A Nature-Based Catchment Action Plan for the Lothian Esks for the next half century

Many stories here look back to past events, past people. Here Roger Crofts gives some thought to the future – what might be done in the Esk Valleys to improve them for future generations.

The Esk catchment needs nature-based action plan to provide a forward looking, multi objective approach to delivering government targets and as a scale up from previous catchment action plans.

The proposal would be developed in the context of SEPA’s River Basin Management Plan for Scotland 2021-27and linked to Scottish Government forestry, biodiversity, and climate change action.

Why is this needed?

Flood Risk Management Schemes have a single, albeit laudable, objective but river catchments contain a variety of land, land uses, soil types, water movements, biodiversity and amenity that interlink. At present all of these are the subject of different Scottish Government policies and programmes. However, the recent work on the Eddleston Water and at a smaller scale on the Brunstane Burn in Edinburgh (there are also examples in England) have demonstrated that naturalising river courses within a catchment context can bring significant multiple benefits to, for example, soil retention, biodiversity gain and water management.

Critical observation of management of land and water courses in the Esks catchment shows that there are many interventions which mean that the system is no longer operating naturally. Overgrazing is prevalent in the upper reaches, largely from sheep grazing, exacerbated by new track construction and intensive recreational activity. There is relatively little native tree planting compared with larger areas of non-native monoculture plantings. Water supply schemes are still active to serve adjacent populations and those provided for redundant industrial activity mean that channels are canalized, weirs retained, and small reservoirs retained for little or no purpose. And new infrastructure development, especially housing, is resulting in sealing of previously permeable surfaces. These factors increase the rate of run off from the land and through the river system to the Firth of Forth.

What type of Nature Based Solutions are possible?

Taking the internationally accepted definition of Nature-Based Solutions as approved by the 1200 member International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”, there are many possibilities in the Esks catchment:

  • Restoring grasslands and peatlands
  • Planting native trees
  • Blocking agricultural drains
  • Opening up floodplains
  • Building water retention ponds
  • Reintroducing the European beaver
  • Restoring river channels
  • Reducing hard surfaces in new infrastructure development.


What are the expected benefits of adopting a nature-based approach?

An Action plan, implemented over time measured in decades, would have the following expected benefits:

  • Reduction in flood risk
  • Improvement in biodiversity
  • Improvement in landscape amenity
  • Reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions
  • Improvement in human health and wellbeing.


Isn’t that something to aim for?

Roger Crofts; Spring 2022

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