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A helping hand for the River Gairn

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This month we hear about how one of the Dee’s tributaries is being given a helping hand from a number of organisations within the partnership in a bid to restore it to a thriving ecosystem for key species of fish and invertebrates.

A Helping Hand for the River Gairn

The River Gairn in the upper Dee catchment is the subject of a restoration project that once completed, will be the largest of its kind in Scotland. Twenty-four woody structures, each made up of three wind-blown trees, have been installed in the river at various locations over a three-kilometre stretch of the Gairn, upstream of Corndavon Lodge. An equal number will be put in place over a further three-kilometre stretch of the Gairn this summer.

River Operations Manager for the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, Edwin Third, explains: “The use of large woody material is becoming increasingly recognised as an important way in which to manage and speed up the rehabilitation of a degraded watercourse.”

Rising in headwaters in the Eastern Grampian mountains, the River Gairn flows eastwards through Glen Gairn to join the Dee just west of Ballater. Long stretches of the Gairn were left extremely wide and shallow after Storm Frank in the winter of 2015, which had a detrimental effect on the river wildlife. “By installing the trees in the river, we’re creating more diverse habitats for the fish and other aquatic wildlife, such as deep pools, lots of places to hide from predators, and gravel beds for spawning,” continues Edwin. “The trees will provide shelter and trap nutrients, and generally help to create the complex river structure these species need to survive.”

The project is a collaborative effort between the River Dee Trust, Dee Fishery Board and a number of partners including the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Dee Catchment Partnership, Invercauld Estate, SEPA, and the Fife Arms, who help to manage the estate. Edwin outlines the key challenges the project has faced so far:

”The Gairn is relatively treeless apart from the 140,000 we’ve planted in the last five years, so the nearest windblown trees we could use were eight miles away. We had to cut them down to 6.5 metres in length, including the root wad and the trunk, and have them transported on a trailer behind a large lorry. The trees then had to be structurally engineered into the riverbank so they wouldn’t be washed away or cause bank erosion - the whole exercise took 10 days.

“Now we’re seeking funding for the project’s second phase, with a view to carrying out the work this summer when the river is low,” he continues. “There’s a fairly complex design stage during which we identify where we’re going to put all the trees, which have to be installed in such a way that they manipulate the river bed, making it more complex and diverse, without causing any problems.”

The success of the project will be measured through a comparison of the river conditions before and after, as Edwin explains: “We did a baseline survey of the river before the trees went in, measuring what was there and what the various habitats were like, and we’ll monitor it again in a few years’ time to see how it’s changed. We’ll know if the large woody structures are helping if we see an improvement in the numbers of species within the river.”

“The trees we’ve been planting tin the catchment will take 50 or 100 years to fall in the river and naturally create these structures, so we’re giving the river a helping hand with these installations. It will eventually become a sustainable system by itself – after all, nature can do a better job than we can."

This short film was created by Al Peake for the River Dee Trust to introduce the habitat improvement works in the Gairn. What amazing footage!

ENDS

Suggested photo caption: By installing trees in the Gairn, the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and River Dee Trust are creating better habitats for fish and other aquatic animals.

Notes to Editors: The Dee Catchment Partnership is an umbrella organisation representing and supporting those with responsibilities for water management in the common aim of restoring habitat and water quality in the catchment. The partners within the group are: James Hutton Institute, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen City Council, River Dee Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage and Aberdeen Harbour.

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Sally Wallis

sallywalliscopywriting@gmail.com

Tel: 07961 980152 / 013398 85436