What's going on in river restoration in Scotland?

Guest blog - Angus Tree, NatureScot

Restoring a section of the Beltie Burn, Aberdeenshire. © James Shooter/ScotlandBigPicture.com

Numerous river restoration focused projects have been completed or are underway in Scotland courtesy of the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF), a competitive fund administered by NatureScot. Launched in 2019, it’s aimed at innovative action that will help mitigate the effects of climate change and improve biodiversity by increasing the resilience of our most at-risk habitats and species and creating large areas of new or restored habitat. The investment supports Scotland’s post-pandemic green recovery.

To date £6.4m has been dedicated to the BCF; £2m of this will be spent in 2021 by the twelve projects that were recently selected from the third round of bidding. Both rural and urban river restoration initiatives feature in these successful projects: freshwater pearl mussel habitat will be restored downstream of a hydroelectric power scheme in northern Scotland; and green river corridors will be developed to link nature reserves and conservation sites in south-east Glasgow. Common to all of the projects are practical steps that are being taken to improve natural habitats, safeguard plant and animal species, and improve biodiversity.

Revive the Allan

In the 1850s a stretch of the Allan Water, a tributary of the River Forth, was straightened and embanked to accommodate the Stirling to Perth railway line. The Revive the Allan project has re-naturalised the river between Greenloaning and Blackford. The first phase improved the riparian corridor and reconnected the river with its floodplain between Milton of Panholes and Deaf Knowe. As well as ensuring the sustainability of existing wetlands, the work linked them to new, seasonal wetlands and so improved both wetland biodiversity and natural flood management.

Link to more information: https://forthriverstrust.org/revive-the-allan-biodiversity-challenge-fund/

This part of the river is sparsely wooded. Native riparian trees have been planted to form a green corridor, shading the river and reducing soil erosion and so providing habitat for an array of aquatic and terrestrial species.

Wood logjams have been installed and boulders placed to encourage controlled re-meandering. This will reduce bank erosion in key areas, slow the passage of water and sediment and so rejuvenate areas of gravel, and create greater flow and habitat diversity. The removal of part of an embankment provides space for flood flows and gives the river the freedom to evolve naturally.

The effects of the work are being monitored, and landscape scale changes will be evaluated.

A typical pre-restoration scenario on the Allan Water. © Gary Brown/Forth Rivers Trust

Placing large wood structures and re-profiling a bank on the Allan Water. © Gary Brown/Forth Rivers Trust

Easter Beltie Restoration Project

The Beltie Burn is a tributary of the River Dee Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is notified for its populations of freshwater pearl mussel, Atlantic salmon, and otter. The Easter Beltie Restoration Project has re-meandered a straightened part of this agricultural stream in Deeside.

Link to more information: www.deepartnership.org/general-news/the-easter-beltie-report-a-tale-of-r...

Originally a sinuous channel flowing through low-lying wetlands, the Beltie Burn’s middle reaches near the old Deeside railway were realigned, embanked, widened, and deepened. This degraded habitats for fish, plants, and invertebrates and disconnected the stream from its floodplain, reducing the capacity of the area to store floodwaters. The restoration has created a new two-kilometre stretch of river corridor at the heart of a 10 hectare floodplain with abundant wetland habitats and enriched by native woodland.

The gathering of ecological data for more than three years prior to restoration will enable a rigorous appraisal of the project’s success and so contribute to the IUCN NCUK River Restoration and Biodiversity Programme.

Managed by the Dee Catchment Partnership, the project is a collaboration that brings together the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, the River Dee Trust, and the James Hutton Institute, and is supported by Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Forestry, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and NatureScot.

A stretch of the proto-channel. © Susan Cooksley/James Hutton Institute