Sustainable Scotland: Storm-damaged trees have flowed into the River Dee to boost nature and help save wild salmon

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The pioneering work is part of wider conservation efforts being carried out on the Dee. The Beltie Fire in the upper part of the river’s catchment has already been “renaturalized” by restoring natural bends and meanders, planting new native trees, restoring drained wetlands and reconnecting areas of salmon reproduction.

Now, as part of a major second phase of work to restore biodiversity and build resilience to climate change at the award-winning site, 50 mature trees from Scolty Forest in Aberdeenshire that were damaged by the mighty last November’s storm have been integrated along the watercourse.

The trees, with their root plates, have been customized into 15 large woody structures that have been dug into the river banks and bed to create habitats for wildlife and further slow the flow of water during periods of heavy rain. and floods.

The ambitious £12,000 project, led by the Dee Catchment Partnership, is a collaboration between the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Forestry and Land Scotland.

Edwin Third, River Operations Manager for the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, led the design and installation of the large timbered structures in the Beltie. He has coordinated the addition of nearly 150 such structures to upper watershed streams in recent years.

“These rivers once flowed through a forested landscape,” he said. “Riparian trees would have been a vital part of the habitat structure, providing shade, shelter and food, as well as pools and gravel beds when they fall into the river, where species Aquatic can hide from predators.Nowadays these must be some of the rarest habitats in Scotland, and with Atlantic salmon in crisis we urgently need to reclaim them.

“Salmon have a very complex life cycle, requiring different types of habitats at different stages. By adding large woody structures to the river, we can help create these complex and diverse habitats for them. But we also support all native wildlife – interrupting and trapping vegetation and stimulating aquatic insects, creating feeding platforms for birds like dippers and the kind of tangled protective structures that otters love.

Around 50 trees which were damaged when the powerful storm Arwen tore through Scolty Forest in Aberdeenshire last year have been secured in the Beltie fire in Deeside as part of a second major phase of restoration work restoration aimed at enhancing biodiversity and climate resilience on the site.

“The benefits are many. Salmon will navigate these structures over the next few weeks as they travel up the Beltie to spawn.

Dr Susan Cooksley, freshwater ecologist at the James Hutton Institute and head of the Dee Catchment Partnership, said: ‘This is an exciting next phase in the Beltie Blight recovery, which we have restored two years ago from an artificially straightened canal to a dynamic wetland system flowing into a meandering stream, to boost biodiversity and the area’s resilience to flooding. Since then, the site has had time to heal and grow naturally.

She said adding storm-damaged trees was a no-brainer because of their ready availability. “It was the obvious next step for the Beltie – to create a variety and complexity of habitats for nature, just as beavers do, and to improve the connectivity between the river and its floodplain by raising the level of the water,” she said.

“It also gave us the opportunity to hone our skills in creating these structures in more loamy, low-lying streams. We have learned a lot from this work at Beltie and this will enable us to take on other projects in the region with confidence.

Storm-damaged trees will provide food, shelter and shade for wild salmon in the River Dee catchment and hopefully help halt the population decline of the ‘king fish’

Philippa Murphy, environmental adviser for Forestry and Land Scotland, who donated the trees and funded their transport to the site, added: “It’s fantastic to see these trees being repurposed for nature in this way, and we’ve were delighted to be involved in the project. .”

The Beltie fire, near Torphin in Aberdeenshire, was first artificially straightened in the mid-18th century for agricultural improvements, then again later to make way for the Deeside railway line.

The restored site, supported by NatureScot’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund, has been carefully monitored since work began in 2020 to help paint an accurate picture of the impacts of the measures. As one of the first partnerships in the country to add large wooded structures to rivers, the team will continue to document progress to help develop similar techniques in river projects elsewhere in Scotland.

Dee Fisheries planted 250,000 saplings along its major tributaries. They plan to plant one million in the Dee catchment by 2035, including native mountain ash, aspen, Scots pine, birch, willow, hawthorn and juniper, all aiming to create the salmon’s favorite mix of light and shadow.

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