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Anglers toast a new salmon season on the River Dee and celebrate 250k new trees helping to protect the threatened species

Renowned whisky expert Charles Maclean openes the River Dee salmon season for another year
World renowned whisky expert, Charles MacLean, who blessed the river on the opening day of the season. Picture by Wullie Marr.

More than 250,000 trees have been planted along the banks of the River Dee in an attempt to save its threatened salmon population – but the hard work is far from over.

The original plan by the River Dee Trust was to plant at least one million trees by 2035, but after reaching the first quarter-million milestone in just two years (despite the pandemic), the project is being ramped up to try and help the salmon more quickly.

Today the salmon season opened on the river and the planting work so far was celebrated.

It is hoped that the additional tree cover will help to protect salmon from the “lethal” effects of rising water temperatures.

Tree planting along the River Dee.
Tree planting along the banks of the upper reaches of the River Dee.

‘Our wild salmon are dying’

The River Dee Trust launched the Million Trees Campaign in 2020 after recording dangerously high water temperatures in the hill streams of the Dee.

These streams are nursery areas for the river’s young fish, particularly its salmon.

But over the last 30 years or so, the Dee’s salmon population has been steadily decreasing.

Experts have many different explanations as to what might be causing this, but it is almost universally agreed that rising river temperatures are doing the fish no favours.

Sandy Bremner, Chair of the River Dee Trust.
Sandy Bremner, chairman of the River Dee Trust. Picture by Wullie Marr.

“Our wild salmon are dying at sea in large numbers across their entire Atlantic range,” said Sandy Bremner, chair of the River Dee Trust.

“That must be addressed where possible. But we know they stand a better chance of returning to their home rivers if they have good freshwater habitat to build strength in their early years.”

By this, he means that changes must be made to the increasingly warm and shallow river waters the salmon of the Dee breed in.

Tree planting along the upper reaches of the River Gairn
Tree planting along the upper reaches of the River Gairn, a tributary of the River Dee. It’s hoped measure like this will help control the rising water temperatures by creating shade over the river. Photo by Paul Glendell glendell.co.uk

“The campaign to double our rate of planting is vital to the long-term survival of our salmon by providing cooling shade against rising temperatures,” Sandy said.

And, miraculously, according to Sandy all the work is still on target despite the huge practical and funding challenges of the pandemic.

River Dee salmon season reopens

This week the River Dee’s salmon fishing season opens once more.

Along with the usual pomp and circumstance, 2022’s opening day of the season was marked by the announcement of £100,000 set to be donated to the River Dee Trust to aid the restoration of the river.

The opening day of the salmon fishing season on the River Dee
The opening day of the salmon fishing season on the River Dee was marked by traditions including bagpipes and whisky. Picture by Wullie Marr.

The money is not coming directly by cash or cheque but from 30 sherry-seasoned 250-litre whisky casks, which will be filled to order and sold by the Burn o’ Bennie Distillery in Banchory.

Once the limited edition spirit has matured, it will be bottled and labelled “Wood Masters of the River Dee”. Total sales are expected to bring £100,000 to supplement the tree planting work.

As tradition dictates, whisky was also involved at the river’s opening ceremony today.

Each year the waters are “blessed” by a special guest who throws a Quaich of whisky into the river.

This year’s guest was Charles Maclean, an acknowledged world authority on whisky who famously starred in Ken Loach’s film The Angels’ Share.

Charles Maclean, whisky expert.
Whisky expert, Charles MacLean standing by the River Dee. Picture by Wullie Marr.

He stated that only 100 such casks have been filled by the distillery and that “I can vouch for their quality.”

The event saw dozens of anglers, many sipping glasses of whisky, cast lines in a bid to bag a big fish.

Though the salmon were on the mind of everyone in attendance, for Sandy and others at the Trust today marked the start of another year of hard work to improve river health.

“We are grateful to all our supporters for making this possible,” he said.

“The backing of the Dee’s Fishery Board has been invaluable and the latest initiative by a local distillery will provide a huge boost to our efforts.”

More on the River Dee’s salmon crisis:

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