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Breathing new life into the Beltie burn

Beltie wetlands (photo: Dee Catchment Partnership)
"A small step for mankind, a giant one for the Dee catchment"

We hear about ‘climate change’ and ‘biodiversity loss’ all the time these days. We hear considerably less about how to tackle them, so it’s time to shout about a project that does just that. The restoration of the Beltie burn in Aberdeenshire has been completed, and it is hoped that the project will change the course of the region’s natural and social history for the better.

The little-known Beltie burn is a tributary of the River Dee. Flowing some 25km from Corrennie Moor to where it merges with its better-known, bigger cousin just west of Banchory, the Beltie’s course was straightened in places about 250 years ago, to make room for new ways of farming and the Deeside railway. 

They may not have known it at the time, but these changes came at a cost. Wildlife in the straightened sections - including Atlantic salmon for which the Dee is famous – all but dwindled, and the fire-hose effect of straightening what was once a meandering channel caused big flooding problems downstream during times of heavy rain. 

But in September 2020 a group of organisations with a shared commitment to looking after the Dee catchment took the first steps towards putting things back the way they were. To reduce the effects of flooding, and let wildlife thrive again, to help people and nature.  

Following two years of detailed site study and consultation, in a ten-week project that would bring together scientists, landowners, digger drivers, landscape designers and camera crews - not to mention many a curious local - a two-km straightened stretch of the Easter Beltie burn near Torphins was painstakingly restored. Through a process involving the whole ten-hectare floodplain and the removal of around 70,000 cubic metres of soil, water from the straightened channel was finally re-routed through three, specially created wetland pools, and onwards downstream through a gently meandering course towards the hamlet of Glassel and on towards Banchory.

The restored river valley has already proved its worth on both flooding and wildlife fronts. A storm halfway through the works proved the perfect test for the new river system, which responded beautifully, holding excess water in the new floodplain, and helping to slow the flow downstream. Wildlife too has wasted no time in moving in – the site is already home to kingfisher, dipper, heron, otter…even salmon, which weren’t expected in the re-routed burn until 2022 at the earliest, were spotted this week with 15 spawning redds counted so far. Build it and they did come.

This is all good news, but declining biodiversity and problems with flooding cannot be corrected by a single small-scale restoration alone. It needs to happen across the catchment, across the country and across the globe. Similar initiatives can take a variety of forms, from planting riverside trees to shade the water in summer, to adding large wood structures like fallen trees into the river, to create spaces where aquatic life can thrive. Projects like these are the lifeblood of the Dee Catchment Partnership.

Yesterday the last of the diggers left, today they towed away the portaloo. The site is quiet, and the Beltie continues on its new  - longer, slower, cleaner - journey towards the Dee. As for climate change and biodiversity loss…a small step for mankind, a giant one for the Dee catchment. 

Funding for the project was provided by NatureScot Biodiversity Challenge Fund, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Forestry, SEPA and the Dee Catchment Partnership, with additional partner support from the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board,  the James Hutton Institute, cbec eco engineering, McIntosh Plant Hire, River Dee Trust, River Restoration Centre and Scotland the Big Picture. Discover more at

Press and media enquiries: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

Printed from /news/breathing-new-life-beltie-burn on 02/10/23 08:36:36 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.