Climate Week North East: Science for a climate-resilient catchment

A range of activities from guided walks and treasure hunts to films and online workshops will aim to educate and inspire people to care more about the environment, as part of Climate Week North East.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 7:00 am
Hutton hydromorphologist Dr Stephen Addy monitors the Dee in the Mar Lodge floodplain (left) and River Dee Trust Fisheries Officer, Colin Esson, planting riverside trees in the upper catchment.

A host of climate-related science is going on across the Dee catchment all the time, from planting trees and buffer strips, to slowing the flow and restoring peatlands.

Senior Research Scientist at the James Hutton Institute, Rebekka Artz, specialises in peatland ecosystems and restoration.

“Damaged peatlands contribute significant amounts to greenhouse gas emissions, and add particulate and dissolved carbon to rivers. These effects are worsened during periods of warmer weather and drought,” she explains. “My colleagues and I are monitoring these emissions from eroded peatlands in the upper Dee catchment, as well as the hydrology, before and after restoration work on the peatlands, to test whether restoration reduces carbon emissions and restores hydrological functioning.”

Dr Al Reeve is a Biologist with Dee District Salmon Fishery Board and River Dee Trust.

He said: “There are a million reasons to plant trees – they provide habitat and nutrients to the riverside, they fall into the river and provide habitat for fish, and they shade the river, keeping it cool during the summer months. This is essential because water temperature has a direct effect on salmon – higher temperatures cause them to stop feeding and eventually to die. Planting trees provides thermal refuges for the fish.

"My colleagues have been adding large woody structures to some of the Dee’s tributaries, where they create a variety of habitats that salmon need throughout their life, cover from predators, and deep cool pools. They also trap nutrients and provide shelter during floods.”

A number of projects have focused on slowing the flow of water to reduce the effects of flooding during high rainfall. One such example was carried out on the River Dee floodplain just west of Braemar, where a 70-metre long flood embankment was lowered to restore wildlife habitat and floodplain connectivity.

James Hutton Institute hydromorphologist, Dr Stephen Addy, explains: “We monitored the site for two years before restoration, and three years afterwards, to understand the changes in floodplain water level, and changes of shape within the river and floodplain, and observed some really positive results. Both the embankment lowering and the natural changes in river shape after a series of large floods significantly improved the connection of river water to the floodplain. This told us that improved connectivity between rivers and floodplains can result from targeted flood embankment lowering and letting the ‘river do the work’. This in turn could help to improve a catchment’s resilience to climate change, by alleviating small flood peaks, and helping to sustain minimum water levels in the river during dry periods.”

Another Senior Scientist at the Hutton Institute, Marc Stutter, has been trialling different types of ‘buffer zones’, to protect watercourses from agricultural run-off and the effects of a warming climate.

He says: “Our work in Tarland over the last two decades has shown the importance of tailoring buffer zones for a given location. By carefully monitoring water qualities, temperatures and flow rates at specific sites, we can learn how to protect individual streams from run-off and build up a more climate-resilient network of watercourses across the catchment.”

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