Introducing The Kyle Riverwoods Project
The Kyle Riverwoods Project was initiated in 2021 by Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust (KoSFT). The purpose is to create a network of healthy riparian woodland across the rivers of The Kyle of Sutherland. These habitats could deliver a range of benefits including flood protection, good water quality and improvements for threatened fish populations, as well as helping to shield against climate change and biodiversity loss. Essential to Atlantic salmon and trout, riparian trees can also support invertebrates, bats, otters and many bird species.
Social and economic drivers are also central to the Kyle Riverwoods project. For example, if the ability of the Kyle of Sutherland rivers to provide a home for Atlantic salmon was lost, 86 full-time-equivalent jobs would also be lost, doubling rural unemployment within the Kyle area, and damaging the fabric of local villages originally founded upon plentiful salmon runs.
Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust is aiming to encourage, influence and deliver riparian restoration schemes, under a nationwide 'Riverwoods' initiative. Work will focus on restoring a network of riverbank woodlands across burns within the Carron, Oykel, Cassley, Shin and Evelix catchments. As a small charity, KoSFT does not have the resources to deliver the required restoration ourselves so we are looking to help facilitate any restoration efforts by landowners and managers within the district.
Rivers in Crisis
Scotland is predicted to have hotter, drier summers and more extreme flooding in winter. Shallow, wide Highland burns are shown to experience comparatively severe increases in water temperature. Streams aligned north-south and lacking in shade from native riparian trees are most vulnerable to warming temperatures, with juvenile Atlantic Salmon experiencing significant stress when water temperatures rise above 23°C. The UK Met Office predicts that severe heatwaves will occur every other year by 2050 if current climate trends continue. Trout temperature thresholds are even more sensitive than those of Atlantic Salmon and temperatures are already damaging invertebrate communities, thereby reducing the availability of food for juvenile fish.
Due to a range of pressures, Scotland has lost more than 95% of its former native woodland cover in recent centuries. Furthermore, according to the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland, more than 60% of our remaining native woodland habitat is significantly impacted by herbivores, preventing natural regeneration.
The most biodiverse place in the UK is a Caledonian pinewood, with 5000 species and counting. Scotland has lost 99% of its Caledonian pinewoods, with the Kyle of Sutherland area home to the most northerly remnant. These fragments need urgent protection before their ability to naturally regenerate is lost.
Native woodland remains in less than 20% of the Kyle of Sutherland district area. Our own analysis indicates that native riverbank woodland cover in catchments Carron, Oykel, Cassley and Shin ranges from 4 to 8%. Encouragingly, approximately 19% of the River Evelix and its tributaries are shielded by a native woodland corridor.
Degraded peatland scars many upland areas, with severe herbivore damage hindering restoration efforts in places. Peatland restoration priorities continue to be assessed via the PeatlandAction project, with KoSFT looking to influence further projects by communicating the importance of healthy peatlands.
Read our other news stories to find out about our progress so far.