The catchment is relatively unusual in the UK in that it has predominantly upland, semi-natural land use.
The catchment consists of two geographically distinct regions which have contrasting land-uses.
West Area of the Catchment
In the western and southern areas of the catchment, semi-natural land covers types dominate. The land cover in these upland areas is predominantly moorland, consisting of a mosaic of blanket bog and heather moorland on the upper and middle slopes, with montane and alpine heath vegetation present on the highest summits.
The lower slopes have been used for the establishment of managed forests (both coniferous and deciduous) in many areas. Forests mainly cover the river valleys. A high proportion of the few remaining areas of semi-natural ‘Caledonian’ pine woods in Scotland are within the catchment. The forest of Ballochbuie (near Invercauld) is a prime, large area of original forest, never having been felled unlike the famous Rothemurchus and Glen More forests in Speyside. Some of these are being managed to promote their regeneration and expansion on some estates, for example at Glen Tanar (Aboyne) and Mar Lodge estates (Braemar).
The soils, climate and topography are generally not suitable for intensive agriculture in the upper part of the catchment, and extensive sheep farming is a predominant land use in these areas.
East Area of the Catchment
In the eastern lowland part of the catchment, land cover is a mosaic of lowland, more intensively managed, land cover types, dominated by arable farmland and improved pasture. In the low-lying areas between Aberdeen and Banchory, cereals, sheep and beef are typically produced on mixed farms.
There is a long history of agricultural activity in the NE of Scotland. Excavations of rare examples (3 in Scotland) of wooden longhouses on opposite banks of the River Dee, by Banchory at Crathes (9 by 22 m) and Balbridie (12 by 24 m) show Neolithic (4000BC) communal agriculture, at least as advanced as in mainland Europe at that time. The best agricultural land in the River Dee catchment is in the low-lying areas between Aberdeen and Banchory, where cereals, sheep and beef are typically produced on mixed farms. Elsewhere, the soils, climate and topography are generally not suitable for intensive agriculture and upstream of Ballater the land is generally suitable only for improved grassland, rough grazing and forestry; extensive sheep farming and forestry therefore predominate.