Projects aim to bring life back to Scotland’s rivers

Bronie Burn, one of the sites addressed by the WEF project (image credit: SEPA).

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) says it is continuing its efforts to restore nature to Scotland’s rivers with the completion of two more projects. It comes as some fish, such as Atlantic salmon, begin to make the annual journey from sea back upriver to their breeding grounds.

In a changing climate, it is more important than ever that we preserve, manage and improve Scotland’s water environment. It’s fundamental to safeguarding biodiversity, ensuring that our unique aquatic wildlife is protected. However, while the condition of rivers and lochs in Scotland is generally classified as good by SEPA, many environmental challenges remain such as pollution and water scarcity as a result of more frequent, prolonged spells of dry weather.

There are also historic, physical alterations to rivers to contend with. These include straightened and embanked channels that are cut off from natural flood plains and heavily concreted urban river corridors with little chance for the creation of wild habitats. There are redundant weirs installed in some rivers, making them impassable to fish such as Atlantic salmon and sea trout, which spend part of their lives in the ocean before returning to Scottish rivers.

To help repair these watercourses, SEPA administers the Water Environment Fund (WEF) on behalf of the Scottish Government and works in partnership with local authorities, land and structure owners, fishery trusts and conservation bodies to deliver an annual programme of river restoration projects.

In the last month alone, two projects have completed involving full weir removals from the River Eden at Gateside Mills in Fife and the Bronie Burn near Ellon in Aberdeenshire. The removals, made possible by more than £500,000 of funding from WEF, will reinstate the natural migration of fish and allow them to access up to 30km of upstream habitat that had previously been blocked off. In turn, this will improve the wider health of the rivers by improving their status for fish migration from poor to good. Carbon emissions were also cut by around 40% for the Gateside Mills project by working with contractors to find ways to be more sustainable.

Lawrence Belleni, River Restoration Specialist at SEPA, said:

“Rivers are a vital part of our landscape and a great asset to Scotland, providing wildlife corridors, opportunities for recreation and wellbeing resources for local communities.

“The completion of these projects will bring significant benefits by making larger sections of the rivers accessible to migrating fish and we look forward to their return soon.

“We continue to work in partnership with landowners, local authorities and other organisations across Scotland to identify further opportunities for projects just like these and to create attractive and accessible river corridors within many more towns and cities.”

Gateside Mills and Bronie Burn are just two of several projects under construction in 2022 helping to repair rivers in Scotland. Earlier this year, a £1.1million contribution from WEF restored a 500m artificially straightened section of the Lyne Burn in Dunfermline. This made it a thriving river again for nature and an enhanced green space for the surrounding communities.

Elsewhere, salmon on fry returned to the Garrell Burn in Kilsyth after 100 years this summer following £3.2m from WEF for the re-naturalisation of 600m of the river. Two new fish passes were created, and the project included improvements to public access routes and foot bridges around the site, allowing the community to enjoy an enhanced green space.

Work is also continuing to re-engineer the Levern Water at Barrhead, with a weir already removed to help bring back migrating fish and reduce the risk of flooding, thanks to £1.6m investment from WEF. This project will also turn derelict land into a more attractive green space for the local community.