Skip to main content

New riverbank woodlands are being planted across Scotland to help tackle rising temperatures due to climate change, restore habitats and reinstate healthy river systems that support some of Scotland's most iconic species including otter, osprey, and Atlantic salmon.

Foresters at Forestry and Land Scotland is now planting hundreds of hectares of new ‘riparian’ (riverside) woodlands, in all regions, but especially in the north of Scotland.

Former forestry practices allowed the planting of non-native conifers right to the edge of watercourses, increasing acidity in some cases and causing other problems like over-shading.

As the conifer forests of the mid twentieth century are restructured by felling, riparian zones are being replanted with mostly native species including Alder and Downy Birch, Aspen, and Rowan.

FLS is also planting new woodlands on riverbanks in glens that - over centuries – have been denuded of trees largely because of deer grazing pressures.

The new woodlands can very quickly establish and bring benefits to animals, insects and fish that rely on a rich, riverside ecosystem of shrubs and bushes, tall trees, tiny trees, and even dead and dying trees, festooned in lichens, liverworts, and mosses.

Foresters are finding that in those areas where new riverbank woodlands have already been planted, the benefits are being seen within 5-7 years - and increasing every season.

Valuable, dappled shade from overhanging trees, helps to cool rivers, in turn benefitting fish such as trout and salmon that rely on cold, clean water.

Speaking about the importance of riparian woodlands, Neil McInnes, Beat Forester for Caithness, and Sutherland, who led most of the riparian woodland restoration in that region, said:

"Shade is an obvious antidote to rising water temperatures and a lifeline for young fish, but river, or ‘riparian,’ woodland, does so much more.

“The submerged roots of trees like alder and willow, protect fish from the sun and provide hidey-holes during high flow events.

“Tree roots and deadwood in river channels, helps to stabilise riverbanks, reducing erosion and encouraging deep pools and riffles, favoured by fish such as salmon and trout, to re-form.

“Retaining more water for longer in wet woodland, spongy peatlands, and boggy glades, slows and filters run-off, and reduces the extremes of flooding and drought.

“Overhanging trees also increase insect numbers which in turn, means more food for hungry fish, other aquatic species, and birds."

On a landscape scale these restored riverside woodlands can provide an undisturbed framework around which forest production can continue, without the historical negative impacts on the aquatic environment.

FLS’s planning team and FM beat foresters are now identifying all areas that should be designated as riparian zones. Then, depending on the relevant land management plan, the area will be designed and planted with specific stocking levels and set amounts of open space.

Neil McInnes continued,

“We’ve already carried out riparian planting on several hundred hectares of ground – particularly at Borgie, Dalchork and Rumster forests, but this is just the start of this task.

 "With rising water temperatures increasingly affecting Scotland’s rivers, and even Highland rivers reaching temperatures that can kill fish, there is no time to lose.

“Despite their reputation for beauty and drama, too many of the glens through which our rivers run, remain bare and treeless, reflecting the centuries of ecological decline that we've come to accept as normal."

Restoring riparian woodlands on the land that we are responsible for as soon as possible – to provide shade to watercourses and restore dynamic ecosystems – is an absolute priority for us.”

Alongside new riparian planting, FLS are also restructuring old, plantation forests when they are harvested for timber, with a more complex mix of trees, shrubs and understorey plants stretching out over the watersheds into the wider catchment.

Active deer management to reduce grazing pressures is helping to support natural regeneration.

As FLS revise their Land Management Plans they identify the most appropriate extent of riparian protection, adding to the national effort to protect Scotland's water environment, enhancing climate resilience, and boosting biodiversity in river systems.

In the northern Highlands, for example, FLS plan to restore almost 5,000 hectares of riparian woodland over the next few years. This will give every watercourse the breathing space it needs by establishing permanent buffers of native woodland and scrub up to 100 metres wide. 

Notes to editors

  1. Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) manages forests and land owned by Scottish Ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.

  2. |

  3. Media enquiries to Paul Munro, Media Manager, Forestry and Land Scotland Media Office 07785 527590 or