A pioneering project to restore part of an important salmon river to its original course, thus recreating suitable habitat for salmon and other fish, has been completed by the Esk Rivers and Fisheries Trust (ERFT). The course of the Rottal Burn, a major tributary of the River South Esk in Glen Clova, has been moved to that which it last occupied around 1800. Fiona Armstrong, Lady MacGregor of MacGregor, the well-known TV journalist, presenter and newscaster, will formally open the restored Rottal Burn at 11 am on Friday 3rd May.
The Rottal Burn was radically straightened and canalised two centuries ago to reduce flooding and more recently the lower part of the channel was dredged, effectively destroying the entire habitat for fish.
Dr Marshall Halliday, Director of ERFT, explained: “We wanted to remedy the fact that a significant section of the South Esk catchment was, because of man’s historical intervention, so unsuitable for fish. Using old maps and aerial photographs to identify the original water course, we formulated and considered several options for its restoration and reconnection to its flood plain. Once the final selection was made, it was subjected to additional scrutiny concerning channel stability, river bed stability, and hydrology and habitat diversity.”
Dr Halliday continued: “All the works were completed between May and August 2012. The final phase involved the connection of the Rottall Burn into the new channel and the closure of the old channel. It is heartening that salmon and sea trout almost immediately moved into the new channel where they were observed spawning in November.”
Tom Sampson, Chairman of ERFT, commented: “The South Esk is a Special Area of Conservation for salmon and as such it is incumbent on us to maximise its potential. This has been a trailblazing project and I have no doubt that it will be replicated elsewhere in Scotland. We are particularly grateful to SEPA’s Water Environment Fund for providing most of the money for the project, to Scottish Government funding provided through RAFTS for preparing and implementing our fishery management plan (which helped identify the project in the first place and implement it afterwards), to Dee Ward of Rottal Estates for allowing his land to be restructured, to Envirocentre for the innovative design work and to McIntosh Plant (Aberdeen) for their skilled creation of the new channel.”
Alice Tree, Advice & Engagement Specalist at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), said: “The Water Environment Fund was pleased to support the Trust’s restoration of Rottal Burn and the project has been a great demonstration of partnership working. The project restored a significant stretch of realigned river into over one kilometre of natural river course and removed physical pressures affecting the burn. Following the work, the burn has also seen its River Basin Management Plans morphology classification improve from Moderate to Good.”
Isla Martin, SNH’s Operations Officer, added: “It is great to see that the fishery trust, in partnership with a forward thinking and visionary landowner and a wide range of interested parties, has been able to restore such a large section of river and that it is already providing a range of benefits. The Rottal Burn project is a fantastic example and we very much hope it will be an inspiration to others.”
Several thousand trees (native species) were planted in 2012 and spring 2013 to increase shade, water storage and reduce any diffuse pollution. A monitoring programme has now been established with aerial surveys, topographic surveys, habitat surveys, instream substrate monitoring, invertebrate and fish stock sampling.