The Tarland Burn Catchment (~70 km2) has been studied since the year 2000 making it one of the longest running comprehensive catchment management case studies in the UK. Critically there has been core funding support through cycles of Scottish Government strategic research programmes in turn, enabling integration with UK and European projects.
As, the uppermost tributary of the River Dee, (NE Scotland) and under intensive land management, the Tarland Catchment has several pressures associated with diffuse pollution, alteration of river morphology, flood risk and a rural community with a high proportion of private septic tanks. This makes the Tarland Catchment a particularly interesting case study and for over 20 years, regular routine spatial monitoring and experimental studies have been combined to investigate water quality, habitat quality and biodiversity, diffuse pollution impacts and flood mitigation.
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The Tarland Catchment has a history of flooding causing damage to property, infrastructure and agricultural land and is recognized by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) as a community within a Potentially Vulnerable Area (PVA) for flooding. In addition, the water quality across the catchment has suffered from the effects of point (e.g., septic tanks overflows, farmyard run off) and diffuse (e.g., agricultural landscape) pollution.
To improve water quality and mitigate the effects of flooding, significant work has been carried out on the ground, providing an opportunity for empirical evidence to be collected and used to determine how effective different measures are and what additional benefits they have provided. Much of the work in the landscape was initiated or developed as part of the 3 Dee Vision (2003-2006) and Aquarius (2009-2012) projects supported by European funding which was made available to help to bring about the effective co-ordination of water environment policy and regulation across Europe. At Tarland, the several significant interventions installed in the landscape range from the planting of buffers strips to the creation of storage ponds and wetlands.
The aim of our research has been to improve water quality and the riparian habitat as well as to demonstrate Natural Flood Management (NFM) techniques that will help to mitigate local flooding. The Tarland catchment has been our ‘living lab’ of the landscape, ecology, and people, enabling us to test real issues; from experiments where we can isolate factors up to their inherent complexity as a whole catchment system.
In anticipation of the Tarland catchment works and prior to their commencement, monitoring sites for hydrology, water quality, and aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity were established. This allows a comparison of data pre- and post-intervention and continues to allow the effects of these actions, and subsequent actions, to be assessed.