Atlantic Salmon

Salmo salar

  1. Wildlife
  2. Freshwater fish
  3. Atlantic Salmon


Salmon can be very large fish, growing over a metre in length. They are found in the cleanest rivers, mostly in the north and west. They spend most of their lives out at sea, famously returning to spawn in the same stretch of river or stream in which they hatched. They travel upstream in early summer, often jumping over weirs and waterfalls to get to the gravelly-bottomed headwaters where they prefer to breed when the conditions are right in late autumn. Once they have reached their breeding grounds, the females dig depressions, known as redds, in the gravel and eggs and sperm are released simultaneously into the water. The juveniles will stay in freshwater for up to six years, after which they migrate back to the sea - morphological changes allowing them to survive in saltwater. Salmon are predators, feeding on invertebrates and small fish as juveniles, and squid and fish in the sea.

How to identify

Adult salmon are much larger than trout; they are silvery with a few dark spots on the back and may have a pinkish flush to the belly. Mature males may develop a hooked lower jaw, or kype, in the breeding season.

Where to find it

Found in rivers in Wales, Scotland and northern and southwest England.


When to find it

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

How can people help

Wild Atlantic salmon catches have drastically declined by 80% since the 1970s due to river pollution and man-made alterations to watercourses preventing them reaching their spawning grounds. Working with landowners, anglers, politicians, statutory bodies and water companies to promote wildlife-friendly practices, The Wildlife Trusts are working towards a Living Landscape: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country which are good for both wildlife and people. You can support this greener future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Atlantic Salmon
Latin name
Salmo salar
Freshwater fish
Length: 1.2-1.5m Weight: up to 40kg Average Lifespan: 4-10 years
Conservation status
Classified as Lower Risk/Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.