Improving evidence for river woodland restoration initiatives

Improving evidence for river woodland restoration initiatives

Researchers at the Geography Department at University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute are leading efforts to advance the evidence-base for river woodland restoration in Scotland.

River woodlands play a pivotal role in sustaining the ecological integrity of rivers while providing opportunities to mitigate aspects of the multifaceted challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change. The urgent need to restore these habitats has prompted research efforts.

In Scotland, over half of the riparian vegetation along the primary river networks lack essential trees or shrubs. Native woodlands bordering streams and rivers have largely disappeared due to agricultural intensification, urban expansion, or have been hindered from regenerating by browsing and grazing animals. Streams and rivers within watersheds are interconnected, flowing from their source in the headwaters to the sea, and laterally within floodplains. The presence of these woodlands along waterbodies is indispensable for the ecological functioning of freshwater systems. They contribute to carbon and nutrient cycling, ultimately supporting the health of the rivers and wider ecosystems.

Prioritising the restoration of these habitats in Scotland emerges as a critical objective for guaranteeing and optimising many benefits, such as cleaner water and air, drought adaptation, flood risk mitigation, carbon storage, sustaining soil health, enhancing biodiversity and ecosystems, improving human health, and benefiting wild fish and angling activities.

Building on a recent review by the Riverwoods initiative that identified a number of scientific gaps, this project seeks to understand which evidence gaps as well as other barriers are preventing or limiting stakeholders' involvement in woodland restoration.

Led by Professor Marc Stutter at the James Hutton Institute and in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team at JHI and the University of Aberdeen’s Geography Department (Dr. Julie Rostan, Dr. Josie Geris and Dr. Flurina Wartmann) that spans hydrology, river ecology and social sciences, the project brings together a diverse team of experts that will involve stakeholders to identify and prioritise key evidence gaps and barriers to river woodland restoration.

By leveraging interdisciplinary insights and stakeholder engagement, the project aims to catalyse transformative change towards a more sustainable future for Scotland's river ecosystems. 

To stay in touch with the project please sign up here or contact Dr. Rostan (julie.rostan@abdn.ac.uk).

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