Back to nature at Carron Dams

The reservoir, with the Carron ironworks behind, in its 1960s heydey. The now drained area is set to become a local nature reserve.
The reservoir, with the Carron ironworks behind, in its 1960s heydey. The now drained area is set to become a local nature reserve.

A little-known patch of marsh land tucked away behind rows of houses could soon become central Scotland’s newest nature reserve.

The Carron Dams was once a reservoir that powered the blast furnaces of the nearby Carron ironworks.

Three dams held in place a massive pool that was fed from the River Carron via the Carron Lade.

But the water supply was shut off in 1974 and today all that remains is a few acres of boggy marsh that lies between Larbert High School on one side and the now residential areas of Stenhousemuir and Carron on the other.

Instead of industry, the Dams now supports a wide variety of rare plants and wildlife.

It’s for that reason that local community groups are campaigning for Falkirk Council to designate Carron Dams a Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

The Dams are already listed as a site of special scientific interest - but ‘upgrading’ it to an LNR would mean it would come under statutory protection and ensure that it would be enjoyed by generations to come.

Members of Falkirk Council’s leisure and tourism committee last week warmly welcomed a report that suggested that the Carron Dams could soon become the district’s second nature reserve, joining Bonnyfield, near Bonnybridge.

Councillors were told that early discussions between council officers and Scottish Natural Heritage suggested that the Dams was an “ideal site” for a nature reserve, due to its wetland habitat and rich biodiversity – as well as being easily accessible to the public.

The area, which is owned by Falkirk Council, contains a range of brownfield habitats and deciduous woodland and is currently managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

A steering group was set-up in May to help facilitate greater community involvement in the Carron Dams. This brought together representatives of the council, Larbert High School, Communities Along the Carron Association and the Larbert and Stenhousemuir Environmental Response Group.

If the Dams gains LNR status, it is hoped that funding could be secured to develop improved public access to the area and organise a series of activities designed to raise its profile.

Committee convener Adrian Mahoney said: “It’s great to see plans come forward to create the third local nature reserve in the Falkirk Council area.

“Already there’s been encouraging support from local people to this initial proposal. The next stage will be to win the support of Scottish Natural Heritage to allow the council to formally adopt the site as a local nature reserve.”

Many locals will still remember the time when the Dams were still flooded and a popular spot for fishing. Such was its size, the water reached as far as the back garden of Carron Grange in Larbert, once home to the general manager of the Carron ironworks.

Eric Leaver, manager in the 1960s, was well-known in the community for sailing a small boat across the water.

But the reservoir was of course used for far more than just recreation.

“These were the days when water power was essential to industries,” explained local historian Ian Scott.

“The water was used to drive the blast of the blast furnace as well as the steam hammers in the forges.

“The foundry needed a large head of water for such a purpose, and three dams were built to provide it.”

Brian Watters, author of ‘Carron: Where Iron Flows Like Water’, said that the Carron Dams can trace their origin to 1772, when company minutes state that “the area was to be inundated”.

Four years later, the area was excavated back towards Carronhill. Willow trees were planted to secure the banks of the reservoir.

And so the Carron Dams would continue providing the ironworks with water for the next 200 years.

The situation changed in the early 1970s, when the demand for water had lessened and the dams themselves were discovered to be damaged and in risk of collapse.

Brian said: “A plan was produced to build a new factory on the site of the dams, which caused uproar in the community.

“But it never happened, and the area was left to the wild.”

And that wild state is how the Carron Dams will remain.