Storm tree loss could speed up River South Esk restoration efforts
The damage caused by storms Arwen and Corrie could speed up efforts to restore a strip of land along the River South Esk and the White Water in Glen Doll, Angus.
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) has been working with partners on the River South Esk Catchment Partnership since 2016, although they began their own restoration efforts beforehand.
FLS has planted over 6000 native trees - a mix of alder, birch, aspen, bird cherry and hazel - along the banks of the burn, replacing conifers that under old forestry practice of yester-year had been planted right up to the edge of waterways.
Restoration of the banks – or the riparian zone - recreates native woodland habitats along the banks of watercourses to restore and enhance the water system, and support species like otters, salmon and osprey.
Gareth Ventress, environment forester at FLS, said:
“The recent storms caused havoc in our forests and others, felling hundreds of thousands of trees. It was devastating.
“On this site, however, nature may have done us a bit of a favour. About a third of the conifers have come down during the recent storms.
“We would have gradually removed the conifers over the next 30 - 40 years to widen and improve the riparian zones. It’s a complex and lengthy process.
“The storms did some of this work for us.
“Once we’ve cleared the felled trees and made the forest safe again, it’s a massive opportunity to speed up our riparian restoration efforts along the River South Esk and White Water and plant more native trees.”
Riparian restoration is a key element in FLS’s land management planning across Scotland. From 2018-20, over 2200 hectares of plantation or former agricultural land were transformed into riparian woodlands. FLS plans to restore a further 10,000 hectares of plantation forestry to riparian woodlands over the next 50 years.
“Species such as otter, brown trout and Atlantic salmon really depend on healthy aquatic and riparian habitats.
Restoring riparian zones is hugely beneficial for them, as well as the overall health and vitality of rivers and streams.
“They also provide the arteries of connectivity throughout a landscape. They link a variety of habitats and provide safe access routes for a range of species, from fast-moving mammals and birds to slow-moving, but equally important and often rare invertebrates, lichens and mosses.
“Planting native woodland helps keep the water chemistry balanced and provides shade to help regulate the temperature of the water. It also provides a food source for fish and animals as falling leaves and insects drop into the water.”
The benefits continue even after the trees die, explained Ventress.
“Different invertebrates move in to feed on or make their homes in the dead and rotting wood, which goes on to feed small mammals, birds and fish.
“In the River South Esk, we’ve discussed keeping 15 - 20 windblown conifers complete with their root plates attached. These will be added to the watercourse in consultation with NatureScot and with the partners in the River South Esk Catchment Partnership for large woody debris. This woody debris creates habitat niches by creating different depths and water flow within the river, boosting biodiversity under the water.”
The site will be monitored over 10 years to ensure that the new trees thrive and that conifer regeneration, which would threaten to over-shade them, is not allowed to take hold.
The tree guards and enclosures will be removed once the trees are large enough to survive the deer browsing over winter when the red deer herds move down into the forest to feed and shelter from the snow.
FLS will continue to build on the work of this project and earlier riparian planting by adding more native trees along the catchment as the forest is restructured and with the eventual inclusion of less common trees and shrubs like dark-leaved willow and juniper.
Glen Doll’s trails remain closed to visitors while the team clears storm debris.
Notes to editors
- 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.