One million trees will be planted along the upper reaches of the River Dee in a £5.5 million project engineered to protect its salmon population.
The River Dee Trust, working in partnership with the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, has already started the ambitious project by planting species like alder, willow, rowan, birch, aspen and Scots pine along the tributaries of the famous Aberdeenshire river.
It is hoped that with the additional shade, places to hide and food sources provided by the influx of new trees along the waterway, young salmon stocks will be given a better chance of survival.
Along with helping to lower high river temperatures which harmed juvenile fish during a particularly warm season two years ago, the project has been designed to encourage all manner of wildlife to survive and thrive in the River Dee ecosystem.
Lorraine Hawkins, river director for the trust, said: “Atlantic salmon are now virtually extinct across their southern European range and are vanishing fast in the south of England.
“All the major Scottish salmon rivers have seen drastic declines.
“At current rates, we may have just 20 years to save the species.
“We know there are catastrophic losses at sea. Those factors must be tackled urgently.
“But we can take action now to give the young fish their best chance of survival before leaving their native rivers.”
The River Dee Trust and the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board have between them already planted almost 200,000 native trees all along the tributaries of the waterway, working together with landowners including those on the Balmoral and Invercauld estate.
The project’s main aim is to double the current rate of planting and reach the million-tree target within 15 years.
Ms Hawkins added: “Several current projects should produce immediate benefits.
“But we must also provide shade against more of the extreme temperatures we have been told to expect, while restoring a whole ecosystem that’s been degraded over many centuries.
“This will help our threatened salmon, and all wildlife will benefit.
“Of all the major Scottish rivers, the Dee is especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures because of its land use.
“We are determined to do everything we can to help nature help itself.”
£15m revenue and 500 rural jobs
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett welcomed the news of the million-tree project, and said he hopes it will help protect vulnerable creatures and wildlife like the freshwater pearl mussel, which he represents in Scottish Parliament as a species champion.
He said: “This ambitious project mirrors the truly holistic nature of land management in the Cairngorms and along the Dee.
“Treating the river and its surroundings as one living, breathing thing will protect its ecology for future generations.
“Helping Atlantic salmon will have major environmental and economic impact.”
The River Dee Trust estimates that angling on the river generates £15 million annually in revenues, and supports around 500 rural jobs.