A PROJECT which aims to restore one kilometre of the Little Yarrow river near Selkirk to its meandering state has been awarded £102,791 by the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund.

This part of the river was straightened over 150 years ago to provide additional grazing land but work will now commence to return the area to its natural state, forming a river and floodplain system that will support a mosaic of natural wetlands and native woodland, to absorb carbon and increase habitat diversity.

The Little Yarrow is a tributary of the River Tweed, and it is environmental charity Tweed Forum that will deliver the project as part of its Upper Yarrow Landscape Initiative. Trees planted beside the naturalised new river channel will provide shade to keep water temperatures low to help ensure fish survival in the face of climate change. New features such as deep scour pools will provide ideal habitat when salmon return to spawn. The new woodland and wetland habitat will also encourage frogs, toads and common newts as well as birds such as dipper, sandpiper and kingfisher.

Reconnecting the river with the floodplain should also ensure more water is stored upstream in heavy rain, helping to mitigate flooding in the town of Selkirk downstream.

Work will begin on the project next month and is expected to be completed by October in time for salmon and trout to return upstream to lay their eggs.

The initiative fits into a wider series of habitat restoration activities in the area carried out by the landowner, Wemyss and March Estate, which has donated £48,000 of in-kind support to the project. A further £10,000 has been provided by the Fallago Environment Fund, which shares the benefits of the Fallago Rig windfarm in the Lammermuir hills.

Tweed Forum director Luke Comins said: “Natural, meandering waterways provide many benefits which were not fully appreciated when sections were straightened over a century ago. We’re extremely grateful for this generous grant which will enable us to restore this part of the Little Yarrow to a more natural state and help to create a landscape that encourages wildlife, boosts water quality, absorbs carbon, helps to mitigate flooding and enhance one of the most scenic areas of the Borders.”

Factor of Wemyss and March Estates, Martin Andrews, said: “We are delighted that this funding has been approved and excited by the prospect of this project which fits very neatly into our aspirations to see wider landscape and habitat enhancement to safeguard and improve natural capital and biodiversity across the Estate. The St Mary’s Loch road is a major tourist route which runs through the valley and close to the river so this restored landscape will be appreciated by a great many people for generations to come.”

The Upper Yarrow Landscape Initiative is one of 16 projects across Scotland announced in the second round of the £4 million Biodiversity Challenge Fund, which specifically encourages applicants with innovative projects that improve biodiversity and address the impact of climate change, by increasing the resilience of our most at-risk habitats and species and creating large areas of brand new habitat.

Scottish Natural Heritage chief executive, Francesca Osowska, said: “As lockdown conditions lift, green recovery projects like the Biodiversity Challenge Fund put nature, and nature-based solutions, at the heart of rebuilding our economy. But it’s not just about conservation – enriching our nature is also part of the solution to the climate emergency too. People know that climate change is a big issue but not as many know that biodiversity loss is also a global and generational threat to human well-being. Nature is at the heart of what we do, and we will continue to deliver the transformational change needed to bring a nature-rich, sustainable and more economically secure future for Scotland.”