The summary below is abstracted from the March 2023 application for grant - the full application is downloadable here

see also our 21 July 2023 presentation to Scot Gov's  Improvement Service Riverwoods Investment Ready Pioneers

This ambitious project aims to re-establish Riverwoods in the Upper Glen Almond catchment, across multiple landholdings. By working with a consortium of landowners and local communities, three adjacent estates will create an investable project that generates revenue through the sale of carbon credits and biodiversity units to a selection of buyer organisations.


These natural capital products will be developed through a variety of actions within the project area, including riparian tree planting, the reinstatement of historic spawning grounds for wild fish, and habitat restoration.


Core ecological aims for the project will be:

  • Riparian planting along the River Almond to provide shade across 50% - 75% of the watercourse, limiting summer temperature extremes and improving habitat quality for wild fish
  • Reinstating access for wild salmonids to historic spawning grounds in the Dunan glen, on Ardtalnaig Estate
  • A high-altitude habitat corridor connecting woodlands in Glen Almond with those around Loch Tay


By engaging with established and emerging natural capital markets, this project will also provide a blueprint for financing Riverwoods projects right across Scotland, by demonstrating that nature-recovery can be investable, can generate revenue for rural businesses and can complement their existing operations.

The problem and the ambition


Central problem

The core issue this project aims to address is a degraded riparian zone around the Upper Almond, which is negatively impacting on ecosystem integrity and habitat quality for people and wildlife. Historic and ongoing grazing pressure by wild deer and livestock has led to the loss of riparian woodland along much of the Upper Almond, with little or no natural regeneration presently occurring in this zone.

Mature trees (mainly alder) are frequent along much of the more stable floodplain bankside, but generally only ‘one tree deep’ each side, immediately beside the main channel. These trees do not even qualify on most maps as woodland and a kilometre’s length of the Almond probably aggregates to less than 1 hectare of equivalent woodland area. A number of these trees are shedding limbs and, although their age is uncertain, at this altitude these may be full-grown and/or in-senescence. There is no significant tree regeneration under these trees, though there are small thickets of infrequent, young tree regeneration, alongside and within a very few parts of the channel on gravel banks and scars. 

The potential for further woodland is evidenced by several fenced plantations, on both sides of the glen, extending uphill to 400-500m elevation from the improved grassland in the floodplain. Significant woodland within some of these fenced areas has already naturally regenerated into thickets of pole-size birch. One of the conifer blocks was recently felled and the timber is being extracted.

Without a regenerating woodland, the contribution of the riparian zone to the ecological status of the River Almond will remain limited. This project seeks to rectify that by creating an investable project that implements multiple interventions aimed at restoring the quality of the Upper Almond’s riparian habitat.

The contribution of self-sustaining native riparian woodland to watercourse ecology is well-established (including by the Riverwoods evidence review). Its improvement will support the Almond’s status as part of the Tay River SAC designation, and support or improve on SEPA’s river status classification as ‘good’.


Wider area

The three estates all contain extensive unenclosed areas, mainly of peat, and of moorland cropped by sheep and wild deer, including areas of muirburn for driven grouse shooting. All of these offer extensive opportunities for nature recovery, including more regenerative agricultural alternatives such as extensive cattle grazing and agroforestry.

Significant interest for upland plant assemblages, including montane scrub, is already established around some of the summits in our catchment (Ben Chonzie SSSI; Creag Gharbh; Creag Uchdag). The protection and enhancement of these areas would be greatly improved by grazing outcomes similar to those which would benefit riparian woodland. Similarly on peatland, the management of grazing impacts for riparian schemes has parallels in the actions needed to restore degrading peatland.

Across the top of the Almond watershed, one of our estates drops to the shores of Loch Tay, a major component of the Tay SAC. Loch Tay is only 1km below the slopes of the extensive Ben Lawers NNR. This proximity to one of Scotland’s significant nature recovery sites allows us to start to group together more sizeable areas of landscape, for greater nature connectedness. 

Further downstream, the more pastoral lower Almond catchment remains of considerable interest, with an ever-widening floodplain, more residents and farms, and less upland. The value of the river (Almond) as a proxy for a community’s ecological identity and well-being is explored in community engagement below. This establishes that ecological recovery must be connected to community agency.

In terms of topography, remoteness, and land-management, the Almond Headwaters’ 8,000 hectares has strong parallels with other parts of the remaining 300K hectares of Highland Perthshire, and with the Highlands generally. The ambition for our project, when realised, will translate to wider learning, for action elsewhere.

Riparian woodland establishment could catalyse important new links to the ecology of the wider catchment, and also a link north-east over the watershed to the main Tay catchment at Ardtalnaig. The sheer extent of the three estates, beyond the riparian zone, is an opportunity to sustain and nurture an important new nature-positive relationship between our land-managers, our local communities and our buyers’ group.

Proposed interventions

The concept map shown below illustrates the spatial distribution of the interventions we are proposing. It is important to note that these interventions are indicative at this stage and will require further scoping during a development phase before they can be confirmed.


Riparian habitat creation

The core intervention that is being proposed is the restoration of riparian woodland along the River Almond. Although good coverage of alder remains along the riverbanks on parts of West Glenalmond estate, there is little tree cover left on Auchnafree and Ardtalnaig’s sections of the river. As a result, the project’s intention is to restore this missing riparian habitat, aiming for mature trees’ canopies to shade more than half of the River Almond’s surface.


The rationale for this intervention is four-fold:

  • Climate-action – Once established, tree canopy cover with shade the river’s surface during the summer months, preventing direct sunlight from heating the water and thereby mitigating high temperature extremes. This will limit the heat stress imposed on salmonids during the hottest part of the year. The Riverwoods Evidence Review [RER] noted that there is strong evidence for this impact.
  • Aquatic invertebrates – The Riverwoods Evidence Review notes that there is strong evidence riparian woodlands support aquatic species, with moderate evidence that this habitat increases the food available for wild fish, primarily through leaf litter providing forage for the invertebrates that wild fish eat.
  • Habitat connectivity – Woodland cover is sparse in Upper Glen Almond, with large tracts of open ground acting as a barrier to species that need trees in their habitat. The recovery of riparian woodland up the glen and potentially over the watershed to Loch Tay will link woodland habitats in the two catchments.
  • Wild fish habitat – The Riverwoods Evidence Review notes there is strong evidence that riparian woodlands stabilise riverbanks and decrease sediment pollution into watercourses. This helps maintain the downstream water quality, improving the habitat for wild fish. In addition, there is moderate evidence that Riverwoods slow the flow of water into watercourses, which may reduce flood events washing out redds.


Restoring salmonid access to spawning grounds

In addition to restoring riparian habitat along the Upper Almond, our project also aims to re-establish salmon spawning grounds in the Dunan glen, on Ardtalnaig estate. The historic use of explosives in the River Almond, near to Lecrea, has prevented salmon from accessing former spawning grounds upstream. By working with specialists, this project will undertake the necessary landscaping to allow wild fish to overcome this man-made barrier.


Restoring access to former spawning grounds in this catchment is important because it not only increases the available territory for salmon redds (several kilometres of suitable riverbed lie upstream of Lecrea) but also provides higher altitude habitat.


Landscape-scale deer management

Working in collaboration, the estates are happy to reduce red deer hind numbers to a minimal level (c.150 deer) across the project area. This would give a deer density of <2km-2, which would allow for natural regeneration of woodland habitats where livestock are excluded and no muirburn takes place. In addition, lower grazing pressure will increase the health and resilience of heathland and moorland vegetation, with some passive recovery of degraded peatland possible too.


As Figure 2 illustrates, the project area is bordered by several estates that already have fairly low deer densities, which will help the Upper Almond Riverwoods area to achieve its deer management objectives.


Peatland restoration

The project contains many areas of degraded blanket bog, a type of peatland, which could be restored in due course to prevent the release of greenhouse gases, increase flood attenuation and reduce the sediment load flowing into watercourses. This work would complement the interventions targeting the restoration of Riverwoods along the Almond.


High altitude woodland and scrub

As shown on the concept map (Fig. 1) one intervention that is proposed is the creation of areas of low-density, high-altitude native woodland and montane scrub. This important habitat is rare within Highland Perthshire but supports a wide-range of wildlife. It is marked as a priority habitat on the Tayside Local Biodiversity Action Plan (TLBAP), which notes a specific action to expand montane and juniper scrub to support Ring ouzel populations.  Montane woodlands and scrub could also be used to provide habitat linkage between the River Almond and Loch Tay, through habitat creation over the watershed at Dunan and along the upper reaches of Gleann a’Chilleine.


In addition to these biodiversity benefits, restoration of these habitats will likely increase the surface roughness of the upper catchment, contributing to flood attenuation and helping to slow the flow of water into rivers and burns.