Nature fund awards £80,000 to improve the Upper Spey for salmon and more.

July 22, 2022

Nature fund awards £80,000 to improve the Upper Spey for salmon and more.

Penny Lawson - July 22, 2022

We’ve recently received the good news that we’ve been awarded just over £80,000 from NatureScot’s Nature Restoration Fund to deliver our latest habitat enhancement project on the Upper Spey on Glenshero Estate. Following the success of our similar project on another upland tributary, the River Calder, we will be installing around 60 – 80 Large Woody Structures (windblown trees with root plates attached) into the river.

These structures mimic natural deadwood which is missing from the system due to the absence of bankside woodland, and play a vital part in restoring natural physical processes in the river, which in turn create a diverse habitat of pools, gravels and riffles, essential for the different stage of the salmon lifecycle. As well as providing habitat for fish and other life to shelter from predators, high flows and increasing water temperatures, the wood will also boost food supplies for invertebrates and the fish which feed on them.

This project is supported by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot.

Major restoration works underway on the River Calder

November 19, 2020

Major restoration works underway on the River Calder.

Penny Lawson - November 19, 2020

The Calder is a large upland tributary of the Spey running through beautiful Glen Banchor above the village of Newtonmore. Recent concerns that, compared to other similar tributaries, the Calder was under-performing in terms of producing juvenile salmon were thought to be linked to the lack of riparian woodland along the river and the relatively uniform nature of the river bed, which lacked features such as the gravel deposits needed for fish spawning. To try to tackle these issues, SCI embarked on two large scale projects with much wider aims for improving habitats, biodiversity and climate change resilience on the Calder.

With funding from SEPA, our first intervention was completed in August 2020. There was virtually no dead wood in the river channel, so whole trees from a nearby plantation were harvested and secured into the bed and banks at strategically chosen locations along 1.6km of the river to form 29 Large Wood Structures (LWS). These are designed to mimic natural dead wood, creating more diverse flow patterns and sediment deposition features which provide much more diversity of habitats for fish, invertebrates and other river life. As the trees slowly break down nutrients will be added to the water, giving a further boost to productivity. By November we have already seen salmon redds around the structures and increased amounts of gravelly substrate – early proof that the LWS are doing their job.

To achieve sustainable long term restoration, we are working with landowners Glenbanchor and Cluny Estates to create extensive riparian woodland in three blocks along about 4.5km of the river. The new woodland will cover 22.5 ha and over 15,000 native broadleaf trees will be planted in spring 2021, with further natural regeneration expected. Funding for this project is from NatureScot’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund, with trees donated by the Woodland Trust. The new woodland will not only provide a future source of dead wood for the Calder, but also shading to control rising peak water temperatures and natural flood risk mitigation – more on this in our next blog!

Find out more in this top-notch film by Scotland; the Big Picture.

Allt Lorgy restoration project wins National Prize

September 10, 2020

Allt Lorgy restoration project wins River Restoration Centre UK River Prize.

Penny Lawson - September 10, 2020

Some of you will be familiar with the Allt Lorgy project, one of SCI’s early projects delivered in 2012 which aimed to restore a straightened, canalised stretch of this tributary of the River Dulnain, close to Carrbridge.

In an online award ceremony on 9th September, the project was awarded the River Restoration Centre UK River Prize 2020, receiving the trophy for the brand new ‘reach scale’ section of the prize in recognition of the radical transformation of around 850m of the Allt Lorgy we can see today. Since improvement works were done in 2012, the river has changed from an artificially straightened, engineered channel lacking in fish and other wildlife to a dynamic, re-naturalised burn, rich in new habitats and species.

Leading the way in Scotland, an innovative approach was taken to restoring the river based on the concept of removing man-made constraints, giving the river space to do the work of forming a more varied, wildlife-friendly channel. The project now represents the earliest and most advanced example of the application of the ‘Stage Zero’ type of restoration approach in the UK.

Engineered embankments were removed to improve flood plain connectivity, and large pieces of dead wood were placed in the burn to encourage a return to more natural flow patterns, and provide nutrients and more diverse habitats. Over the years the success of the project is clear from the steadily increasing numbers of salmon and trout, and the much more natural, meandering channel with pools and gravel banks. With a boost from planting with trees donated by the Woodland Trust, native woodland is now regenerating vigorously across the deer-fenced flood plain. The restoration has the potential not only to improve the area for nature, but also to help battle the effects of climate change, such as more frequent flood risk.

Watch the short video to see how amazing the burn now looks!

Taking things at tree speed

March 27, 2020

Taking things at tree speed…

Alongside many folk, like it or not, we at SCI are having to put a few plans on hold for a while until the Coronavirus crisis is under control. This includes much of our current and planned project work focussed on creating riparian woodland at a number of locations in the catchment where trees are scarce.

Battling with some very harsh conditions and flooding over the winter, we have now completed stock fencing almost 2km of the River Truim on the Cuaich Flats near Dalwhinnie. Low density planting with native trees and shrubs was just about to begin – squeezed into the window between the snow melting and the bird breeding season - when lockdown descended. Likewise our hopes for a decision on major funding for riparian woodland as part of landscape scale catchment improvements on the River Calder may not be fulfilled for a while longer.

SCI is surely not alone in experiencing these frustrations, but on reflection (and many of us now have more time for that!) the delays we face are insignificant on the timescale of woodland establishment. Trees take a long time to grow, particularly in weather-beaten, exposed sites like these, and it will be a good number of years before the benefits they promise for the catchment will come to fruition. We just need to sit tight for now and try to think in tree time! Watch this space for good news on these projects when life returns to something like normal.

River access point has green engineering makeover

December 12, 2019

River access point has green engineering makeover

Thanks to some ‘green engineering’ repair works completed at the end of November, canoeists, families and pub goers can now enjoy an improved experience down by the River Spey in Aviemore. The river itself is also a winner as the eroding banks are now stabilised and planted with willow to protect them from flooding, trailers and human feet, with new wildlife habitat created where there was previously just bare sand.
Over recent years the ‘beach’ area opposite the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore had become more and more degraded through a combination of some severe floods and the impact of the many locals and visitors who use the popular beauty spot, which is also the main access point on this part of the river. As vegetation cover was lost the exposed banks became more vulnerable to further erosion from high waters, and the sandy area was becoming wider each year and increasingly unsafe and unsightly. SCI teamed up with Aviemore Community Enterprise Company (ACE) and other partners to secure funding from the Scottish Communities Landfill Fund via Suez Communities Trust. Contributions were also gratefully received from the landowner Reidhaven Estates, Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Andy Jackson Memorial Fund.
With funding in place, robust log terrace structures have been constructed to reinforce the sides and ramp of the launch site, with barrier posts installed to prevent canoe trailers from damaging the soft ground right next to the water. Willow spiling has been planted on the banks at either side and will grow to form a lasting defence against erosion as the roots bind the soil. The willow along with some enrichment tree planting will provide an attractive green backdrop for the site and new habitat for wildlife. The area remains perfectly accessible for paddlers, and by consulting the canoeing community throughout the process we’ve achieved a solution to a growing problem which everyone is delighted with.

Woodland at Allt Lorgy has been given some TLC

October 3, 2019

Woodland at the Allt Lorgy has been given some TLC by local volunteers

Penny Lawson - October 3, 2019

Around seven years ago, steps were taken to establish flood plain and riparian woodland at the Allt Lorgy, a tributary of the River Dulnain, as a critical part of what has become one of SCI’s best known and celebrated river restoration projects. The meadows next to the river had been consistently browsed by deer and livestock for many years, so there was no regeneration of young trees and only scattered mature trees remaining. Encouraging healthy new tree growth was important to bring many benefits, including more and better wildlife habitat both in the river and on the banks, contributing to natural flood management by slowing the flow of flood waters, providing shading to keep the water cool, stabilising the banks, and providing a future source of woody structures in the channel.

The whole site was deer fenced and native broadleaf trees planted, with valuable support from the Woodland Trust . Huge improvements have now taken place, with both the planted trees and especially naturally regenerating trees now doing well. Some alders have reached over 2m in height. The vole guards and tubes used to protect tree seedlings are no longer needed, so SCI recruited the help of volunteers from nearby Grantown Grammar School, a group of Volunteer Cairngorms rangers and members of the public to remove the tree protection. They also pulled up non-native conifers which had seeded in from a plantation upstream. Thanks to this hard working and enthusiastic bunch, the trees are now set to carry on growing into a diverse and healthy native woodland.

New insights into the life of Freshwater pearl mussels

October 3, 2019

New insights into the life of Freshwater pearl mussels

Penny Lawson - October 3, 2019

They may not be one of the most glamorous wildlife sights, but Freshwater Pearl Mussels are an increasingly rare find, and the Spey is one of only a few remaining Scottish rivers where they are hanging on. Populations in the lower river are thought to be reasonably stable, but there is deep concern that the mussels are failing to breed and therefore declining in the upper catchment. Ecologist Kieran Leigh-Moy was brought in by SNH last year on a graduate placement to try to find out more.

Kieran’s many hours of field work confirmed that mussel densities in the upper catchment were indeed very low with no evidence of juveniles being present. The good news is that a previously unknown population was discovered in one tributary, the furthest upstream juveniles mussels have been found by approximately 20 miles.

The research found out useful information about the type of habitat mussels need and which tributaries have the potential to support them. Habitat survey work also suggested that the decline in populations may be linked to low oxygen levels in the river bed due to deposition of increased amounts of fine sediment, and changes seen in the shape of the mussel’s shells show that climate change factors may be affecting their health. Further research on fine sediment sources and deposition in the upper catchment is being carried out in the next few months by a research team commissioned by SNH.

Fishing and distillery tours not your thing?

October 3, 2019

Fishing and distillery tours not your thing?

The Spey has a fascinating history to learn about.

Penny Lawson - October 3, 2019

As a taster, have a look at this story on the ‘timmer floaters’, gangs of hardy workers who risked life and limb transporting rafts of logs from the Scots pine forests of the upper catchment to the ship yards at the coast. This website also gives details of guided walks to hear and see more about the history of the river in the Aberlour area.

Other good places to visit to find out about past times in and around the Strathspey and Speyside include the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore, Grantown museum, the new Tomintoul Discovery Centre and the Tugnet Ice House at Spey Bay, the largest in the country by far.