Ythan estuary, Scotland

A local participative approach

Water Management


Ythan estuary is located on the North-East coast of Scotland, North of Aberdeen, where agriculture and fisheries are the main activities in this coastal-rural area. It is a Ramsar Site and a Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive. High levels of nitrates and phosphates in the estuary, due to agricultural practices, led to a growth of green macro-algae threatening the food supply of wading birds. Current approaches to regulating this problem were only partially effective. Despite SPA status, it didn’t protect the site from the impacts of activities upstream or more general impacts such as pollution of the adjacent sea area.


A region example for its local participative approach to tackling a coastal-rural environmental issue. Raising public awareness, supporting agro-environmental practices, and engaging local communities in the restoration program were keys to the success of the practice.


  • Biodiversity loss
  • Water quality
  • Nature conservation
  • Lack of a scientific/policy interface to support management decisions
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Lack of information/education


With the support of a LIFE project, an innovative approach was taken by encouraging the local community to take responsibility for the state of the river and its associated habitats and to instigate a voluntary response to tackle the problems facing the river, in order to preserve this natural heritage. A program of measures was introduced to reduce inputs of pollutants, and sustainable land and river management was promoted through raising public awareness and engaging the community in a range of measures:

  • Farmers were assisted to apply to join the Rural Stewardship Scheme (RSS) to support the development of buffer strips alongside streams and rivers. Water management plans were also produced for these farms.
  • Water quality data was collected over a three-year period. Local people, supported by Scottish Environment Protection Agency staff, were involved in water quality sampling at eight sites and in 50 river habitat surveys.
  • Anglers, walkers, local residents, and national agencies were brought together to select and manage restoration work on sections of the river to create areas of semi-natural habitats;
  • The University of Hertfordshire was contracted to design computer software to enable local farmers to complete nutrient budgets (the Nutrient Budgeting software). Farmers were trained to use the software.
  • Local farmers were shown around two farms that were chosen to demonstrate the benefits of agro-environmental schemes and nutrient budgeting.
  • Local communities were involved in awareness-raising events in schools and community centres.


They selected river restoration sites and assisted with restoration work on 12 sites.

A forest management plan was also established for a large woodland, adjacent to the river. The project (awarded ‘Best environmental project’) successfully demonstrated a range of interventions to raise awareness of the river and mobilise interest in mitigation projects in the local community and is a model for similar initiatives to clean up river catchments.