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Dee Ward: Angus – The Agriculture, Biodiversity and Climate Change Network

30 March 2024

This article originally appeared on the Farming For A Better Climate website 

Situated near the Cairngorms National Park, Dee farms a large estate with a focus on both livestock farming and improving the natural environment.


Farm Type: Livestock
Total area farmed: 3000 ha (7413 acres)
Total cropping area: 38 ha (94 acres)
Total number of livestock: 900 Blackface ewes & 10 Highland cattle


What climate/environmental actions have been undertaken on the farm?

  • Peatland restoration (30 Ha)
  • Re-meandering of Rottal Burn (1.2 km)
  • Riparian planting (25 Ha)
  • Contour native planting (80 Ha, 120,000 trees)
  • Hedgerow creation (3 km)
  • Water scrapes/wetland creation
  • Hydro-electric scheme (450 kW)
  • Biomass plant (200 kW)

What impact have these activities had?

“We have undertaken a range of climate mitigation, ecosystem services and wildlife & biodiversity improvements.

The re-meandering of the Rottal burn has improved salmon fry and par in the burn 5 fold when measured by electro fishing and also the number of spawning adult salmon. It has also increased the amount of invertebrates with one of the highest in the South Esk catchment.

The peatland restoration has improved the habitat with increases in cotton grass and sphagnum mosses as well as holding rain water on the hill for longer helping mitigate flooding and purifying the water that runs into the burn, evidenced by it’s clearer appearance even in times of flood. We have also noticed an improvement in the performance of the hydro scheme as water is released slower into the burn thus enable a more consistent and even flow for power production. We have also noticed improvement in other vegetation like ling heather, and an increase in the number of curlew now nesting in this area.(This won a Helping it Happen Award for conservation in 2021)

The contour planting of 120,000 primarily native trees, establishment of birch regen areas and the riparian planting have had multiple benefits from slower and cleaning rain water run off in to the burns and river, improved habitat for the likes of woodcock, cuckoo, tree pipit, willow warbler etc. We have been careful to avoid areas of the estate preferred by waders with the tree and hedge planting, and in these areas we have created a number of wader scrapes and wetland areas, as well as careful rush management with Highland cattle and where necessary mechanical means to maintain varied sward heights. Our wader numbers appear to be holding up well due to these changes in management. We have 10 nest cams In situ this year in collaboration with the RSPB so will hopefully have more evidence of fledging success by the end of this season.”

What was the catalyst for you taking this action?

“It has always been part of the long term estate strategy, based firstly on my own desire to create an abundance of wildlife and biodiversity on the estate, and driven more recently by the increasing concerns about climate change and biodiversity loss.

The challenge is always funding, and when the Esk Fisheries Trust  (ERFTS)approached me about a partnership to re-meander the Rottal burn I jumped at the opportunity and since then I have tried to work in collaboration with ERFTS, and other partners like the South Esk Catchment Partnership, CNPA, RSPB, NatureScot as well as other local land managers as getting everyone on board makes it much easier to get the necessary funding which I couldn’t afford myself. “

Have you completed a carbon audit & are you gathering any other data about the climate/environment impacts of your farm?

“I have done a farm carbon audit and this is something I will aim to do every 3 years or so. We are also Wildlife Estates Accredited and this requires a lot of date on wildlife and biodiversity to be collected. I am currently doing a full bird survey which will be undertaken every 3 years to monitor the situation, and add the the work already done by the RSPB, BTO etc. Soil carbon is going to be critical and we have undertaken some initial soil sample via SRUC on 12 plots which have all shown high organic matter.”

What are your top tips/lessons learned from the experience that other farmers should consider if taking similar actions?

  1. It’s easier to get funding if you collaborate with other stakeholders/ partners.
  2. If you look after your land and its biodiversity it will look after you.
  3. Farm with wildlife in mind, always do the right thing. Don’t roll or lime fields in nesting time – wait till they are fledged or do it earlier in the year.
  4. Natural regen is way better that planting trees in tubes and creating mounds.
  5. Allow natural processes to re-establish for example – don’t try and drain everything – wet is often good.

What if anything would you do differently?

“Apart from some of the above which I learned by trial and error I would have collaborated sooner and with more people. I feared everyone would have there own agendas but the is a huge amount of consensus on most things and other stuff can normally be accommodated.”

What, if anything, are you planning next around climate and biodiversity?

“We are hoping to restore approx. 100 Ha more of peatland.  We are also working with neighbours and stakeholders to apply for the Nature Restoration Fund grant for more river improvements, riparian planting, and some large scale wetland creation.”

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