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Our hard working woodlands!

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In the last article of the year from the Dee Catchment Partnership, as Christmas trees go up across Deeside, we spare a thought for the trees throughout the catchment, and the important role they play in helping to maintain a healthy river Dee.
How lovely are your branches
Forests are an essential part of a river system. Managed sustainably, they help to ensure a supply of high-quality drinking water, provide protection against flooding and soil erosion, and preserve aquatic species. But mismanaged forests can have negative consequences for watercourses  - from worsening the effects of acid deposition and pollution to causing sediment build-up and contributing to local flooding.  Ensuring sustainable forestry activities is therefore at the heart of a well-managed catchment.
Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) is a key member of the Dee Catchment Partnership. Tim Gordon-Roberts, Regulations and Development Manager for the agency’s Grampian conservancy, sits on the steering group for the Catchment Partnership. “Trees help rivers in a number of ways,” he explains. “They provide shelter for aquatic animals, such as trout, which use overhanging branches and tree roots to hide from predators. They deliver leaves and woody debris to the river, which provide nutrients for some of the animals that fish and birds feed on, and fallen trees help to create a dynamic river, trapping sediment and creating scour pools.
“Over and around the river, trees create shade during hot weather and low flow rates, helping to maintain oxygen levels in the water, and on the banks they provide an important buffer zone, reducing the amount of run-off to the river during heavy rain - run-off which is often sediment-laden and may contain pollutants. Their roots help to stabilise riverbanks and slow the rate of erosion. Their importance is really multi-fold.”
Sustainable forestry brings environment-wide benefits, as Tim continues: “Our forests are home to hundreds of – sometimes rare – animals, birds, insects and plants. One of the ways I help to ensure that our woodlands are managed sustainably is by reviewing and approving woodland management plans agreed by the UK Forestry Standard. We encourage landowners to make long-term plans for their woodlands that account for factors such as habitats and species, soil types, tree stability, pests and diseases, as well as things like access, power lines, archaeology and climate change.
“In Deeside, we are fortunate to have so many important habitats, from wet woodlands to montane scrub, and iconic rare species such as red squirrels, twinflower and capercaillie. Knowing what’s out there, and where, means that the plans can be used to make sure all of these different parts are well looked after, keeping our woodlands healthy. For red squirrels this means trying to ensure their habitats are linked so they can safely move from one woodland to another through the trees to find food and to mate, rather than scurry less safely over the ground.”
Tim’s work also involves identifying what can be done to improve woodland areas that fall short of the UK Forestry Standard. In the Dee catchment, he recently approved plans for woodland near Banchory. “Conifers had been planted a long time ago, right to the edge of a burn that fed directly into the Dee. The dense shade from the conifers and the lack of any leaf litter did nothing to improve the water quality of the burn. 
“The plan for this area allowed for the conifers to be felled and replaced with native broadleaved trees. The broadleaves will help to eventually improve the water quality in the burn by providing dappled shade to stabilise water temperatures, a supply of nutrients when the leaves fall in the water, and a good supply of insect life to feed the fish. The opportunity to see our precious woodlands getting better and better like this is one of the many reasons my job is so rewarding.” 
So as you admire your beautifully decorated tree this year, spare a thought for the thousands of trees that make up the hard-working woodlands of Deeside. With careful management they will continue to provide a long list of benefits for wildlife and communities for many Christmases to come. Merry Christmas!
Suggested photo caption: Forests are an essential part of a river system / a snowy floodplain in the upper Dee Catchment. Copyright - Forestry Commission Scotland.

Previous Deeside Piper Articles

Bioblitz Event reveals thriving biodiveristy at Countesswells - Article 6

Reflections from the edge of the National Park - Article 5

Blue-green spaces to help reduce flooding in Aberdeen - Article 4
The banks of the Dee hold hidden treasures - Article 3

River Dee highlighted in local wildlife film - Article 2

Continuing the fight against invasive plants on Deeside - Article 1
Introducing the Dee Catchment Partnership - Intro Article

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Sally Wallis
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