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5 Jul 2023

Over 100,000 trees planted for woodland restoration

Written by Paul Williams
Over 120 hectares of planting has been completed
The team at Mar Lodge Estate is celebrating the completion of the first phase of an ambitious project, to transform and restore habitat in one of Scotland’s most fragile landscapes.

The Geldie Woodland Project, an ambitious habitat-restoration scheme, is making good progress since it started in 2021. 102,000 trees of native species have been planted in fenced enclosures over 120 hectares – an area equivalent in size to nearly 170 football pitches.

The project – which aims to tackle soil erosion, mitigate flooding and save endangered wild salmon and other threatened aquatic species – complements work to restore eroded peatlands within the same river catchment. This work has already restored 180 hectares of peatland to date, with more work to save this vital resource in combating climate change planned over the next two years.

The project to restore this wild landscape in Mar Lodge Estate (the UK’s largest National Nature Reserve), near Braemar within the Cairngorms National Park, is being delivered in partnership with the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, River Dee Trust, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Scottish Forestry, and NatureScot.

A woman dressed all in blue outdoor clothing bends down to a tree sapling she is planting on the grassy bank beside a river.
Mar Lodge Estate Conservation Manager Shaila Rao, planting trees on the banks of River Geldie

The planting of trees (including Scots pine, rowan, juniper, birch, alder and willow) along the River Geldie, on the western side of the estate and all protected from grazing deer, will assist in the creation of a woodland corridor linking the River Spey and Dee in the longer term. The trees will establish a root network that, over time, will help to increase vegetation and slow the flow of water through the river system. It will alleviate flood risk downstream, while helping to prevent soil erosion and further loss of deep peat from the river’s banks.

The planting on the banks of the river, a key wild salmon spawning tributary of the River Dee, will also help to improve aquatic wildlife by providing cooling shade and nutrient-filled leaf litter to enrich the water system. This will be complemented by further work with the fishery board, to place large tree trunks with root plates into the river at strategic points, a process which would happen naturally in a well-forested river valley. This will provide immediate benefits for spawning salmon, juvenile fish and other endangered species such as the freshwater pearl mussel.

David Frew, Head of Mar Lodge Estate, said: ‘Finishing the initial phase of planting is a massive achievement and I’m really proud of the Mar Lodge team for their efforts to reach this milestone despite being hampered by freezing conditions, snow and storms. Restoration on this scale is an epic task but one that will provide huge benefits for the landscape now and into the future. Glen Geldie lost most of its native tree cover more than 2000 years ago so the planting will help to kickstart the restoration of the glen’s woodland by providing a seed source for future natural regeneration.

‘We’re already seeing the benefit of our peatland restoration efforts with signs that moorland wading birds, such as dunlin and golden plover, are increasing in numbers,. The woodland planting and water habitat enhancement alongside peatland restoration, will provide significant benefits to both the freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity in Glen Geldie. The Geldie Woodland Project supports the objectives within the National Trust for Scotland’s 10-year strategy, Nature, Beauty and Heritage for Everyone, to stabilise and improve the condition of our estate and enable nature to flourish.’

Thanks to support from the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot, the project in partnership with the Dee Fishery Board and River Dee Trust will continue over the next two years to restore degraded peatland on the north side of the glen. A history of grazing and burning, along with warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change, have resulted in large areas of peat being exposed and eroded across the landscape. Peatland, which acts as natural carbon storage, will be repaired and brought back to life, so it continues to lock in carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere – a vital step in tackling climate change.

The River Dee Trust’s Chair, Sandy Bremner, said: ‘This is a major boost to our campaign to plant an initial million native trees to help save our salmon and other threatened species. It goes hand in hand with other river-restoration projects which are having an immediate impact. And it’s a great example of how we can deliver urgently needed projects when we work together.’

Dr Lorraine Hawkins, River Director for the Dee Fishery Board and Trust, said: ‘Climate change poses an existential threat to our iconic Atlantic salmon. We need to ensure our rivers are resilient in the future and riverbank trees play a vital role in this by reducing water temperatures.’

The project is enabled by significant support from funder Baillie Gifford and the Scottish Government’s Forestry Grant Scheme.

The Geldie Woodland Project is part of the Trust’s vision to deliver nature, beauty and heritage for everyone. The project is one of many contributing to our conservation objectives, specifically to stabilise and improved the condition of our estate, enrich Scotland’s protected heritage and enable nature to flourish.

Read more about our strategy: Nature, Beauty and Heritage for Everyone

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