Rivers provide us with many, many services. They help drain the land by carrying rain water to the sea. They help our well being by providing us with a playground for sports ranging from fishing to canoeing to our many riverside walks. They also provide us with clean water – both for ourselves and for iconic industries such as whisky.
Our rivers also provide a home and shelter for some of our most captivating wildlife. Many of our rivers support world renowned salmon populations. Less well known perhaps is that they also provide a home to one of Europe’s most critically endangered animals – the freshwater pearl mussel. This somewhat obscure and little seen animal has been in decline across Europe for a number of reasons: including exploitation, poor management of our rivers and poor water quality.
We, along with many others, have been working hard to improve the health of our most important pearl mussel populations. To do this, we have frequently been trying to restore the overall health of their rivers. Doing this not only benefits the pearl mussels but other wildlife and, in turn, it also helps the river. And the river can then provide more of the services that we need too.
Most recently our large ‘Pearls in Peril’ project has begun to restore water flows to a back channel of the River Spey in Aviemore. This will increase the wetted area of the river and benefit both the pearl mussel and the river’s salmon population (which the mussel’s need to complete their first year of life ). And it will also provide other benefits for the river. It will provide a more varied scene for nearby walking routes. It will provide another route for canoeists and fishermen to use. And, by allowing the river to return to take a more natural and wider route on its journey to the sea, it will give it more space for the river water during times of high flows.
Our Pearls in Peril project has, over the past four years, been doing this kind of work in several places such as Braemar, Banchory, Aboyne and Glen Clova. Looking at the scale of a large area like the River Spey or Dee catchments, these changes to restore a river’s route and behaviour might appear relatively small. But collectively, and alongside other work we’ve been doing such as creating riverside woodlands and restoring nearby bogs, this work can allow our rivers more space and time to help them cope with floods, maintain clean water, maintain our great landscapes, provide us with greater sporting opportunities and so on.
So, in helping to save important species like pearls mussels, perhaps we can also help our rivers to keep providing for us.
Find out more about our Pearls in peril project here.