Early in 2022, ART completed a riverbank restoration project at Wellwood on the Upper Ayr Catchment. This project was funded by the Nature Restoration Fund through Nature Scot and included a collaborative approach between landowners and ART to reduce bank erosion that was contributing large volumes of fine sediments to the watercourse. The erosion issues within the Wellwood area stem from historic morphological alterations made to the river and accelerated by livestock grazing.
The project took five years to secure adequate funding before work commenced in 2022. By protecting the banks with a range of techniques we reduced erosion and bank instability. River bank instability is damaging to both water quality and spawning habitat and by addressing this, we aimed to improve fish habitat, fish stocks and egg survival. We used a combination of green engineering techniques and bank re-profiling to stabilise eroding areas. Water margins were fenced to allow managed periodic grazing and the margins were planted with native tree species. In time, these areas will offer better habitat for fish, increase biodiversity and improve connectivity along the river corridor.
ART will maintain and monitor improvements over the next decade and hope to expand this approach in impacted areas nearby. Early indications are that the landowners are benefiting and are appreciative of this intervention.
These pictures highlight the erosion and flooding issues at Wellwood before the green engineering works began. We will continue to update this post as these areas develop. Anyone wishing advice or assistance to address similar issues please contact the Trust.
Before restoration works the Upper River Ayr frequently burst its banks and flooded onto the fields.
A hanging fence needed replaced. Trees were planted inside the new buffers and the bank reinforced with brash and other green engineering techniques.
The work was completed over a period of eight weeks and we continue to monitor progress as trees establish and banks stabilise. Throughout the initial stages of the project, video diaries were filmed to document the process which can be found throughout this webpage and on our youtube channel here.
Christmas trees sourced from local communities were installed to provide a buffer between the current and a shear bank, reducing erosion. This material was held in place with live willow stakes driven into both bed and bank which should root and provide a living revetment. Fine sediment should collect within the branches of the christmas trees thus rebuilding the bank face. Additionally, brash bundles were also staked in to collect more sediment.
Using locally sourced materials which are often regarded as waste products is a sustainable alternative to traditional hard engineering solutions. Not all erosion is detrimental as this is a natural process which provides a range of sediments necessary for river processes, however where this is accelerated by modification or livestock driven erosion then it is best addressed. Cutting unnatural soil inputs will benefit fish spawning downstream, habitat and water quality. stabilisation methods must be put in place to protect the habitat. The immediate benefit to landowners is the reduction in land loss. Check out the video below to see the first week’s work.
Drone images showing the severity of the erosion and the hanging fence at wellwood before the project began.
Christmas trees from the local villages being used as bank reinforcement.
This week the machine works began. Over three days an excavator was used to regrade the steepest banks down to a shallower angle to improve stability. Large woody material was also used and placed with machinery and staked into place. Using whole trees and heavy machinery is essential on projects of this scale.
A biodegradable membrane (coir matting), was laid over exposed soils and then seeded to help reduce erosion until the banks greened up.
Works from week 2 on the wellwood project. From Left to Right: Brash bundling, excavator regrading banks and coir matting being laid.
Back to back storms Malik and Corrie brought the river into spate conditions and this weather made it too difficult continue with the physical work on site.
Fencing and tree planting commenced with several volunteers coming along to assist in their own time. It is encouraging to the trust and staff to have their support.
Contractors were able to begin fencing and staff continued planting guarded trees within the fenced water margins.
Works from week 4 on the wellwood project. From Left to Right: Planting trees, willow cuttings ready for planting and more planting trees.
Tree planting continued and locally sourced willow cuttings were collected and pushed into friable bank faces. Using trees growing naturally in the area helps prevent the spread of diseases and ensures appropriate species were used. Native willow species root quickly and provide excellent habitat for mammals, birds and insects as well as providing multiple benefits for fish (bank stability and cover).
ART are also involved in the Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network and have data loggers throughout the River Ayr catchment. Recent peak, summer water temperatures of 27°C are concerning and are expected to rise further as climate change increasingly takes hold. Planting trees is one technique we use to help cool the waters by providing shade as they develop. Additional benefits include bank stability and resistance to erosion.
Works from week 5 on the wellwood project. From Left to Right: Data loggers for the scottish river monitoring network, willow stakes in biodegradable bags and volunteers planting trees.
After a few weeks away from the project due to high flows, we returned to Wellwood alongside our new member of staff, Ian who was hired through Nature Scot funding. We continued tree planting to bind the soils together and stabilise the banks.
This project has been successful in preventing flooding and erosion. This will improve terrestrial and in stream habitat for years to come. Birds, mammals and fish populations should reap the benefits and improved connectivity will allow movement of species along the river. Biodiversity on the whole should improve. See the photos below for what the project looks like now December 2022.
Photos from the Wellwood Project after green engineering works have established for a few months, March 2021.
Wellwood project in August 2023