Angus Council chairing, to help oversee the project.  There has been a series of group meetings since July 2016 with participants from Angus Council, SEPA, SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Dundee University, NFUS, and Esk RIvers and Fisheries Trust, as well as James Hutton Institute. 

  • In the July 2016 workshop in Forfar, Andy Vinten discussed the impact of a weir downstream of Balgavies Loch on water levels at high and low flows.
  • In the October 2016 meeting, Andy discussed the potential impact of introducing a tilting weir into this area to increase high flow capacity and manage low flows for downstream users. We also discussed a new Scottish Government funded project to facilitate uptake of funded and unfunded measures to mitigate soil erosion and sedimentation in the catchment.
  • In the January 2017 Catchment group meeting  we discussed the need to set up a smaller steering group to take forward consent proposals. It was agreed that there should be two groups – one taking forward the tilting weirs project and the other looking at the wider catchment issues and social issues affecting the project.Click here for tilting weir proposal update.
  • In the April 2017 Catchment group meeting we discussed the  consenting progress and agreed that a sub-group would draft a consent application for comments  and consideration of  the riparian owners and others with a significant interest. Laure Kuhfuss discussed plans for the social science survey which will explore the interaction between willingness to pay for water management in the catchment and method of governance. In addition Andy Vinten mentioned that a student project this summer will explore the extent of mixing of the waters in Chapel Mires with river water.

A technical proposal for siting of a tilting weir downstream of Balgavies Loch was prepared in April 2017  for the Lunan Catchment Management Group and is available for comment. 

  • In the October 2017 Catchment group meeting a report was tabled which summarised the case for introduction of a tilting weir and progress in social science work surveying attitudes to this intervention. This report linked to more detailed reports on  (a) preliminary modelling of hydraulics using HECRAS (b) An aquatic plants survey of chapel mires done in Sept 2017. The report,  prepared by Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is available here.     (c) socio-economic survey of attitudes to the proposed project.  Andy VInten reported on the response to the report submitted to the Balgavies Loch Committee which met in July 2017 and riparian owners to proposals.

During winter 2017/8 the project has focused on developing a hydraulic model, using HECRAS, of the water courses downtream of Balgavies Loch, so that the likely impact of changing lateral structures on the mill lade (eg a tilting weir) could be assessed.

  • This report was tabled at the 6th Lunan Catchment Management Group on 22nd March for feedback from stakeholders. A key finding was that dredging the lade would be beneficial, prior to any enhancement of hydraulic management of the site. Installation of a lateral  tilting weir to improve release of water from the mill lade could provide a benefit to the Chapel Mires ecology by aiding diversion of nutrient-rich waters away from sensitive areas.
  • Part of this work involved developing a real time and forecasting model of water levels in Balgavies Loch which could be used by stakeholders as part of water management decision making.
  • In addition, summaries of the social science survey work and interviews have been prepared and tabled at this meeting. This work has identified the "governance gaps" that existing with respect to water management and the need to explore methods of resolution over a range of different catchments and issues.
  • Draft minutes of the 6th Lunan Catchment Group meeting are available here.
  • Agreement was reached, in principal, that removal of debris and vegetation from the mill lade would be beneficial,
  • A registration application for dredging the 10m of lade upstream of the existing cattle bridge should also be considered.

Student projects

One of possible benefits of a tilting weir is that it could be used to manage the inputs of water into the Chapel Mires wetlands downstream of Balgavies Loch. In summer 2017, a project by a visiting student from ENGEES, Strasbourg, France, invetigated the mixing of water from the river with Chapel Mires sources, and sought to identify the sources of water in Chapel Mires. This work is summarised here.

A major part of the 2017 work in Chapel Mires consisted of drafting a National Vegetation Classification map of the area. This shows the presence of nutrient-loving wetland species such as Phalaris arundinacea (canary grass) encroaching into Chapel Mires in the areas closest to the river, while the areas further away are characterised by a more ologotrophic, sedge-rich vegetation. This also matches up with observations of lower contributions from river water to the composition of the water in the wetland, further away from the river.

This work has been supplemented by further sampling and analysis in the later part of 2017 and is now written up as a report for Scottish Government entitled:

Could managing water levels of Lunan Water at the outlet to Balgavies Loch help conserve Chapel Mires from eutrophication and loss of biodiversity?

Canary grass in area of Chapel Mires close to river               Sedge-rich area containing bogbean,cowbane,tufted loosestrife etc



Map of National Vegetation Classification of associations of plants in Chapel Mires and estimates of river water contribution to composition of Chapel Mires waters.

Socio-economic survey of attitudes to Water for all project

Following completion of ethical approvals, both by Scottish Government and internal committee, an online and postal socio-economic survey is undergoing. This aims at: (a) measuring and discussing whether the benefits are perceived to be worth the costs of the project by local stakeholders and residents; (b) proposing a governance strategy that would enable the sustainability of this scheme in the long term.

A survey was implemented in the Lunan Water catchment area in July and August 2017 to measure quantitatively the support to the “water for all” project, which proposes the installation of a tilting weir and a flow restrictor at the outskirt of Balgavies loch for water management. The preliminary results presented herein are currently being complemented by qualitative interviews.

Please give us your opinion at:

In parallel, and to complement the online survey, we are interviewing stakeholders and residents in person. This will provide useful insights on local preferences for water management and governance in the Lunan Water catchment, in order to shape and adapt the project. A summary of these interviews is available here.

Collaboration with Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Colleagues at Centre for Ecology and Hydrology contributed to the  summary report for the 5th Lunan Catchment Management Group with a review of the aquatic ecology of the Lunan Water system . This focused on a survey of the aquatic plants in Chapel Mires and consideration of impacts of water level change in Balgavies Loch. The detailed report is available here.

The report concluded that (a) there is likely to be little or no negative impact to the qualifying interests  from the introduction of a tilting weir, and any significant reduction in nutrients to the systems should be considered as potentially beneficial; (b) the available information suggests that fluctuations in water level of the magnitude proposed for Balgavies Loch are likely to have relatively minor impacts on aquatic plant communities.

A workshop  with Centre for Ecology and Hydrology was held to conceptualise and compare water ecosystem services in Lunan Water and Loch Leven catchments. We compared how changes in sediment and water management might influence ecosystem service delivery in the two catchments. Through discussing these ideas we were able to identify seven main elements of Ecosystem Services Provision that were affected by sediment and water management and could be compared between the two catchments. These were:

1.       The ecological response of changing water levels in wetlands associated with the lochs.

For example, on the upper Lunan Water catchment there are several wetlands (Restenneth Moss, Clocksbriggs, Fonah Bog and Chapel Mires), which may be sensitive to changing water level management.

At Loch Leven there are several wetlands managed by the RSPB that will also be sensitive to changing water levels.

2.       Potential for management of water quality and pollutant loading into wetlands

For example, the loading of nutrients to these wetlands may vary with the time of year, as this influences for example release from loch sediment, with flow levels and with water level management. Andy Vinten gave some clear examples of how intervention to manage water levels could help reduce nutrient loads to Chapel Mires, on the Lunan Water.

3.       The impact of flushing regimes, as determined by Loch exit gate levels, on aquatic ecology.

For example, at Loch Leven, the sluice gates that control the outflow are regulated according to a Royal Charter that aims to deliver sufficient water downstream to meet industrial requirements. However, there is potential to manage the flushing rate at the site in such a way that it allows nutrients that are released by from the sediments to be flushed out of the loch, rather than encouraging them to re-circulate.

On the Lunan Water such an approach could help to return Lochs Rescobie and Balgavies, which have significant internal loads of phosphorus, to good ecological status over a number of years. This is more feasible, without endangering river ecological status, now that the river soluble P status has returned to “Good”.

4.       The management of fish passage and influence on ecology of fish

At Loch Leven, the outflow is currently impassable to fish because of the sluice gates that were installed in the mid-1850s. There are concerns that re-instating fish passage into the outflow would allow parasites from infested trout populations downstream to enter the loch, to the detriment of the local recreational fishery. Improving fish passage may also lead to invasion by less desirable species, such as roach, with potentially damaging effects on water quality.

Such issues do not occur on the upper Lunan Water at present, because of barriers to migration, but might be an issue if water level management through tilting weirs took place.

5.       Opportunities for ecotourism  and attitudes

The local wetland ecology and its associated wildlife supports a significant tourist economy in the Loch Leven catchment. This is in contrast to the Lunan Water catchment where access to the reserve to view birds, especially the nesting Osprey, is seen by reserve managers as potentially damaging to aspects of the ecology, such as wetland vegetation.

6.       Governance approaches to water level management.

There is strong local input from riparian owners into water level management in the Lunan Water, but this is done on quite an informal basis. In contrast, in the Loch Leven catchment, governance of water levels is controlled by a Royal Charter and involves a wide range of stakeholders. Whilst this means, in theory, that many stakeholder interests are represented, it also makes decision making and management of change very slow and cumbersome. The original  aim of installing flow regulation on the outflow from the loch was to provide a constant supply of water to downstream industry. A strong bias towards managing the water level of Loch Leven to meet the needs of downstream users remains to this day. There are proposals to electrify the Loch Leven sluice gates over the next couple of years, which may lead to more integrated management. Some lessons learned at Loch Leven may be applicable to the management of water levels in the Lunan Water via remotely controlled weirs.

7.       Opportunities for hydro schemes

The existence of exit structures from lochs in the two catchments provide potential opportunities for hydro-electric generation schemes. There are existing hydro-electric generation schemes on the River Leven downstream of the Leven sluices.

Subsequent CEH involvement in the project has included:




Andy  Vinten presented a poster at the 100th meeting of the Scottish Freshwater Group at Stirling University, April 19-20, 2018.


Andy Vinten presented a paper and oral presentation at the 3rd Regional IWA Diffuse Pollution Conference in  Chiang Mai, Thailand Nov 20-22 November. 

Water for all: analysis of a proposed novel approach to wetland conservation and flood risk reduction in the Lunan Water, Scotland, using a tilting weir.
 A.Vinten, L.Kuhfuss, O.Shortall, A. Ibiyemi, I.Pohle, S.Addy, M.Gabriel, I.Gunn, P.McPhailand J.Corrigan

Andy VInten made a platform presentation at Scotland’s Biennial Land Use and the Environment Conference XII  (28-29 November 2018): Rewarding the Delivery of Public Goods: How to Achieve this in Practice?

The presentation was entitled: How can we enhance the role of local land and water users in delivering catchment scale water ecosystem services ? by Andy Vinten, Orla Shortall and Laure Kuhfuss.
The objective of the Scottish Government funded PESLES project (Payments for Ecosystem Services: Lessons) is to build understanding of what incentives or arrangements could be considered appropriate and effective in enabling and encouraging stakeholders to adopt measures that will improve water management and diffuse pollution control.
This is being pursued with stakeholders in the Lunan Water catchment, by developing and promoting proposals for (a) innovative hydraulic management of water levels and dredging (b) implementation of rural SUDS, while also assessing willingness to pay and local attitudes to proposals through survey, interviews and a catchment management group.
Uncertainty about technical performance, gaps in governance and long term management plans, and single issue vs multiple issue perspectives, are among the issues encountered. It may be that internal drainage boards, or other catchment-wide finance and governance mechanisms, would help achieve progress.


Ina Pohle presented a model to forecast water levels and flows from Balgavies Loch in real-time at a German Hydrological Society Conference in March 2018. The English version of this is available here. It was presented at the European Geophysical Society meeting in April 2018.



  • 2016
  • Andy presented the project to a delegation from Shandong South-to-North Water Diversion Administration Bureau, China, visiting JHI Dundee on 22nd November 2016
  • In December 2016, two meetings with riparian farmers were held to discuss potential sites for sediment retention bunds/wetlands in fields adjacent to Fonah Bog.
  • Andy also gave an internal seminar on 15 December 2016 entitled:

"Water level management for ecosystem services in the Lunan Water, Angus - should we give nature a little help?"

He made the case for installation of a tilting weir downstream of Balgavies Loch based on:

a. Flood risk.  Using simulations over the 2011-2016 period, we estimate managed use of such a facility would decrease the frequency with which the water level of Rescobie Loch is above 60m (which is 1m below the road at Rescobie Loch Boathouse) from 6% of the time to 2% of the time.

b.Wetland biodiversity protection. There are wetland habitats, for example at Chapel mires, which contain locally rare or scarce species such as Cicuta virosa (Cowbane), Lysimachia thyrsiflora (Tufted Loosestrife) and Menyanthes trifoliate (Bogbean).  These habitats could be affected by water level changes in Balgavies Loch and water management downstream. The effect might be positive because the loch outflow in late summer is nutrient (phosphorus) rich and some of this flow into these wetlands could be restricted by a tilting weir. There may also be negative impacts if water levels are maintained at too low a level ( for example at <58.9m at the spillway into Chapel Mires), at critical times for the wetland ecology.

c. Mitigation of low flows. The ecological status of the Lunan Water has been downgraded partly because of the impact of water abstraction at low flows. Near the mouth of the Lunan Water, at Kirkton Mill, Inverkeilor, flows low enough to lead to potential irrigation restrictions by SEPA, occur 3-4 years in 10, during July and August. Restrictions could occur 10-20 days per month in these years.
The risk of restrictions occurring would be reduced by around 50% by an additional flow of 30 L/s provided by lowering the level of a tilting weir at Balgavies outlet in these months. We have previously estimated that the potential economic benefits to irrigators of mitigating such restrictions at low flows amounts to £30k per year over a 10 year period.

  • 2017
  • These ideas were presented to the 3rd  Lunan Catchment Group meeting on 25 January 2017 at the County Buildings, Forfar, Angus.
  • We  prepared a poster " Participatory research to find solutions to water management issues in the Lunan catchment" by Orla Shortall, Laure Kuhfuss and Andy VInten,  for a workshop on catchment-scale farmer cooperation and environmental benefits being held at Glensaugh on 13 September 2017. This is available here.
  • A brief presentation of progress in the project was made at the Theme 1 meeting on 2nd October and again at the James Hutton Institute research symposium on 22 November 2017.
  • progress report was presented at the 5th Catchment Group meeting on 24th October 2017.
  • Andy attended the Friockheim Community Council on 6 Dec 2017 to update them on the water for all project, at their invitation.
  • Andy also attended the Rescobie Loch Development Association AGM on 15 Feb 2018, and gave an update on progress on the PESLES project. Minutes available here.
  • Ina Pohle presented a model to forecast  water levels and flows from Balgavies Loch in real-time at a German Hydrological Society Conference in March 2018. The English version of this is available here. It was presented at the European Geophysical Society meeting in April 2018.

B.  Fishing for farmers (achieving agreement between fishing interests and riparian farmers for erosion control measures); This will explore (methodology to be developed once staff in post) the potential for requiring better erosion control as a condition of fee payment from riparian fishing interests to riparian farmers.

In November 2016, Andy was invited to speak at the AGM of the Rescobie Loch Development Association and riparian owners. His report noted the need for better management of Canadian pondweed harvested from the Loch to enhance fishing, which could provide a project for the "fishing for farmers" PESLES project.

C.  Less erosion-less dredging (linking dredging licence agreements with upstream erosion mitigation). This will explore the potential for linking up management of sources and sinks for sediment.

For more information about this ongoing research contact Andy Vinten (, Laure Kuhfuss (  or Orla Shortall (


Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project
SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research InstitutesSEFARI is the collective of six Scottish world-leading Research Institutes working across the spectrum of environment, land, food, agriculture and communities – all topics which affect how we live our lives, in Scotland and beyond.


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.