An Angus environmental project dedicated to restoring and safeguarding native wildlife and habitat has won the UK River Prize 2023.
The UK River Prize, awarded by the River Restoration Centre (RRC), was announced on Wednesday 19 April 2023 at the UK River Prize Awards Dinner, in association with the RRC Annual Network Conference in Birmingham.
The Restoring the Rottal Burn Project has seen a dedicated local partnership working for more than a decade to return the tributary of the River South Esk at Glen Clova back to its natural state and increase its biodiversity potential.
The project has been delivered by partners the River South Esk Catchment Partnership (RSECP) – Esk Rivers & Fisheries Trust, Abertay University and Rottal Estate – with funding from SEPA Water Environment Fund and the design engineers were EnviroCentre.
Angus Council’s River Champion, Cllr Ian McLaren said: “I am delighted that the UK River Prize has recognised the outstanding work that has been carried out over more than a decade on the Rottal Burn. They are most deserving winners of this prestigious accolade.
“The Restoring the Rottal Burn Project is a shining example of what can be achieved when local partners, experts, academics and landowners combine their strengths for the benefit of our local environment, biodiversity and community.”
Judged by a panel of UK experts, the UK River Prize celebrates best practice and the achievements of those who are working to improve the natural functioning and ecological integrity of rivers and catchments.
Dee Ward of Rottal Estate said: “The Rottal Burn project has been rewarding on many levels. It brought together landowner, fishery board, environmental non-governmental organisations, and fishers in a joint project to restore the burn to its pre-1840’s course and subsequently allow natural processes to return it to being a dynamic river system.
“It not only improved the habitat, water quality, river biodiversity and fish abundance but also encouraged different groups to collaborate at scale, which has given us the confidence and trust to work together many times since to deliver landscape scale environmental change in the glen.
“The project has been monitored by students and professors from Abertay University as well as hosting many school trips and visit from fishery boards around Scotland and indeed Europe, and the USA, all interested in seeing how a re-meandering project could work in practice.
“Allowing the river to be dynamic has meant learning to let nature and its forces just do their thing, and this has been rewarding and educational in how nature when left alone can heal itself, and us with it.”
Straightened sections of the burn have had meanders restored to closely match the historic course of the watercourse, the flood plain has been reconnected to the Rottal and there has been extensive tree planting of native broadleaf and pine trees in the area. The burn is expected to remain active and change naturally over time.
In addition to supporting salmon and trout populations, this project enhances the neighbouring wetlands and provide the opportunity to see a variety of upland wetland bird species. Riparian planting, riverbank and wetland restoration have been complimented, and expectations exceeded, by an abundance of natural regeneration of trees and diverse flora.
Speaking on behalf of the RSECP, Kelly Ann Dempsey, who leads Angus Council’s Environment and Climate Change Team, added: “We are so pleased that the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the project has been recognised in this way.
“This project is an excellent example of good practice and collective working. It has developed over the years and, by design, will continue to evolve in the future. We are all very pleased that the Restoring the Rottal Burn Project has been able to link to wider biodiversity in the Angus area and is an exemplar site to be proud of.”
Dr Craig McIntyre, Director of Esk Rivers & Fisheries Trust, added: “We are very proud of the Rottal Burn project. It is a fantastic example of restoring degraded river systems, and to watch the burn evolve and adapt over the years has been a privilege."
Contributing to many local and national biodiversity strategies and action plan objectives, the restoration project also delivers on multiple actions in the Tayside Local Biodiversity Action Plan 2016-26.
Abertay University researchers have been monitoring the site since 2012 and in so doing have supported a number of student projects in collectively providing a broad evidence base for the restoration benefits – including morphological and ecological change as the restored system has matured.
Dr Rebecca Wade, Senior Lecturer in the School of Applied Sciences at Abertay University said: “The Rottal Burn restoration has been a truly ground-breaking project with collaboration and partnership working at its core so I’m pleased to see it get the recognition it deserves. It has delivered multiple, tangible benefits which are not only felt locally but contribute to global outcomes as well.
“Habitat and species restoration, contribution to natural flood management and increased carbon storage are just a few examples of what the restoration has achieved, benefitting both people and wildlife in the local area and beyond.”