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Kyle Riverwoods: First trees in the ground, and Louis Vuitton makes a splash

Back in May last year, The European Nature Trust hosted the UK Premiere of Riverwoods, a film produced by Scotland: The Big Picture, which highlighted the threats Scottish salmon are facing under climate change. Most importantly, the film marshaled a vision for a wilder Scotland, where the restoration of nature brings broad benefits for the Highland community. With proceeds from the BFI fundraising event, TENT initiated a partnership with Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust and The Fishmongers’ Company to restore riparian woodland on the Kyle rivers catchment. We’re pleased to report that the first season of planting is now complete, bringing together a range of stakeholders, with momentum for more planting projects now gathering.

The Kyle Riverwoods project aims to create a network of healthy riparian habitat across the rivers of The Kyle of Sutherland. Summer heatwaves are already warming our headwater burns to 26C but Atlantic salmon cannot feed and grow once water temperatures reach 23C. Trees create habitat and shade rivers but less than 3% of the Kyle of Sutherland area is home to native woodland. We must work fast if we are to save the fish and their dependent social heritage, including 86 full-time livelihoods.

The work is spearheaded by the tireless Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust, a wonderful local team who are busy working with landowners, community members and key stakeholders to grow a ‘pipeline’ of investment ready woodland creation projects across five rivers of the Kyle catchment (Cassley, Shin, Carron, Evelix and Oykel). The European Nature Trust has an ongoing funding commitment to KSFT which, with support from other partners including Mossy Earth, enables this necessary work to establish, map and deliver woodland creation projects.

TENT, KSFT and our partners then work together to build funding and support streams that help to scale-up and connect identified woodland creation projects. We work with trusted partners who share our vision, to cover the costs of tree planting and the protection of replanted native trees.

More than 6km of river restored during the first planting season in April and May 2023

Working across three sites during March and April 2023, the team at KSFT restored approximately 6km of river by replanting native trees upwards of the riverbanks, representing the first of the Kyle Riverwoods trees delivered under the project. Once established, replanted native trees will make a significant contribution to the overall native riparian woodland cover.

  • 1.6km of the River Tirry and 500m of the Allt Chaisegail tributary have been restored by planting native trees.
  • In April, the team restored 2.7km of the River Oykel Special Area of Conservation.
  • Using a donation from Mossy Earth, Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust have provided Forestry & Land Scotland (FLS) with 4400 alder, grey willow, goat willow, hazel and birch. The planting contributed towards a much larger ‘forest to bog’ and woodland restoration programme taking place north of Lairg in the River Tirry catchment.

Louis Vuitton staff make a splash in the Kyle Riverwoods!

Louis Vuitton (LV) have joined us in our vision to restore native woodland on some of the UK’s most threatened river systems. By collecting 10p from every carrier bag issued from their Edinburgh Store, LV are creating a financial engine that will allow the scaling of Kyle Riverwoods projects. 

Not satisfied with learning about the Riverwoods project secondhand though, LV staff travelled to Sutherland to meet project officer, Sean Dugan and TENT staff, Jacob Dykes and Kate Heightman. They braved incessant rain to plant native riverbank trees on the Allt Chaisegail burn, a tributary of the river Tirry. Those wearing wellingtons formed a planting team on the far riverbank while those wearing walking boots planted the near bank in a hotly contested competition to plant the most trees. At close of play each riverbank welcomed saplings of new aspen, hazel, birch and alder, which in the future will improve habitat for the fish by providing shade to cool the burn and a source of nutrients and insect life. The LV staff also helped clear up the wider planting site by hauling back excess equipment and packaging from trees and tree guards.

Hosted by TENT, LV staff then visited Alladale Wilderness Reserve the following day to witness a native woodland restoration effort that began way back in 2002. Sat in the center of the Kyle catchment, more than one million native trees have been replanted along Alladale’s two Highland glens as part of a broader pioneering effort to restore the Scottish ecosystem.

A new community tree nursery planned in Ardgay

LV, TENT, KSFT and the Banister Charitable Trust have recently committed match-funding to construct a community tree nursery in Ardgay, which is currently seeking planning permission. If successful, in the long-term, the nursery will help fuel the Kyle Riverwoods project with native riverbank tree species of local provenance, which can be difficult to source from large commercial tree nurseries. The tree nursery initiative would provide an opportunity for volunteers to engage with local nature restoration. Seed collection and nursery care would provide a focal point for environmental awareness, connecting people to the headwaters of the rivers upon which they live. This accessible space will provide a learning opportunity for local children, and an inclusive meeting space for local people to help fight feelings of isolation. 

If planning permission is granted, a local nursery manager will be appointed who will be given the freedom to design the layout of the nursery from scratch. The proposed site is approximately 0.2ha and would be expected to produce at least 5,000 trees per year once established, with space for future expansion built into the plans.

The Ardgay community tree nursery will draw inspiration from other productive nurseries in Scotland, including the Trees for Life nursery and the Little Assynt nursery at Lochinver. There are not yet any major commercial nurseries in the North Highlands and the nearest small-scale facilities are Little Assynt (46 miles by road) and Dundreggan (67 miles by road). A nursery in Ardgay would dramatically reduce biosecurity risk by sourcing and growing trees locally. Due to Brexit, COVID-19, tree disease and the clamour for trees since COP26, supply of certain native species in the UK is expensive, and extremely limited with several key species such as aspen very rarely available. A local tree nursery will dramatically reduce the impact these issues have on mobilising tree planting projects, providing much-needed tree sapling stock.

Left: Little Assynt Tree Nursery, Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape

Want To Support Kyle Riverwoods?

We are always seeking partners to support riparian woodland creation. In creating a pipeline of investment-ready tree planting projects, we're able to accommodate partnership donations of a range of sizes. Please contact jacob@theeuropeannaturetrust.com if you'd like to discuss ways to collaborate!

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