RIVERWOODS: New Film River Restoration Remedy

A new feature-length documentary produced by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, shows how Scotland’s rivers – and the landscapes they run through – could be re-energised by regenerating river woodlands.

Three years in the making, the film Riverwoods, is narrated by actor Peter Capaldi, and shot by the award-winning film making team at SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

A rallying cry for Scotland to take action now, the film illustrates the impoverished state of Scotland’s river catchments by telling the story of the iconic ‘king of fish’: the Atlantic salmon and its perilous state.

Over many centuries, the loss of natural woodlands alongside rivers has profoundly changed their ability to support the salmon runs that once flourished. Today, many of Scotland’s rivers run through bare, treeless glens, reflecting the ecological decline that we have come to accept as normal.

Atlantic salmon are a modern-day canary in the mine, embodying all of the challenges woven into the climate and biodiversity crises. They are susceptible to almost every human impact – aquaculture, over-fishing, pollution, water abstraction and artificial barriers, such as large dams and weirs and their reliance on cold, clean water that makes them increasingly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions.  

And many of Scotland’s salmon rivers are getting warmer, due in part, to the absence of the woodlands that once shaded and nourished them. 

SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, alongside a wide range of other organisations, is calling for a nationwide effort, involving public and private sector landowners, land managers, farmers and foresters, to restore Scotland’s river woodlands at a ‘catchment scale’.

Why are river woodlands special – and needed?

Native trees and shrubs next to rivers, streams and lochs perform a range of vital functions: they provide shade, to regulate the temperature of the water; their roots stabilise riverbanks and a rich tapestry of vegetation locks away carbon, filters pollution and slows run-off.

Speaking about the film, Peter Cairns, Executive Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, said that while many of Scotland’s rivers are impoverished, much is already being done to help restore them to allow salmon – and many other species to thrive once again. He said:

“The health of Scotland’s rivers and the life within them, is directly dependent on the health of the landscapes through which they flow.

“Restoring a rich mosaic of woodland habitats to Scotland’s river catchments is an effective nature-based solution to help secure the future for Atlantic salmon and all the other species that thrive in healthy river systems.

“It’s also a vital tool in our attempts to mitigate climate change – rising temperatures and increased flood risk – because river catchments with a mosaic of native woodland habitats, sequester carbon, reduce erosion, improve water quality and slow catchment run-off.”

Woodland along Glenfeshie in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

Free tickets to see Riverwoods can be reserved here:

Fast facts

  • Only 3% of Scotland’s native woodland remains.
  • More than 90% of all living Atlantic salmon measure under 12cm, making young fish in particular, susceptible to rising river temperatures.
  • Salmon eggs can survive water temperatures up to 16c. In a changing climate and without the shade afforded by trees, recorded water temperatures in some of Scotland’s rivers are exceeding the lethal limit for Atlantic salmon.
  • At any given time, 90% of the world’s salmon exist in rivers, placing an emphasis on restoring their freshwater habitat.
  • In the 1960s, 30% of adult salmon returned from the sea to spawn; today that figure is 3%.

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