River Stinchar

The River Stinchar has its headwaters in the Carrick Forest to the north of the Galloway Forest Park, only one kilometer from the source of the River Girvan.

The Stinchar has a main drainage course of 54km and flows south-west via Barr, Pinwherry and Colmonell, finally entering the sea at Ballantrae.

The river has a catchment area of 314km2, which includes the main tributaries of the Muck Water, the Duisk River, Water of Assel and the Water of Tig. Forestry, hill grazing and agriculture are the main land uses in the Stinchar catchment which has a low human population density and very little industry.

The main stem of the river runs through a relatively low lying valley with tributaries draining steep valley sides. The maximum altitude that salmon can reach naturally is approximately 150m which is much lower than the highest naturally accessible point of the River Ayr which is at 300m altitude.

Water quality in the River Stinchar is generally very good with a diverse range of invertebrates present even in the lower reaches.

The River Stinchar is a famous salmon fishery and is renowned for its autumn run, producing fish which are often large. The Salmon Fishery Board of Scotland Report 1887 notes that the “Stinchar, remarkable for its shifting mouth, and for yielding larger salmon than any river of its size in Scotland“. A 62lb salmon was caught in the coastal nets in 1898. 


To view current River Stinchar water levels:

River Stinchar Catchment Map highlighting main tributaries.

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Key Features


  • Most rural of Ayrshire river catchments with low human population. Main settlements are Ballantrae, Colmonell, Barr and Barrhill
  • Some water is abstracted from the upper reaches of the Stinchar and diverted into Loch Bradan, Ayrshire’s major water supply reservoir. No major man-made obstructions
  • Upstream of the Duisk confluence, the Stinchar is known locally as the “Wee Stinchar”

Catchment Characteristics

  • The Stinchar is a highly responsive catchment with rapid run-off from the steep valley sides resulting in sudden changes in river flow
  • The geology of the Stinchar catchment is relatively uniform and is dominated by sedimentary greywacke. Knockdolian Hill in the lower catchment is formed by a volcanic outcrop and the burns draining this area have a higher pH than those on the opposite side of the river 
  • The Stinchar has a number of tributaries, the largest of which is the Duisk River which enters the Stinchar at Pinwherry. The Duisk River catchment is extensively afforested. Low pH levels are a feature of many of the Duisk tributaries


  • With no major industry or large sewage treatment works in the catchment, and little intensive agriculture, water quality is generally very good. The river supports large stoneflies such as Perla bipunctata, throughout its length


    • Common fish species include salmon, trout, eels, minnows, sticklebacks and lampreys (sea and brook). The Stinchar is the only one of the major Ayrshire rivers which does not have a stone loach population, adding weight to the argument that it is a non-native fish with its occurrence linked to spread by humans. The Stinchar is a stronghold for eels with a widespread and abundant population. Vendace have been introduced into one of the small lochs in the Stinchar catchment in an attempt to establish a sentinel population for threatened stocks

    Monitoring and Science on the River Stinchar

    Data is collected to allow evidence based management and restoration


    We undertake annual electrofishing surveys on behalf of the River Stinchar District Salmon Fishery Board to monitor fish production in the main stem and tributaries.

    We have a large database which may be available upon request for those requiring information.


    River Stinchar Habitat survey published in 2003. This survey provided a detailed inventory of habitat type and quality, obstructions to migration as well as identifying priority areas for habitat restoration. The survey showed that main impacts on river habitat quality in the Stinchar were commercial coniferous plantations with localised impacts from intensive livestock farming and riverbed excavation. Forestry has resulted in acidification in the headwaters, and more rapid water runoff due to an increased number of drainage channels. These have degraded instream and riparian habitat, and transported large amounts of potential spawning gravel downstream.


    There is an ever increasing interest in lamprey species across the UK. Lamprey are an important species within the Stinchar catchment and ART hold considerable data on their distribution. The Stinchar supports all three native lamprey species and appear to be stable. River lamprey are protected as a schedule 3 fish species of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &C) Regulations 1994. River and sea lamprey are a UK BAP species. Brook lamprey are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

    Invertebrate Sampling


    Invertebrates respond to long term changes in water quality therefore they can be used to determine pollution problems. ART provide various levels of assessment both commercially and for our own use.

    Invertebrate sampling offers opportunities for citizen science.

    Invasive Species Management


    Over many years, ART have undertaken scientific habitat assessment to determine distribution and impacts with invasive species. Invasive weeds can have an impact on habitat and water quality. Through strategic management and control we continue to address issues created by these species.

    Invasive plants surveys carried out in since 2008 to assess the distribution and density of giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam


    Atlantic Salmon Pressures Tool


    ART contributed to the development of Fishery Management Scotland’s Atlantic Salmon Pressures Tool. This involved looking at all pressures affecting the species across Ayrshire. The FMS Pressures tool is an interactive mapping platform that will be  available to local river managers to inform and target management actions and to provide important evidence for policy development at national level. This tool will align very well with the forthcoming Fishery Management Plans that the Trust are currently developing for FMS.