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19 Oct 2022

Woodland restoration project underway on Glen Geldie

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
Work has just started on a transformative project to restore habitat in one of Scotland’s most fragile landscapes, helping to combat soil erosion, mitigate flooding and save endangered wild salmon and other threatened species.

Our Geldie Woodland Project on the Mar Lodge Estate is one of our most ambitious habitat-restoration schemes ever tackled. It is being delivered in partnership with the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, River Dee Trust, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Scottish Forestry.

The holistic approach to restoring Glen Geldie, on the western side of the estate, will see over 120 hectares planted with more than 100,000 native Scots tree species along the banks of the River Geldie. Through time, the increase in vegetation will help slow the flow of water through the river system, alleviating flood risk downstream while helping to prevent soil erosion and further loss of deep peat on the river’s banks.

The planting along the banks of the river, a key spawning tributary for the River Dee’s iconic wild salmon, will also benefit the river’s biodiverse ecosystem by providing vital cooling shade and leaf litter to enrich the nutrient-poor water, where rising water temperatures due to climate change are posing a significant threat to the future of the species.

The River Dee Trust’s Chair, Sandy Bremner, stressed the urgency of the project. ‘We are in a race against time to save and restore our salmon stocks which play a pivotal role in the whole ecosystem. Restoring their home rivers will help them survive the challenges at sea where they are dying in large numbers. Salmon have enriched our communities and cultures for thousands of years. This project will help us in the battle to pass on that heritage to future generations.’

A sweeping view of Glen Geldie on a sunny blue-sky day. The River Geldie cuts through the scrub and grass banks, and in the distance mountains are visible.
Habitat restoration of Glen Geldie on Mar Lodge Estate will help to tackle climate change

Alongside The Dee Fishery Board we are planning further work in the glen, aiming to provide immediate benefits to the water habitat for spawning salmon, juvenile fish and other endangered species such as the freshwater pearl mussel. This will be achieved by placing large tree trunks with root plates into the river at strategic points, a process which would happen naturally in a well-forested river valley.

The Glen Geldie area on Mar Lodge Estate – the largest National Nature Reserve in the British Isles – lost most of its native tree cover more than 2000 years ago, so the tree planting will provide a valuable seed source where currently there are no trees to enable natural woodland regeneration. The transformation has already begun with the planting of Scots pine, rowan, juniper, birch, alder and willow along the upper reaches of the glen, all protected from grazing deer.

In the long term, the woodland creation will help to connect wildlife corridors along the river network and across catchments, such as Glen Feshie to the west. The woodland planting and water habitat enhancement, alongside peatland restoration, will provide significant benefits to both the freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity in Glen Geldie.

Grasses and young saplings grow on the banks of the River Geldie, which cuts through the land at the base of a peak which rises into a cloudy sky.
Native Scots species of trees will be planted on the banks of River Geldie and across the glen

After restoring around 90 hectares of peatland last year, the team at Mar Lodge are undertaking a three-year programme to restore degraded peatland on the north side of the glen where there are extensive areas of bare peat, dried out gullies and heavily eroded peat hags. Peat, which acts as a carbon sink, will be restored and brought back to life, allowing it to continue locking in carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, making it a vital resource in tackling climate change. This work is supported by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

Thick sand-coloured heavy netting covers areas of restored peat on the winding banks of a river.
Peat restoration is a vital part of the project, helping to lock in carbon dioxide

David Frew, Head of Mar Lodge Estate, said the project fits firmly within the National Trust for Scotland’s wider vision for the land in its care. ‘We are pleased to start work on this ambitious project alongside our partners that will improve freshwater habitat and combat climate change in the glen. Our recently launched ten-year strategy, Nature, Beauty and Heritage for Everyone, addresses the urgent need to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, and this work is a significant step in contributing to these goals.’

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

The project is enabled by significant support from funder Baillie Gifford and the Scottish Government’s forestry grant scheme.

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