Established in 2003, the Dee Catchment Partnership represents and supports those with responsibilities for water management in the common aim of restoring habitat and water quality in the River Dee catchment. The organisation has secured funding for significant restoration work, such as three0year invasive plants control programme, ten years of outreach and education, and the ongoing restoration on the Beltie Burn. EU programmes have funded significant programmes of improvement, investing over £10 million in Deeside restoration projects since 2003. 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 Scottish Forestry. NatureScot.

Sally Wallis for the Dee Catchment Partnership
September 04, 2020

Restored river channel to bring benefits for nature

A straightened burn in Deeside will be restored to a meandering stream channel this month, in a bid to enrich habitats for wildlife and improve the natural environment.

The Beltie Burn near Torphins, a tributary to the River Dee, was first engineered in the mid-18th century for agricultural improvements and later to make way for the Deeside Railway line. The Easter Beltie Restoration Project is the only one of its kind in the north east of Scotland, and will create a new, two-kilometre stretch of river corridor and ten hectares of floodplain rich in habitats where nature can thrive.

Managed by the Dee Catchment Partnership, and with the strong support of the landowner, the project is a collaboration that brings together the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, River Dee Trust and James Hutton Institute, supported by the NatureScot Biodiversity Challenge Fund, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Forestry, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Partnership Manager, Dr Susan Cooksley, who heads up the project, explains the need for the restoration work:

“Originally a twisting channel flowing through low-lying wetlands, the Beltie Burn’s middle reaches near the old Deeside line have been heavily straightened, embanked, widened and deepened".

“This has degraded habitats for fish, plants and invertebrates – the current channel contains far too much silt and sand, offering no salmon spawning habitat. The deepening means that the burn is completely disconnected from its floodplain, reducing available wetland habitat and the capacity of the whole area to store floodwaters.”

The heart of the site will be a new, unconstrained meandering channel, enriched by riverside native tree planting, with woodland and open wet ground in the connected floodplain.

River Operations Manager for the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, Edwin Third, explains:

“While the middle reaches of the burn are extremely degraded, the upper and lower reaches of the 20 km Beltie Burn retain many natural characteristics. By restoring this break in the continuity of the river system, the whole catchment will benefit. These wetland habitats typically create around 150 times more food for fish and other animals than straightened channels can provide. So we really hope to see the return of spawning fish, as part of thriving natural ecosystem.”

Beltie Burn Restoration <em>© </em>James Shooter.

© James Shooter. The straightened Beltie Burn channel south of Torphins will be restored to a meandering channel this September to improve habitats for nature.

The benefits of the project for nature are being evaluated by the James Hutton Institute, Napier University and the River Dee Trust, in a long-term study of how habitats change as a result of the restoration.

Susan continues:

“By making high quality science an integral part of the Easter Beltie restoration project, we will be able to clearly show how restoring rivers can transform the opportunities for wildlife, with knock-on effects for the whole river valley. The project will have many positive benefits; the restoration will give a vital helping-hand to the natural world, but in doing so, we hope it will directly contribute to the green recovery from covid-19 that everyone is striving to achieve”.

Work at the site will begin in September.

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