Lamprey Watch is a project run by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. It aims to help educate people about lampreys in Scottish waters. We wish to encourage anyone with access to suitable rivers to look out for lampreys during the spawning season and submit records of any observations. We would like outdoors enthusiasts and other river users such as anglers, canoeists, hikers, dog-walkers or picnickers to locate suitable stretches of habitat and spend a little time watching for lampreys.
Lampreys are a very primitive type of fish with elongated eel-like bodies and a large disc-like mouth. They have unusual life cycles. Their larval stages (called ammocoetes) are blind and burrow in riverine sediments where they live for many years feeding on organic detritus. They eventually transform into adults, with fully developed eyes and a large toothed sucker and usually migrate to sea, where they feed parasitically on other fish – rasping their flesh and sucking blood. After a number of years at sea they return to rivers to breed and die.
There are three lamprey species in Scottish waters and all three are listed under the EU Habitats Directive and are of significant conservation interest. They are sensitive to water pollution and their presence in a river catchment is a sign of good water quality. Migratory lampreys are designated as indicator species under the EU Water Framework Directive for assessment of transitional (estuarine) waters. Their migrations may be impacted by poor water quality or hindered by artificial barriers such as weirs. Hence SEPA has an interest in gauging their presence or absence in particular water catchments.
The easiest way to spot lampreys is to check out suitable nesting habitat during the spawning season. Use our lamprey guide to learn how to identify and distinguish between the different species and get hints and tips on the best times and places to see lampreys from our when, where and how blog. The distribution of lampreys in many of Scotland’s rivers is poorly known and the occurrence of the migratory species can be sporadic. Your sightings of where and when they occur can help us build up a better picture of the distribution of these enigmatic creatures.