The Beltie Burn in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is a tributary of the River Dee. In the mid-18th century, the watercourse was straightened in an attempt to improve land drainage for agriculture. However, this caused significant problems, not least downstream flooding: under certain spate conditions, flows could not spill out onto the adjacent floodplain and instead were passed downstream to present a risk to property and infrastructure.
The restoration project, completed in October 2020, successfully returned the tributary closer to its former anastomosing wetland state.
Returning the river to a more natural wetland environment has not only aided in flood protection but also provided the opportunity for ecology to thrive. Nature has already made a comeback to the site, with recent visitors including kingfishers, dippers, herons, badgers and otters. Even salmon, which weren’t expected to utilise the re-routed section of the burn until 2022 at the earliest, were spotted spawning before the last of the diggers had even left the site.
“cbec was enthusiastic to lead the design of this project that aimed to provide climate change resilience for both ecological and flood risk objectives,” says Dr Hamish Moir, the project’s designer at cbec eco-engineering. “We put a lot of time and passion into the project, and it is great to see that the outcome has been recognised at the Inspiring Aberdeenshire Awards.”
The project was managed by Dr Susan Cooksley, Partnership Manager at the Dee Catchment Partnership, and Edwin Third, River Operations Manager for the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board. It was funded by NatureScot’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund.
The stretch is just the beginning of wider improvement work. To see a lasting result and to realise significant mitigation of the effects of climate change, it will be necessary to replicate this work in other reaches of the Beltie Burn, other River Dee tributaries and in other river catchments. cbec, which specialises in eco-engineering for the water resources industry, plans to further develop this ‘nature-based’ approach for the restoration and management of river catchments, a strategy that will greatly benefit biodiversity and the habitats that support a wide variety of species.
The Dee Catchment Partnership won the Nature and Climate Action Award at the prestigious RSPB Scotland’s Nature of Scotland Awards with the Easter Beltie restoration in 2021. During the build, the site was also featured on television series ‘Landward’ as a unique example of a ‘Stage 0’ project.