Christopher Watt – River Esk WEG Project Officer
Creating and expanding riparian woodland is a large component of the current WEG* funded project in the Esk Catchment, in conjunction with improving farm infrastructure. Riparian woodland is defined as trees located on the natural banks of waterbodies such as rivers, canels, ponds and lakes. The presence of riparian woodland brings an array of environmental benefits such as carbon capture, regulation of water temperature, bank stabilsation and provision of resources for wildlife. Riparian woodland is important feature of the Esk and provides benefits to conservation focus species in particular Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), but also Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and Sea trout (Salmo trutta).This is why tree-planting efforts have been prioritized with project distribution located in both the upper and lower parts of the catchment.
Riparian woodland creation has focused on introducing a mix of tree species to the bankside to enhance structure and composition. Species which have a tolerance for wet conditions and partial submergence such as alder, aspen, birch and willow make a significant contribution to the mix. Other species such as alder-buckthorn, hazel, hawthorn and oak add additional variety. Planting design has incorporated adding open spaces such as rides and glades into the new small scale woodland as these are valuable habitats in their own right. All new woodland projects have an emphasis on long-term management to maintain habitat function with actions such as deadwood retention, grass-margin establishment, coppicing, pollarding and recycling tree-guards included in management plans. The vision is for these small scale woodlands to stabilize banksides, intercept agricultural run-off and reduce sedimentation entering into the Esk, leading to improvements in water-quality. Monitoring will record physical and biological change through measures fixed-point photography, vegetation monitoring and species recording.
Despite the ongoing challenges of the Covid situation and fickle weather conditions, work has been progressing on the Esk catchment with 2,095 new trees planted with much assistance from land managers, staff and volunteers. Planting efforts will continue with the aim to have all 3,000 remaining trees in the ground by March. This will also be accompanied by the planting of 1,060m of new hedgerows, wetland creation and bank stabilization works. Along with the habitat creation and enhancement works, measures to improve farm infrastructure are continuing such as concrete yard renewal, installation of sediment traps and rainwater guttering. Combined these efforts seek to work at the farm-level and tackle pollution pathways from yard/field to river and lead to the improvement of water-quality of this special river.
*WEG stands for Water Environment Grant which has been providing funding to improve the water environment in rural England. This has been part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas