Calum Kitching, 22, from Aboyne, is undertaking a three-month-long traineeship funded by the James Hutton Institute and NatureScot, which sees him lend a hand – and learn a thing or two – on river restoration projects the length and breadth of the catchment, working with Partnership Manager, Dr Susan Cooksley.
He is one of 21 NatureScot River Restoration trainees working in Scotland this summer.
Keen to learn about a variety of nature conservation practices to help inform his future career choice and make some useful contacts along the way,
Calum’s first few weeks have provided the perfect smorgasbord of experiences, as he explains: “Susan introduced me to a range of scientists at the James Hutton Institute and I’ll be working on a varied and interesting range of projects.
"It has been the ideal setting for exposing me to a great spectrum of specialisms and people, offering a real blend of practical projects with academic study.
“I’ve been working between the Hutton Institute and the River Dee Trust.
"Most days I’m out at various places in the catchment, meeting lots of people, taking water samples, assisting with invertebrate surveys, planting trees, deploying hydrophone receivers to detect the migration of tagged salmon smolt from the Dee out to sea, learning about river restoration… a real mix so far!”
According to NatureScot, jobs in the nature-based sector made up at least 7.5 per cent of Scotland’s workforce in 2019 and grew at more than five times the rate of all jobs in Scotland between 2015 and 2019.
Furthermore, a major growth in nature-based jobs is anticipated following the expansion in activities required to meet Scotland’s net zero targets.
In particular, job growth in areas such as blue carbon, woodland planting and restoration, and peatland restoration between now and 2030 is expected to be significant.
Traineeships like Calum’s will play a key role in meeting this demand for more nature-based jobs and are a win-win for both parties according to Susan: “These experiences provide direct, hands-on learning for trainees, and we aim to make sure Calum has experience of the many aspects of river restoration – from planning and design, construction and site management, to monitoring and communications.
"Here at Hutton and in the Dee Catchment Partnership we welcome the chance to inspire and encourage young people into a rewarding career in nature conservation.
"The linked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss have made the need to recruit the next generation ever more urgent.
"We desperately need more skilled practitioners in the many aspects of river restoration if we are going to be able to get enough projects off the ground to start making a tangible difference.”
Throughout May Calum has been working with the River Dee Trust, with Fishery Biologist Jamie Urquhart’s team. Smolt traps, invasives control and invertebrate surveys have made for a busy month.
Calum will spend the remainder of his traineeship working on a project in the upper catchment, which aims to reconnect the River Dee with its floodplain, bringing benefits for both the catchment’s resilience to climate change and biodiversity.
He will also be working on river restoration plans at the James Hutton Institute’s climate positive farm at Glensaugh.
While his enthusiasm and optimism are tangible, Calum is under no illusions as to the challenges facing the nature sector as he reflects on the future for conservation in Scotland: “I remember learning about environmental policy during my degree, the often-conflicting priorities for people, climate and wildlife, and the variety of ways in which it’s influenced by different environmental organisations.
"Extinction Rebellion, for example, will tend to purposely not engage with the government and aim to influence environmental legislation from the outside, whereas government-funded organisations will always have a seat at the decision-making table.
"Each has its place, but I think it’s pretty crucial to recognise that you can do all the research and restoration projects you like, but without an appreciation of the policy pathways and how change is realistically affected, it may all prove redundant.
"But COP26 in Glasgow has given Scotland an opportunity to lead the way in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, based on what seems a fairly robust environmental policy aimed at reaching net zero by 2045 if not before.”
Established in 2003, the Dee Catchment Partnership represents and supports those with responsibilities for water management in the common aim of restoring habitat and water quality in the river Dee catchment.
The organisation has secured funding for significant restoration work, such as a three-year invasive plants control programme, ten years of outreach and education, and the recent restoration at Easter Beltie.
The partners within the group are: Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen Harbour Board, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, the James Hutton Institute, NFUS, NatureScot, River Dee Trust, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate, Scottish Land and Estates, SRuC, Scottish Water, SEPA
Find out more at www.deepartnership.org