ECN site code: R15
ECN monitoring by: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

The River Spey rises in the high ground of the Grampian Mountains and flows in a north easterly direction towards the Moray Firth. It drains a relatively large catchment of 3008 km2 with a stream network of 36400 km, of which the main river comprises 157km. The upper part of the catchment is characterised by its mountain wilderness regions, sheep farming and tourism, whilst in the lower catchment these are complemented by the distilling industry, cattle and arable farming and related industries. There is restricted commercial forestry on the narrow valley bottoms and steep sided hills of the upper catchment, but as the valley floor widens it becomes much more extensive (16% of total catchment land use). Most of the Spey Catchment is underlain by metamorphic rocks of the Cambrian Period and these are intruded at a number of places by granite plutons and are overlain at the northern end of the catchment by Devonian sandstone. For most of its length the River Spey flows through a wide alluvial plain composed of silts, sand and waterborne pebbles.

The catchment is of great conservation value with 27 designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) including various woodland, wetland and montane habitats, fossil sites, and various geomorphological features. The river itself is designated an SSSI at the Insh Marshes, at the lower section downstream of Fochabers for its unique active braided channel and associated habitats, and at Spey Bay which is of prime importance in the field of coastal geomorphology. The River Spey is renowned for its salmon fishing with an estimated input into the local economy of £6 million per annum (Scottish Tourist Board 1989). The salmon fishery is the subject of much research and fisheries management activity.