We had a marvellous day out at Invercauld Estate recently thanks to Iwan and Manuela Wirth, Braemar residents and owners of The Fife Arms hotel, who organised a barbecue and tree planting event on behalf of the River Dee Trust. The event was to celebrate the conclusion of a vital project to remove gravel embankments in the Allt an t-Slugain burn near Braemar, as part of the Trust’s Pearls in Peril(PIP) project.
60 project volunteers and stakeholders gathered on Invercauld Estate outside Braemar to hear River Director, Mark Bilsby, thank those who had supported the project on Deeside over the last 3 years. He also thanked the volunteers who aided the clear-up in the wake of Storm Frank.
A cavalcade of landrovers driven by the HomeBeat gamekeepers, Estate workers and Estate managers took us down to the Slugain where Trust staff Jamie Urquhart and Calum Hislop gave a brief demonstration of how to plant the trees. Russell Jobson and Ian Price from the Woodland Trust were on hand to distribute the native trees including willow, alder, silver birch, rowan and the old scots pine trees that had been donated by the Woodland Trust.
With the tantalising prospect of lunch everyone pitched in and we planted 405 trees in 45 minutes! Following the tree planting, the Fife Arms team served a seasonal lunch of fish soup, vegetable soup, locally-sourced venison casserole and sausages from a local butcher – all cooked over an outdoor fire pit – finishing up with homemade apple tartlets. All in all, a perfect day out on Deeside.
Tree planting is just one part of this restoration project. Gravel embankments have been removed along 500m of the Slugain to restore habitat for the freshwater pearl mussel and for salmon. The embankments were constructed in the 1980s to prevent the burn from spilling onto the adjacent grazing land during high flows. However, in some cases embankments can increase flood risk downstream by reducing temporary floodplain water storage. They can also affect the river channel by increasing flow speed and depth, leading to riverbed erosion, and reducing in stream habitat for mussels and fish.
Removing the embankments will allow the burn to naturally re-meander over time, further slowing the flow of water into the River Dee. The burn will be given a helping hand as infilled connections to old channels have been re-opened as part of the works. Restoring the natural flow of the burn will increase spawning and rearing habitat for salmon, the host species of freshwater pearl mussel larvae.
Iwan and Manuela said: "We are delighted to help fund this crucial work to improve and safeguard the natural habitat of the many species indigenous to the River Dee. This scheme is an important component in our ongoing commitment to support restoration and conservation projects in the local area, which we are proud to call our home."
Locally led by the Dee Trust and Dee Fishery Board, the PIP project has brought together over 22 partners including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Cairngorms National Park, the Invercauld Estate and was licensed by SEPA. My Fishery Board colleague Edwin Third, said: “This project, with the support of all in the PIP Team and the likes of Mr and Mrs Wirth, means that we have been able to successfully tackle projects that were previously too difficult to take on. This is a real practical benefit to the Dee, its wildlife and the local community.”
The project ends in March 2017. Over the past three years it has carried out a number of improvements throughout the River Dee catchment including planting over 100,000 trees, facilitating more than 95km of buffer strips and riverbank woodland schemes, the removal of 29 boulder croys and getting 40 school classes out onto the river. Last year the project removed 30 cars from the river bank which had been used in the 1980s to repair flood embankments near Mar Lodge.